You don’t have to look far to find areas of disagreement among people who believe in God, but here’s something nearly everyone seems to agree on: God created us each to be completely, amazingly unique.
That’s been pounded into our heads since our earliest Sunday School classes and bedtime prayers: From fingerprints to snowflakes, when God created, He was creative. By the time we’re adults, most Christians know the Bible verses about being fearfully and wonderfully made and about each member of the body having its own important gifts and purposes. And whether you’re a Christian or not, all you have to do is walk down the sidewalk in a bustling metropolis to see evidence of our uniqueness.
Yet somehow in the midst of this wonderful, one-of-a-kind human race, Christians are still prone to thinking we should all be alike.
It might be on a subconscious level, but it’s there nonetheless. We have strong ideas about what it means to be a Christian—how our faith should play itself out in everything from church, worship and prayer to service, politics and culture.
We also have fuzzy—but undeniable—ideas about what a Christian life looks like: words we do or don’t use, places we do or don’t hang out on a Friday night, choices we should and shouldn’t make, and opinions we should and shouldn’t have. When you put all the parameters together, they very quickly comprise a “Good Christian” checklist—one that most of us could easily sit down and make right now, whether in seriousness or jest.
So, why the paradox? How can we know that we’re each created to be unique and yet live as if we’ve been created by a God with a cookie-cutter in His hand, punching us all out of a single mold?
I’ve been puzzling over this as I plan out my column here, which focuses on discovering and celebrating who God created each of us to be as individuals. Why is such an obvious truth—that we are each created to be unique—such a difficult one to embrace and live out?
Last week, I met my pastor for coffee to talk more about this. In our thinking-out-loud together, I came to that forehead-hitting “Duh!” moment when I realized that while we may each be unique, we are, in some senses, all trying to fit the same template—the one created by Jesus. We’re also all trying to play by the same “rules”—the ones often quoted from the Bible.
How can it be both? How can we be unique and live out undeniably different lives, yet strive to be more like one guy (Jesus) who lived a singularly exemplary life?
“The problem is that we try to match Jesus’ actions and His life,” my pastor said, “but what we should be trying to have is Jesus’ heart.”
Ahh. A subtle but important distinction.
So maybe WWJD is a fine question to ask, but it needs to be framed a bit better: What would Jesus’ heart do? What would His heart do in my life, my time and my circumstances? Because we can all be completely unique and yet live out our uniqueness with Jesus’ heart as our guide. And that can still look like many different people making many different choices, each impacting the world in unique and important ways.
This distinction might seem, at first, like little more than semantics. But I think asking what Jesus’ heart would do cuts out so much of the inherent abstraction that comes when we try to imagine Jesus dealing with rush hour traffic, a disobedient toddler or an overwhelming work or school deadline. Thinking about how Jesus’ heart played itself out in His actions and responses, however, creates a bridge that helps span the gulf between His life and our moments.
And here’s another important thing about the heart: It’s what God sees (1 Samuel 16:7), which is another way of saying it’s what really matters. Ultimately, the checklists we make as humans only gauge the outside of others, but we need to focus on the heart—our own hearts, for starters, since we seem to do a better job deciphering what’s going on there.
My heart—which holds all my motives, hopes, fears, sins and potential for goodness—needs plenty of self-examination. That doesn’t just mean looking for all the bad parts to root out. It also means locating and accentuating the best parts, which are too-often buried under our efforts to do what God wants us to do rather than be who He wants us to be (the focus of my previous post).
So, are you ready for this week’s spiritual exercise? (Each of my posts here will wrap up with some questions or thought-starters to get you writing, discussing or just mulling over what it means to be who God created you to be.)
Think back over your teen and adult life. What qualities might have been on your “Good Christian” checklist? Or what might have been on the checklist others were holding up to you?
Now make a list of all of the things that make you unique, from physical attributes and gifts to personality quirks. What are you known for by those who know and love you best? What about you, do you think, makes God smile, and maybe even laugh?
Look at the two lists you’ve made, and mark each item that’s all about “doing” with a D, and each item that’s all about “being” with a B.
Try to think of a situation or a time in your life when you felt like you were acting and responding with Jesus’ heart rather than a list of expectations and rules.
If you feel like sharing any of your revelations in the comments here, please do!
And remember, there are no “right” answers—there aren’t even “better” answers! There are only answers that speak truth in your heart. Grace and peace to you.
Kristin Tennant has been making a living as a freelance writer for 10 years. She lives with her husband Jason and their three daughters in Urbana, Illinois, where she leads a weekly Bible & Beer discussion, plays her viola at church, and loves sharing meals and conversation with friends. She blogs at Halfway to Normal, and you can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.