As a child, I had a vivid imagination. I had started collecting comic books at a pretty young age while I was riding with my dad on his beer delivery route. Tuesdays were Koshkonong days, days he delivered to the establishments all around Lake Koshkonong near Fort Atkinson. That day always ended up at the same place, Copps Department Store in Fort. Outside the liquor department was a rotating display of comic books and sometimes I would beg my Dad to buy me one. (Well, every week in the summers I did, not that I got one every week).
One of the first comic books I got was a Bicentennial origin issue of Captain America and Falcon. I wore that comic book out and used to imagine what it must be like to be Captain America.
As I got older, I got into sports and became a good first baseman (probably not great). My hero was Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers, underrated but a great player, golden glove and a very good hitter as well. One of the best trades in Milwaukee Brewers history was George Scott for Cecil Cooper. I always wanted to be him for a time. Playing First Base, I would get down low like Cecil did with a big stretch (which could cut off a few feet from any throw). Problem was that our shortstop had an inaccurate cannon of an arm and I couldn’t train him to throw strikes at my low glove. But part of my rep at First was for still making the catches on his wild throws. (Well, MOST of the time…).
Later I wanted to be a great sax player like my hero, Michael Brecker, or a great rock guitarist like my heroes Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. For much of my youth I was busy fantasizing what it would be like to be someone else.
It’s a natural tendency in youth to dream about being famous…or being the greatest at something. As I got older, I found out that many famous people are not happy and that fame is the reason why. Fame is a classic example of the old cliche, “Be careful what you wish/pray for. You just might get it.” When he died, George Harrison was remembered in an obituary for being “the grumpy Beatle.” The author noted that he was famous and not happy about it.
I think it’s a natural tendency for anyone conceived and born into sin (all of us) to think we are better at many things than we really are. It certainly is a natural tendency for us to seek attention and, even worse, put our own worries, strengths, opinions, etc. above anyone or anything else. All sin is a breaking of the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. The greatest idol of them all is the idol of self, the false god we see every time we stare into the mirror.
When it comes to spiritual disciplines like meditation, study of the Word, prayer, good works and the like, we should NEVER tell others or God that we are good at them. We simply are not spiritual superheroes and, thanks to our sin, never will be. The mythological “prayer warrior” of so much evangelical talk is simply not to be found. Books at the Christian book store on prayer are often written from the perspective of an author who thinks he or she is good at prayer. Maybe once they were not, but they got better and now they are passing on their expertise to you, the hapless reader.
The rite of Individual Confession and Absolution in our hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, has a moment where the person confessing says, “my worship and prayers have faltered.” What this means is that the rite ASSUMES this worship-and-prayer-faltering to be true. Using the full force of the Law, the rite doesn’t let you pretend to be someone you are not. Indeed, the only way to stand before Christ the Judge and the pastor confessor is as the sinner you are. You have failed at prayer. Your worship is half-hearted. Your attention to God’s Word is often divided and unfocused. Bad habits in church attendance become harder and harder to reform. And forgiving the other person who has offended you? Let’s not get started.
You are not a spiritual superhero. Neither am I. You are not a “prayer warrior.” Neither am I. The season of Lent reminds us that, if you and I were these things, Jesus would not have needed to die for us. We would not be offering Christ’s gifts of forgiveness and life every Sunday if these false assertions were somehow true. Galatians 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose [ESV]. When we think we’re someone we are not, we often don’t realize the way we “nullify the grace of God.” As Luther liked to put it, “Christ dwells in sinners.” The implication is that He does not dwell in anyone who denies their sin by assuming their righteousness (self-righteousness).
One of the great blessings of forgiveness is contentment. I never became Captain America. I never became Cecil Cooper. I never became Michael Brecker…or Eric Clapton. In God’s grace, I am Dan Torkelson, a husband, a father, a pastor, a sinner redeemed by the blood of Christ. I can be happy with that.
Is there anything better? Is there anything better than to be the person God has made of you? This Lent, be sinners and Christ will dwell richly in you. In His forgiveness, He sets you free to be the people He has called you to be.
Sincerely in Christ,