When we were expecting our first child, Alison and I were given a rough guide to pregnancy and birth which (amongst a lot more useful information besides) gave a week-by-week approximation of the size of our unborn child in the currency of fruit (‘this week your baby is about the size of a grape/olive/orange/apple/melon’ in increasingly large sizes). But what really brought the whole thing home to us were the scan photos, and we remarked several times on just how privileged we were in this generation to be able to see the baby growing inside. These gave us a really strong sense of just how we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (in the words of today’s reading, Psalm 139:13-16).
In this we are encouraged to discover our uniqueness and giftedness and the part which we are called to play in God’s plan. I think that is absolutely right, but sometimes it is easier said than done. This is partly because the message of our uniqueness is repeated so often within contemporary culture (with its emphasis on self-discovery and self-actualisation) that the notion can at first sight seem overly familiar and thus jaded and uninspiring. Alternatively, the mandate to discover our own unique contribution can feel like a heavy weight on our shoulders, particularly if we are prone to struggling to identify the good things about ourselves. (The New English Bible translation of this passage includes the phase: ‘you made my mind and heart’, and whilst I rely a lot upon my cognitive mind for work, I have also in my adult life come somewhat to distrust my brain (if that’s logically possible), prone as it is to lead me into pessimistic thoughts about myself, and to ‘worry about worry’ even when there’s nothing to worry about). So how do dig back into the wonder and truth of the Psalmists words here? I’ve previously blogged about Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything and one of the primary impressions this entertaining book left me with was wonder at the sheer slim cosmological and biological probability of our existence. We take our lives for granted but it really is amazing that we are here at all. Second, as a historian, I never cease to be amazed at the combination of historical circumstances and genetic inheritance that led up to me, and to the sort of me that I am, and not some other kind of me. There is so much about who I uniquely am which is not down to my own efforts to create it. And third, from theology I remember that into this mix is lovingly placed a mixture of gifts and passions which I have done nothing especial to deserve and which are yet given by God – some of which I can honestly say only began to emerge as I began to walk with God. All I have to do is make the best of it. And it’s in this sense that I can agree with Max Lucado’s line included in Forty Days of Yes – ‘Can you be anything you want to be? I don’t think so. But can you be everything God wants you to be? I do think so’.