A couple nights ago, I was playing Smash Bros with my kids on our Nintendo Wii. For those of you not familiar with the game, it’s a fighting video game where you choose a cartoon character and smash each other till someone wins.
Having a couple decades on my children, I soundly beat them regularly. Yeah, I know I know, self esteem, blah blah blah. In my opinion, they need to earn their victory. That way it means something. And to be fair, they beat me every now and then anyway, so don’t cry too hard for them.
My oldest son, though, does take defeat pretty hard. He’s the most driven of our three kids – maybe of our whole household. Maybe of our block, actually. But he’s probably also the most prideful. His personality is one I simultaneously love/respect and worry about.
This one evening I had beaten him again for maybe the third or fourth time that evening, and I heard him say something that broke my heart. Holding back tears, he said “I’m not special.”
Goodness, in that statement I heard the cry of my own heart for my entire life. For me, it was different, though. I took my being “special” as a given. I only had to prove it. Which I didn’t.
Now, pushing forty, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I am no Elon Musk. I am no rock star. I don’t rise above the rest because I have either not the drive or not the intellect or not the talent. It is most likely a lack of all three,.
It’s been hard to come to terms with this. I see my limitations now whereas my boy does not. He sees only a thousand opportunities. He sees vast horizons before him – land for the taking. He knows he can, and he will.
Until he plays his dad in Smash Bros, that is. He begins to doubt whether he really has it in him. The revelation strikes him in a moment. “I’m not special.” I’m not truly great at anything. I’m ordinary. I’m replaceable. My life is meaningless. Why am I even here? Nothing special about me.
I thought awhile about what his statement meant and what I could say to him. Really, what would I say to myself? What would I say to anyone feeling like they just take up space in the world? One more mouth for the cosmos to feed till they die?
Last night I talked to him and told him he was special for two reasons.
He matters to me.
In the whole world, I have only two sons, and he’s one of them. I don’t know what I’d do if he was gone. I would crack most likely. I would hate myself for the moments I missed with him.
The most painful experience of my life by far was having to leave him with another family for a time. Due to issues in our lives, his mom and me couldn’t take care of him for a couple months. Some weeks, I could only see him for a few hours. He was only two or three at the time and couldn’t understand why we had to leave. It completely broke me.
In life, there is always someone who wouldn’t know what they’d do if you were gone. I don’t matter to most people, but I mean everything to my kids. I mean everything to my wife. I’m not special to everyone, but I am irreplaceable to them.
He matters to God.
We believe, as Catholics, that God is unconditionally free to do whatever he wants. This is hard to accept sometimes because it means God, to some extent, thought allowing sin and suffering into the world was necessary for some reason.
But it also means that every person on the planet is here because God wants them here. He didn’t have to make me or my son. He didn’t have to make any of us, but he did. We matter enough to him that he thought it worthwhile to breathe life into us. He would be heartbroken himself if we did not spend eternity with him.
He has some purpose for us here. There is a reason each of us is alive, whether we’ve discerned that reason or not.
Son, you are not special because you are the best at playing a stupid video game, or because you are the smartest in some subject at school, or talented at computers or a musical instrument. Become the best at something and someone sooner or later will come along and do it better.
You are special because no one can take your place in our lives. No one can even take your place in God’s life. For his plan to unfold perfectly, he requires you, as you are, to be here going to school, eating mac n cheese, and every now and then, beating your dad on the Wii.
That’s why you are special. And I hope I never let you forget it.
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