There is a popular notion floating around the motivational speaking circuit and infiltrating elementary school character education that your future possibilities are endless. The pop-psychologists and unflinching optimists tell us we can “be whatever you want to be” if we put our mind to it, try harder, and think happy thoughts.
A personal example to make my point: in two years of junior, junior varsity (that’s two juniors) I scored negative one point; I made one basket for the other team and one free throw for my team. The fact is, no matter how hard I try and how much I practice I will never be in the NBA. I have certain vertical challenges that make playing professional basketball infinitely improbable.
No matter how hard I believe I can fly, gravity says otherwise (sorry to disappoint the R. Kelly and Space Jam enthusiasts among my readership).
Before you despair I want to make clear that a lack of superiority does not mean that one should avoid a particular hobby, activity, or interest. Some things are worth the time and effort whether or not you will ever be an expert or a professional (e.g., Bible Study, parenting, etc.). I still, for example, enjoy playing Basketball despite my lack of professional prospects. I do, however, have realistic expectations. The problem with overly optimistic rhetoric is that it produces unrealistic expectations.
One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it provides the perfect mixture of hope while grounding me in a perfectly realistic understanding of human frailty. How can the Bible explain the depths of human debilitation while describing the hope of change and growth? We are not the ones responsible for our hope but, rather, the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ. By the grace of God we have a realistic understanding of our sinfulness and a genuine hope of redemption.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect… No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).