“I heard your CD today,” she tells me. Our teenage babysitter is the rockstar of my daughter’s life, and tonight she tells me how our little girl pulled out my first album from when I was 20 and shared it with her. “You have a great voice. You could’ve been something!”
Gulp. That one goes down hard. I’m nearly 33 and for some reason, those four words seem to stick into my heart a little like gritty dirt and sour lemon.
But I laugh. “Yeah…,” I think about that 20-year-old girl who knew very little about the world but enough to unravel it herself. “Maybe.”
Being a teen in the 90s meant that at every youth conference where I screamed my voice away, some hip, faux-hawked pastor was on stage telling me “You guys are the world changers.” We even sang the songs. History makers. The ones to change the course of humanity. THE generation. It was us. Our time. We were told we could be somebody. And I tried. Lord knows, I tried to be someone.
But that’s a lot of pressure for a teen who has an obsession with affirmation and a need for success. Somewhere in all of the hype and go-get-em pep rallies for God, I started believing that I needed to become something. When the Gospel is left out and you tell a room of 16 year olds that the world is their oyster, Jesus starts to look like a patsy who missed his calling. He could’ve been something.
That little voice haunted me all through my late teens and early twenties. That sinking feeling that I wasn’t trying hard enough, finding the right opportunities, chasing down dreams and adventure, changing the world. In being something, I wanted to be the someone. I wanted the fame, the attention, the acclaim. I wanted people to say, “See what she made of herself?” and I would flip my curls over my shoulder and say, “It was my destiny.”
But was it?
Here’s the problem: when I tried to become significant, my world became about me and my hungry ego. I pursued the things that made me feel good. The things that made me feel like I was becoming something, someone worth remembering. And I chased that voice all the way down into the dark pit until I couldn’t find my way out again. I walked away from a public ministry and into a full-blown affair at 22 years old and in trying to become someone, I lost it all.
This same haunting voice is the one that visits me still. When I’m standing in the kitchen, scrubbing day-old chicken grease off of a frying pan and my daughter insists I’m failing her in one way or another, that little voice whispers “You could’ve been something. Now you’re just a mom.”
When I’m arguing with my husband and feeling that somehow I’m not seen, heard, valued or important enough in this marriage, it taunts, “You could’ve been something. Now you’re just a wife.”
When I post something online and no one likes it, “You could’ve been something. Now no one cares.”
When I sing at church and I see that one guy with a blank stare and his hands in his pockets, “You could’ve been something. Now you’re just a singer at your local church.”
Maybe it visits you too. At your desk during the mundane job you loathe. When you’re rocking a baby on your hip and talking to your toddler is like negotiating with a terrorist. When your spouse doesn’t live up to the Instagram ideals. When your church doesn’t seem to care about Pastor Appreciation Month. When you write a blog and no one comments. I see scores of 20-somethings, 30-somethings, all ages-somethings looking for their Something. Hungering for that moment when their life pinnacle is reached and they can say they’ve achieved it. That thing. Whatever it is. Not thinking, of course, that the moment they achieve it, it will disappear into the wind like a mirage, pitching its tent on the next mountain, calling you to try a little harder.
And in the chasm of the in between, that empty echo of nothing: “You could’ve been something.”
There was a man who everyone thought was going to be something. And sure enough, he was. But not how they wanted.
When they jeered him and mocked him, and he let his accusers nail him stripped and humiliated to a cross, his followers watched and waited. Maybe he would overthrow the government. Maybe this was the revolution. The crowds prodded him. They tried to provoke him to do what they all wanted — Make a scene. Call angels to get you down from there. They wanted him to become something in his moment. Be a culture changer, Jesus. Make a name for yourself.
But he didn’t. He gave his soul up and died, there for all to see.
“He could’ve been something,” I can almost hear the doubters among the crowd. The ones who don’t understand that in Christ’s Kingdom, everything is upside down. Becoming something often looks like becoming nothing. Being the greatest of all looks like a fool who dies next to the no-name thief.
Christ set me free from the pressure of becoming something. His death reminds me that it was never about me anyway. I was never the History maker — He is. I am not the world changer — He is. Fame, acclaim, and praise will destroy me. They will not destroy Him. Glory will devastate me. Glory will indeed make me somebody — a monster who is hiding a fragile ego that needs to be more than just a servant.
But because of Christ, I get to be ordinary and scrub the dishes, knowing my something is hidden at the mercy seat. I can do the mundane, lead my local church in worship, and know my song rises for one audience alone. My something died when Christ became nothing (Philippians 2:7).
I could’ve been something, yes, and by God’s grace I didn’t.