Like A Drop Of Water

I was thinking the other day how each human being is unique. So is each animal, of course, each leaf, each drop of water. There is a lot of sameness among people too, but when we focus on sameness, we tend to get lost in abstraction, something like the sea of humanity. I’ve been choosing these days to place my bets on uniqueness. Each of us is exquisitely our own person.

Let me say quickly that such self-pronounced uniqueness can too easily lead to self-aggrandizement—“oh look how special I am”—but that’s not where we want to go. We surely don’t need more self-assertive individualism. Rather, we’ve got to ask where this uniqueness comes from? I can’t escape concluding that my uniqueness comes from a creator who has a very particular plan of flourishing for me. We may get swept off track with lots of distortions along the way, but mostly, as we think about our uniqueness, we fall on our knees in humble gratitude for the gift of who we are, uniquely.

I was looking at my grandson Elliot across the dinner table the other night, and I thought, wow, what a kid. Yes, indeed, he is uniquely Elliot. He is bright and full of energy and loves to wear his hair in just his special way. He often rolls up his pant legs, retro style, and tosses a scarf around his shoulder. He plays the cello. He loves to inform our family conversations with much needed facts and fresh perspective, sharpening the conversation, sometimes igniting things with a little heat. Elliot knows a lot of things. What a kid, growing into a very unique young man.

And I thought, you know, God loves this boy. And I started thinking that Elliot was born into utter innocence, actually born in God’s own image. We all are. But then from that pure beginning, the external forces begin to tug on us, pushing and pulling us in all kinds of directions, some of them good, some not so good. And then we can’t leave out noticing that some kids are born into innocence too, but that innocence is tragically crushed under the weight of hunger, violence, abuse, just sheer lack of love. There is nothing worse.

But God’s plan for human life, it seems, is that we don’t stay isolated in innocence. No, we rightly enter into the flow and fray of life with all its shaping influences, both good and bad, sometimes sharp and hard, sometimes joyous and full. But through it all, God continues, relentlessly, to affirm that uniqueness with which we began. God wants each of us to flourish, in God’s own way of flourishing, to be sure, but he wants a flourishing for each one of us, specifically, uniquely.

The twentieth-century French novelist François Mauriac, Nobel Prize winner in 1952, wrote a marvelous book in his seventies trying to articulate what it is he believes in an age now grown thick with unbelief. What is the starting point of faith, he asks, in an age of severe skepticism? Well, the starting point of faith begins with this mind-boggling notion that each of us is unique.

A miracle we no longer even see, so commonplace it has become, is that no human face, despite the numbers that exist and have existed, reproduces another human face. . . . No one drop of water has ever been exactly like another drop of water. . . . There is not a single living being who reproduces exactly feature for feature one of the billions of faces that preceded us. A human being is a unique copy and has never been reproduced since the world has been the world.

Mauriac marvels, almost breathlessly, about that “singular irreplaceable characteristic of the humblest human creature.” But think about this—an “unthinkable madness” really—that each human being can actually reach to the heavens and come into the presence of a lavishly loving God. Amazing, isn’t it? These are facts about human life, Mauriac believes, that keep us from surrendering to skepticism.

Yes, it is all so mind-bogglingly full of wonder. Each of us is profoundly unique. And there is a God who loves each one of us in our own particular uniqueness. But then, imagine this, we are invited, each one of us, into the presence of this loving God. That’s what I want for Elliot and for all God’s children. That’s what I want for my own life. All of this, actually, boggles my mind.