Praying for perspective: Heroes of the ages

Who do you identify with? Your answer may surprise you

By George Valadie

A few years ago, I attended a principals conference for more than 100 school leaders, a mixture of young and old, white and black, Catholic, private, public.

The conference facilitator opened by grouping us by our age, using the decade in which we graduated high school — most of us being in the ’60s and ’70s. There were those from the ’80s and ’90s, too, of course, and even a few youngsters whose high school years were the early 2000s.

Each group was assigned the same task — all were asked to list the heroes and heroines of our youth. Not now, but then.

Our particular group (the ’70s) attacked the assignment sort of nerd like: We began by trying to define the word “hero” and discussed what one had to do or be to qualify.

Eventually, we came to our senses and just started throwing names on the wall. We had no problem; they fluidly rolled off our tongues … the Kennedys and MLK, Gandhi and Glenn, Ali, Woodward and Bernstein.

The leader brought us all back together, each to report our group’s results. The older groups, like ours, had plenty of heroes from which to pick, but when it was time for the younger administrators to share theirs, they had come up with very few.

The day’s ultimate result was a room-wide discussion of why that seemed to be the case. Are there fewer great people in the world? Do young people demand more of their heroes these days? Does the media strip everyone bare, laying open each and every flaw for all to see?

I invite you to do the same. Right now, make a quick mental list of the heroes in your life; the men and women you respect and perhaps want to be like. Not the people who have what you want to have — but the people who are who you want to be.

Our leader eventually told us he had led this same activity hundreds of times and the results were always the same. The youngest always struggled the most and named the fewest.

Here’s a thought. Check your list — did any come from Scripture? Mine didn’t. I doubt they would for our kids either. How about you?

I suppose we seldom include them because they lived so long ago. Too unrelatable, perhaps? No TV coverage, possibly? All understandable, but if we broadened our view, there are plenty from which to choose.

Of the many biblical stories, those most likely to make my list would be the men and women who earned the title “martyr.” Faced with choosing between faith and life, they opted for the difficult, the impossible, the choice I’m almost positive I’d never have the nerve to make.

I used to wonder about these folks. I used to wonder why Christ’s followers thought that choosing death was all that great an idea. These disciples had been charged with spreading the word of the Father; they sure couldn’t spread it very far while dead.

I used to ask my teacher if it wouldn’t have made more sense to lie, to pretend to deny their beliefs just to stay alive. Then, they could skip town, take up residence elsewhere so they might spread more of His word to more of His folk.

Seemed logical to me … then. I get it now.

Still, consider what they actually did.

They chose death. They CHOSE it. Had a way out, but refused.

Say this and I’ll let you go. No thank you, I’d rather die.

You know what you’re choosing, right? Yep.

You know what’s gonna happen to you, right? Yep.

You know it’s gonna hurt like hell, right? Yep. You sure you won’t denounce Him? Yep. Is that your final answer? Yep.

Sadly, cowardly, I have a really hard time imagining me doing the same. If it requires that sort of courage — and faith — to be a hero, I wouldn’t have been much of one, at least not the spiritual kind.

Though not a martyr, the apostle Thomas is more my style. He’s the disciple I think I’d most resemble. A lot of faith for sure, but maybe not enough.

You can’t help but imagine how embarrassing it must have been to have been scolded by Christ in front of his peers. It’s not as if the other 10 had done anything noteworthy at that point in their lives. In fact, the opposite was more likely true.

While the rest were hiding in the Upper Room, Thomas had at least found nerve enough to venture out among a most unhappy crowd. The rest were exactly the same — lacking the faith that He’d be there to protect them anywhere outside that room.

Had any of the others managed his fortitude, they likely would have responded as Thomas had when confronted with the news they gave him.

He spoke then what so many of us often feel now. After all, who among us hasn’t wondered.

Think about it. Bad things happen. Good people die. Tragedy strikes. Prayers go unanswered. It’s not uncommon to question if God lets such happen. To doubt a God we cannot see.

The truth is life would be so much easier if we knew — really knew. That’s all Thomas was saying.

I think he was just being normal … I think he was just being us.

Dear God — The fact that we come, means we believe. But we could believe better. Please believe in us. Amen.


George Valadie is the president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

Comments 1

  1. St Thomas. Not a martyr? NOT! He was martyred in India . Read your church history

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