When it came time to decide on a costume that year, you would think that a fish would be the obvious choice. And I do remember considering it. But in my mind, it was TOO obvious. I wanted to be something totally unique and unsuspecting. What I really wanted to be was the entire aquarium - the fish tank. I was an oddball at times, to say the least. So my parents encouraged my creativity and helped me figure out how to create this fish tank costume. It involved a wooden frame, saran wrap, cardboard fish and seaweed cutouts, some string, duct tape (obviously), and bubbles drawn all over my face. I achieved my unique costume, that’s for sure.
Luckily for my parents, the majority of the time, I wanted to simply be a character from a favorite book or movie. I can remember being Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, Nala from The Lion King, a swan from E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan (it should also be noted that I won a costume contest as that swan), and even a passenger on the Titanic, just to name a few. There was something about each character I picked that I connected with. Something about them that was different than who I was, a trait that they had that I wanted to try on for a few hours. I wanted to use my imagination and experience what it might be like to be that character.
I’ve heard that actors often feel that way, that it’s part of what draws them to the art of acting. Becoming the character they play allows them to leave themselves behind for a bit and become someone else entirely. I think we all have that desire at one point or another, in some way, shape or form. To pretend to be someone else. Someone smarter, someone braver, someone bolder, maybe someone a little bit more put together or closer to what we think others want. Maybe closer to the things we desire.
I sometimes find myself feeling a similar way when it comes to my life and even my faith. I wonder if my friends, co-workers, church family, or neighbors would prefer someone in my role with a different type of personality. Or I feel like God might prefer to use a certain kind of person with different characteristics than my own. And so in a way, instead of being who I am, I metaphorically put on the costume or mask and try to muster up the needed qualities, trying to be the kind of person I think I need to be.
Maybe you can relate? It’s not necessarily an act - we’re not trying to intentionally fool anyone. Rather, it’s way to sort of internally compensate for the things we think we lack.
Now I do want to be clear. We all have room to grow. We shouldn’t dig in our heels and be against necessary change. Sometimes we become better versions of the people God calls us to be when we’re stretched and willing to venture outside of our comfort zones. Growth and transformation don’t always come easy. But when we don’t know or have an appreciation for who we are to begin with, for the unique ways God intricately knit us together, then there’s a good chance we end up burying who we are, the very people God intentionally created us to be. We try to fit a mold we aren’t meant for.
And in my experience, that is exhausting.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear that I am created by God, I don’t always stop to let it sink in, to really think about what that means. I imagine I was instantaneous, created by the snap of God’s fingers with barely any thought. I mean, God had plenty more to create, right? However, the process we read about in Scripture is vastly different.
In Psalm 139:13-18, we read,
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end[a]—I am still with you.
The process we see in these verses is more intricate than we could imagine. When God created you and when God created me, God didn’t just quickly throw a bunch of random stuff together and call it good. Instead, God spent time on each and every one of us, thinking about who we could be, taking one specific trait and pairing it perfectly with another unique characteristic over and over until you were you. An intricate and intentional and completely original work of art. And THAT is what God called good. You are who God delights in.
I find that to be one of the easiest things to forget. That God delights in me. It often seems wrong for that to be true because I am so acutely aware of my faults, my sin, and the things that need to be changed within me as I do my best to follow Jesus. I am a work in progress, that is for sure. But what I’m learning and realizing and remembering is that we can rest assured that God loves us just as we are, that we don’t need to be anybody other than the people we were uniquely created to be, the people God already delights in. We don’t have to put on a show or fit a mold or pretend like we’re something we’re not.
Perhaps one of the best examples of someone who embodied this was Fred Rogers. Now, if you know my husband, then you won’t be surprised by the fact that I’m mentioning Mr. Rogers here. Brad has thought the world of him for years and years, long before the recent movies and articles and books and all that. And I do, too.
There’s a lot to learn from Mr. Rogers, but one of the lessons I always come back to is the way he was always ready and willing to simply be himself. He lived like he actually believed what we read in Psalm 139. He was able to trust that God created him just the way he was on purpose. And through living as that particular person in the world, he was able to impact it for the better.
One question people often asked about Mr. Rogers when they met his family or friends or someone from the neighborhood was, “Is he really like that?” Was he really so gentle, so uplifting, so mild-mannered, quiet, peaceful and present? Or was he just a character on TV? The answer was always yes - he really is like that. Mr. Rogers was always honest, of course. When children wrote to him he would always tell them that he did not really live in the television neighborhood. He had his own home and family. But his personality, his kindness and the way he treated each person was completely authentic. And by being so authentic, he inspired others - he inspires us - to be authentic, too.
He ended many episodes by saying, “You have made this a special day by just your being you.” These were words Fred’s grandfather shared with him when he was a child, and Mr. Rogers shared them with us each day. More importantly, Mr. Roger showed us how to live like those words are true.
Today, if you feel pressure to fit a different mold trying to be somebody else, remember, God delights in you. God created you. Not quickly or flippantly or unintentionally, but intricately, with purpose, and thought, and care. May we choose to live like that is true and may you continue to make each day special by just your being you.