When I was four years old, I donned the emerald green satin leotard of my dreams, tutu attached, and danced on a stage before an auditorium full of smiling people, STARING AT ME (and about fifteen other little girls). It was incredible. I still remember the smell of the satin, the magic of their attention, their applause. I hated ballet and quit soon after. But I loved the stage and I spent the rest of childhood longing for more ways to force people to smile and cheer for me.
Some might call that vanity. I can’t say I disagree. I also can’t say I’ve changed. Last spring I released a memoir, my first book. And though I did my best to keep my expectations small, I held secret hopes that it would explode into the New York Times Bestseller I always dreamed I would write.
This is a shocker, I know, but my book about motherhood and prayer and monks didn’t go all bestseller on me. It didn’t crash and burn either. It’s done moderately well. It’s a book I’m proud of, but it also hasn’t changed my life.
Seven months after my book released, I am coming to terms with my status as an ordinary author. My writing life is simple, and good. There is a book on my shelf with my name on it. There are the lovely reminders from readers that my book meant something to them. And I am learning to receive this as a gift: I’m not as big a deal as I always hoped I’d be. Though I’m someone who wrote a book that praises the beauty of humility, this is a lesson I will probably be learning for a long time.
I’m a four on the Enneagram, a system of personality types that digs into our innermost motivations: how we see the world, what drives us to make the decisions we make. Fours are driven by one thing: the need to be special, to be unique, to stand out among their peers. A couple of months ago I embarrassed myself when a couple of friends who know the Enneagram were talking about their own types. “Micha,” they asked, “what number are you again?”
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“Well, I’m a four,” I answered. “But I’m really different from most of the fours I know.” Classic. As soon as I said it, I turned bright red. I’d been found out. I’m obsessed with myself and as much as I work to push my vanity under the surface, sometimes it just rises into the open for all to see. I’m too special to even be labeled.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my pastors preached a sermon on Naaman, the great man of privilege and power in 2 Kings chapter 5 who found himself suffering with leprosy. Naaman traveled to Israel to receive healing from the prophet Elisha. And the prophet’s cure, sent via messenger? It was to wash in the Jordan River.
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Naaman had traveled all the way from another country. He was someone important! Couldn’t Elisha just show up and say a magical incantation and let lightning zap his leprosy away? Couldn’t he perform a ceremony with fancy potions before the king?
Instead, a messenger told Naaman to wash in the Jordan, a river much less beautiful and valuable than the rivers of Naaman’s land. Didn’t Elisha know who Naaman was? How many men he had commanded in war? When Naaman finally stopped whining about what he deserved and went down into the muddy waters, he came out “with the skin of a young boy.”
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My pastor quoted Kate Huey, who said, “Naaman was healed of being a big deal.”
I don’t feel like I’m healed yet. But I’m learning to take those moments, what my husband recently called “small humiliations,” as gifts. When I clean up my kid’s vomit. When I awkwardly answer my son’s preschool teacher who, with compassion, wants to know how well my book is selling. Or when I pay attention to the jealousy that rises when another author gets better opportunities, more Amazon reviews, louder praise on the Internet.
These are my small humiliations. The question is, what will I do with them? Wash in the Jordan River, they say to me. Am I brave enough to sink into the muddy water?
Am I willing, in the moments where I’m not as special as I wanted to be, to believe that God is using those humiliations to make me into my real-est self?
God is healing me of being a big deal.
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