Incredibly Special

In the 2004 movie, The Incredibles – and if you haven’t seen it… well, just stop reading this, go find a copy, and watch a great movie. Anyway, where was I…. there is a scene in the movie when Dash Parr, the super-powered speedster son of Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) and his wife Helen (Elastigirl), has just been told to hide his incredible speed and let the other kids have a chance at winning so that he can fit in and be normal. When Dash resists the suggestion noting that his speed makes him special, this dialogue ensues:

Helen/Elastigirl: “Everyone is special, Dash.”
Dash: “That’s just another way of saying no one is.”

Last year there was a very large thread on the NY Times opinion page that engaged that debate through the topic of participation awards. Lots of parents were all for the practice and surprisingly (to me, anyway) a lot of student athletes were not. One young lady wrote that the practice left kids “woefully unprepared for reality. Outside the protected bubble of childhood, not everyone is a winner.” She continued, “Showing up to work, attending class, completing homework and trying my best at sports practice are expected of me… These are the foundations of a long path to potential success, a success that is not guaranteed no matter how much effort I put in.” I would think the young woman well understood the grace of perseverance.

As I read all the threads, this scripture came to mind. Romans 5:3-5 “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Perseverance is the state of hanging in through difficulties and hardship, and having persistence, tenacity, being resolute and unyielding while pursuing or following a course of action. For the Christian, it is persevering in the faith despite many obstacles.

July 9th was the feast of the Chinese Martyrs, dozens of men, women and children put to death during the Boxer Rebellion because they refused to renounce their faith. Among the martyrs was St. Mark Ji Tianxiang. For years, Tianxiang was a respectable Christian, raised in a Christian family in 19th-century China. He was a leader in the Christian community, a well-off doctor who served the poor for free. But he became ill with a violent stomach ailment and treated himself with opium. It was an acceptable medical practice, but Tianxiang soon became addicted to the drug, an addiction that was considered shameful and gravely scandalous.

As his circumstances deteriorated, Tianxiang continued to fight his addiction. He frequently went to confession, refusing to embrace this affliction that had taken control of him. Unfortunately, the priest to whom he confessed (along with nearly everybody in the 19th century) didn’t understand addiction as a disease. Since Tianxiang kept confessing the same sin, the priest thought that was evidence that he had no firm purpose of amendment, no desire to do better.

After a few years, Tianxiang’s confessor told him to stop coming back until he truly resolved to stop using the opiates. For some, this might have been an invitation to leave the Church in anger or shame, but for all his fallenness, Tianxiang knew himself to be loved by the Father and by the Church. He knew that the Lord wanted his heart, even if he couldn’t manage to give over his life. He couldn’t stay sober, but he could keep showing up.

But while Tianxiang was never able to beat his addiction, he lived a life with the grace of perseverance. No threat could shake him, no torture make him waver. He was determined to follow the Lord who had never abandoned him. He was indeed special.

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