I don’t usually start with the words of another, but Jamie Sams put my thoughts so perfectly: “If you have adored another person, putting him or her on a pedestal, without allowing him or her to earn your esteem, it may be time to take back some of that blind faith. Could it be that you have seen your best qualities projected outside of yourself so you won’t have to own who you are?”
Adoration is at best an illusion, at worst a lazy denial of personal responsibility. We are each born with a sliver of the gifts of Creator, and all the power, love and resources to manifest those gifts. Each of us has the responsibility to nurture those gifts and build on that foundation to leave our world better than we found it. When we’re tired, afraid, isolated and confused, the responsibility weighs on us. With enough time and pressure, our surface cracks and our foundation buckles. It feels good to look outside ourselves and lay our heavy gifts at the feet of someone else to carry.
There are certainly people out there who pretend they are doing their own work, and will take on yours as well for the price of power, control or money. Today, I’m not thinking of them. The deceivers get enough attention. The people that come to mind in this moment are the ones who never ask to be heroes, the role models.
Sometimes we lay our burdens at the feet of those who are really doing Creator’s work. In every moment they can, these people surrender to the will of something greater than themselves, doing what they can, with what they have now, for the highest good. They move the love through their actions in a concrete way and try to keep their egos from messing things up. They’re good people who admit their faults and perfection. When we sigh in relief at finding them, drop our gifts before them like a heavy travel pack, and drop exhausted to the ground, they turn away from their work for the moment and help. They make us comfortable then continue with their work. They may feed us, give us shelter while we rest and refresh ourselves, support us if we stumble, heal our wounds, give us the clothes from their backs, but they have work to do and we can not expect them to do ours as well.
Somehow, incredibly, that is what we expect. We start off looking for help using our gifts and end up thinking of them as a burden we want someone else to carry. We take a great, regular person who does not shy away from either their wisdom or the temptations that sometimes prevent them from using it, and make them into a pack animal, while crafting a vision of them as an untouchable icon. They morph into the mother, father, teacher, angel, saint, god we were waiting, praying and searching for all our lives.
The wise ones reach through our visions before they’re fully formed to remind us they are human with gifts and challenges just like us. They befriend us and offer support if it doesn’t sidetrack them from their purpose. They help us recover and find the strength to carry our gifts and learn to use them well, so they no longer weigh on us. They interact with their environment to find the best purpose for their gifts and encourage us to do the same. They are consistent, generous and responsive without depriving us of the joys of the real, focused work, of learning how much we can contribute.
Those who haven’t learned the tough side of love, whose tender hearts still open despite the signs of worship, who don’t understand the harm one can do by denying someone the right to struggle, they end up on some high perch holding too heavy a weight to balance without knowing quite how they got there. Their hard work in your place earns them instability, restricted movement, ineffectiveness and doubt. As we watch them floundering up there, bent under their extra burden, unable to function on such a narrow, delicate foundation, our iconic vision fades. We see they are people like us and feel betrayed. In the first rage of grief, we throw all our strength into a running, bellowing, relentless assault on the pedestal we built for them.
What happens when we take a great person who admits their faults, pretend they’re perfect, put them on a pedestal then attack it? They fall, of course. And the damage is often irreversible. When they fall, we blame them, insist they deceived us and deny them the help they offered us without hesitation. We are even less able than before to carry our own weight. And our former icon is demoralized. That’s unfair, ungrateful, counterproductive and limiting. What can we do to stop this cycle?
Choose respect over adoration. Choose mentors, not icons or heroes. Look for those who do real work to help people every day and make it easier for them to do it. Find the consistent human in our own bodies, own houses, own neighborhoods or workplaces or churches and give them generous unconditional support. Practice following the good examples we see around us. Ask concrete questions of mentors to improve the way we do things, incorporate their answers into our actions, then ask them to watch what we do to make sure we understood and used their direction well. Figure out what we want others to be or do and then model that in our own behavior. Identify things in our worlds that need doing, and do them ourselves if it doesn’t hurt anyone or unbalance our lives too much. Take responsibility for ourselves, our circumstances and our environment.
When we put every effort into living the best way we can, we don’t have the time or inclination to idolize, judge or tear down others. We’re too happy working.