Between the Now and the Not Yet

“You’ve got POTENTIAL!”

It’s a phrase that sounds positive, encouraging, and bright. But anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of this will recognize it for the curse it truly is: a phrase fiendishly designed to suck the wind right out of your sails. 

The only thing worse is when they add the word “real,” as in, “You’ve got real potential!”

In my life I have heard the word “potential” from coaches, from teachers, from guidance counselors, from youth pastors, from bosses, and – sadly – from my parents now and then, too. 

I know each of the people who drove that lovely spike into my heart meant well. They meant me to hear something like, “I see great things ahead for you.” 

They wanted to inspire me to knuckle down and turn that vast potential into reality. Their hope was to affirm positive qualities TODAY that could be molded into glowing accomplishments TOMORROW.

What they didn’t understand was what I heard. What I heard when they said this was, “You’re not there yet. You’ve got a long way to go. As you are here today, you don’t quite measure up. There is a chance you could be something someday, but not today.” 

And of course, at the age of eight or nine, they were absolutely right! At fifteen or sixteen, even. Or thirty-six. Frankly, each of us is a perpetual work in progress until the day the life force departs our body. 

But I firmly believe that it does a person no earthly good to tell them their entire worth is to be found down the road somewhere… in a distant, immaterial future. 

For one thing, that approach goes dramatically against God’s word. 

For proof, we can listen to the words of the Psalmist, marveling at the utter miracle of God’s creation of human beings. Listen; “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5, NRSV).

Or we can read Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus when he reminded them (and us), “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV). 

In other words, it is not what we DO that matters to God; it is who we ARE in Christ Jesus.

To be clear, I have never been a fan of “participation trophies” … the lavishing of praise and accolades on folks for doing nothing more than showing up and breathing in rhythm. Therein lies the seeds of the entitled mindset, IMHO.

My prayer today is for each of us to find a way to relate to other people the same way God relates to us; loving and affirming them (us) in the fullness of who they (we) are RIGHT NOW, and yet reminding them (us) of our calling to grow, blossom, and become something higher and better…

… something like a “new creation,” maybe. 

Hmmm… seems like I’ve heard that phrase somewhere before.

Abundant blessings;

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