“Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we’re powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness the most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, famous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Nelson Mandela
Everyone’s got their calling card in the funny papers. Superman is all-powerful, the Flash is all speed, the Wonder Woman is all sexy, and Lex Luthor is all villain. But my favorite Justice Leaguer (other than Black Vulcan and heir apparent Static Shock for racial reasons) was Batman, the man without fear.
Batman breathes nuance. He’s a billionaire without a family, the do-gooder without a credit limit, the only guy who can run a Fortune 500 company from central Japan while practicing judo flips. He’s also very human, despite performing acrobatics that scream contrary, but lives life deriding fear.
To that, I am jealous of Bruce Wayne. You see, I can’t help but question my abilities constantly, wonder openly about the origin of my talents, and fear the prospect of actually, you know, winning. Bruce Wayne is a winner because he could care less about the aftermath of winning. Bruce Wayne answers the perpetual question that plagues most mortals – “What have you done for me lately?” – with his life.
He’d rather die than sit still.
Still, he’s an animated superhero, a figment of our imaginations. We never see his low moments because that makes for boring TV. The black bat on his chest is his symbol of success. He has a running start, burdened only by our hopes and dreams pinned to his cowl.
Batman is human, but is powerful beyond measure because he believes it to be so. Even Superman has his Kryptonite.
For a while, I felt like Batman – mortal enough to require God’s assistance, invincible enough to command respect. God had made my dreams a reality: I had played basketball overseas, graduated with honors, traveled to two Olympics and a Super Bowl, dated a hottie, talked on a first name basis with Bob Costas, and generally won at life to the degree one man could win at the ripe old age of 25. I was the King of Queens, your Ace Boon Coon, a Made Man…but I began to stop dreaming.
I ran out of dreams because all of my dreams had come true. And all that’s left is the unknown.
What happens to a retired athlete? Mariano Rivera, considered ancient by baseball’s standards, is 10 years younger than my 55-year-old Dad. If Rivera’s only life dream was to be a Hall of Fame closer, what’s he to do now? Does he just sit in his house and count his money until he dies? Heck, I spend one day in my house and get cabin fever.
Michael Jordan couldn’t play in today’s NBA. He’d embarrass himself. But MJ threatens a return to the NBA because he hates the feeling of irrelevance, of people believing his life to be over. His Airness can’t glide over all like he used to, but that doesn’t make him dead.
Similarly, I hadn’t bothered to think beyond my preliminary dreams. I understood my zone, and I didn’t want to go any further. To push beyond would vault me into the depths of true unknown territory. I no longer had a rubric to follow, or mentors whose progress I could copycat. To go where no man had gone before, I would have to lean in to God fully, admit my inadequacies and relinquish control. No dice.
Why should I cave to spiritual pressure? I’m the man! I won an Emmy! I’m a black man with a nice smile and a good job! Everybody thinks I’m so smart! This isn’t the time to admit my vulnerabilities!
“Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders…take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” – Hillsong United
While in college, I let a slower, less talented dude score a touchdown in pickup football. I thought I was doing him a solid by giving him this charitable victory. But it was a punk move: I was supposed to make the play. I was supposed to win the game. But I feared the responsibility of winning. God wanted me to be like Mike, but I was satisfied with being Tim Thomas.
I fear winning because winning takes me to a place without borders, a landscape that runs infinite. It’s beyond my grasp, it extends past my comprehension. Life’s much safer when you never tap into your reserve tanks, when you never extend past your known abilities.
But that’s also the place where faith goes to die.
In 2013, fear wrapped around my heart like an Ace bandage. I used all of my intellectual power to try and understand the unknown but got dizzier than a dreidel after Hanukkah. And once my brain broke, I test drove some untouched sins to regenerate a faux passion for living. I needed to feel something, to feel the thrill of the challenge without actually going through the challenge. It was neural pornography, like beating the Turtles in Time video game on easy mode.
This year’s going to be different. When fear ruled, let faith reign. Time to make my quarter life crisis history. Time to stop chewing the cud and put God’s Word for my life into practice. Pray more, think less, work less, and have more fun.
Playing small doesn’t do the world any favors. I’m a son of God, after all. There are no limits.
"I pray that out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." - Ephesians 3:16-19