Why Stuart Smalley got it wrong

During my SNL (Saturday Night Live) obsession, the good old days of Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Dana Carvey et al., the Stuart Smalley segment was one of my favorites. You know him, right? “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” Here’s a clip, in case you missed ’90s late night television.

Lately I’ve found myself in the Stuart Smalley camp of self-esteem. Building myself up. Affirming my abilities. Reminding myself of my accomplishments.

But the truth is: it’s not helping. Those tactics only make failure seem worse.

Take, for example, this writing project I’m working on. I sent in the first drafts. Getting to that point was tough. I felt physically exhausted. (I’d also been dealing with a sick toddler away from our home doctor and recovery from a week at Bible camp and multiple days with less than 4 hours of sleep.) But I felt good about the ideas. Not great. Just good.

They came back on Friday with comments for me to work on for final drafts. This is part of the process. It’s not a big deal and it’s not like I was told everything was crap and I have to start over. But I get a letdown sometimes when I’m given suggestions for improvement.

I’m like that with life, too. When I realize I don’t measure up. I’m not who I want to be. And I’m not making the kind of progress I think I should.

I’ve failed, my mind says. I’m not competent, I hear. I shouldn’t be doing this, I convince myself. I’m not talented. Or capable. Or (fill in the blank).

So, I was liberated listening to a series of messages by James MacDonald this week on insecurity. He taught from Exodus 4, the story of Moses telling God all the reasons He shouldn’t use him to deliver the Hebrews from slavery.

At one point, MacDonald drives home the point that the truth about us, compared to God, is we’re nobody. God doesn’t need us to do His work. We are nothing without Him.

That’s tough stuff to swallow, especially in a country where we’re ranked by our accomplishments, levels of success and income.

Nothing? Isn’t that sort of self-defeating? Putting yourself down? Even Christians have trouble sometimes calling ourselves nothing. Aren’t we made in the image of God? Fearfully and wonderfully made? A work of art?

Yes to the latter questions. We are created, but we are nothing without the creator. Can a masterpiece hanging on the wall of a gallery praise itself for its artistry? Can a sculpture boast about the work of its hands? Can a story tell itself?

The reality is I’m not good enough. Or smart enough. And some people don’t like me. (My apologies, Stuart.)

But God loves me. And He made me. And He wants me to be a living, breathing picture of His mastery. And I can’t do it alone.

Whether in writing or in life, I need help. And that’s OK.

Being able to say what I’m not gives me the freedom to tell who God is.

I am nothing. He is everything.

It’s not about me. It’s all about Him.

I’m a slow learner, but I have a patient Teacher.

Freedom. Can you taste it? It’s oh, so sweet.


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