The Heroism Lie


ImageA few weeks back, I watched Short Term 12. In this film, a girl named Grace works at a short-term treatment facility for at risk children/teens. She is passionate about her job even though she works in a place that seems hopeless. She presses on even though it seems easier to give up. And she stands up for what is right even if it means losing the job she loves the most.

All throughout this film, I was astounded at the nature of heroism. When we think of heroism, we most likely think of the newest superhero movie out. Or we think about celebrities like Bono who are doing so much for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. Perhaps some of us will remember Mother Teresa and her unprecedented work in India. Some think of the great strides that were made because of Dr. King and his fight for equality. For some, Barack Obama’s message of hope and change made him a hero in their eyes.

We think about these faces who, everyday, are making headlines with the heroic work they are doing.

I go back to my senior year in college where a good friend of mine, Chris Hall, gave his senior sermon. To this day, I remember his main point: “treat the small things as if they are big things.” It has stuck with me because I think for myself, and perhaps for you too, I fear that my life will not amount to any kind of greatness. We all go through this. Stand Up Guys says it perfectly: “They say we die twice. Once when the breath leaves our body, and once when the last person we know says our name.” Many of us live life in fear that we will never mean anything to anyone.

As a pastor, I see this played out frequently. I think there is something to be said about how much we have idolized pastors to the point of celebrity status now. Because of this, as a student in Bible college, I never thought my leadership would mean anything if I didn’t become that. I thought my life wouldn’t mean as much if I never became that. We have defined the godliness of a pastor based upon the size of his/her sanctuary. We say things like, “God is moving in this leader,” or “The Holy Spirit is really at work through him/her.” And to the pastor who hasn’t seen any kind of growth (numerically and more important, spiritually), the Holy Spirit must not be in him/her. We don’t want to hear the stories of a pastor who made a small change in his/her community. We want to hear these fantastic stories about how God used this one pastor to lead millions to Christ.

We have defined who is and who is not a hero.

What intrigued me about Short Term 12 was that stories like this rarely get told. Maybe from a cinematic stance they do. But rarely from a news stance. Rarely do we want to talk to those people. When asked who we want to talk to one day, our minds go to our heroes. It doesn’t go to the social worker who has worked tirelessly at protecting kids. It doesn’t go to the school teacher who has taught the same subject for the past 40 years in the same school. It doesn’t go to the struggling addict who has been sober for a year.

Instead, our minds go to those who have made it into the spotlight. It goes to someone who was recognized for what they have done; all the while forgetting that at one point in time they weren’t recognized. Getting in the spotlight is what defines a hero.

This is a pretty sad definition. And because of this definition, many people, who do heroic things every day, do not consider their lives meaningful. The truth is that there is no act too small to not be a heroic. As Chris said, “treat the small things as if they are big things.” Perhaps that is the definition of heroism.

Think of the difference we would make if we would stop trying to get into the spotlight and instead, sought to help those around us. What saddens me is that we read these books or see these stories and we think we have to go do these incredible things in order for our lives to have meaning. And then we neglect the lives around us; not realizing the impact we could be having on them. In doing this, we actually do more harm and, for the sake of continuity of the metaphor, we play the villain.

There have been some great heroic giants who have done amazing things and have garnered a lot of publicity for those things. But the heroism lie is that someone who doesn’t amount to that is not a hero, as well. Greatness should never be defined by who notices but for whom and by whom you are doing things.

My heroes are those I see doing basic, everyday things that may seem trivial and meaningless to many. But in reality, they are making an impact in the lives of people they may never know. One of the most heroic acts in the film (spoiler) was when Grace went to rescue a girl who she knew was being abused. Everyone told her not to, but she did because she knew the pain of abuse. And she refused to see another girl put through that kind of physical and emotional abuse. It was an emotional scene but to Grace, it was her doing what she normally did. It was her looking after the kids and making sure they were safe. To some, it may have seemed like she could’ve done “so much more with her life.” But to me, I realized that she actually was doing so much with her life even if it might have seemed mundane.