How Can I Be Unique?

The advent of social media and influencers has increased our society’s tendency to conform everyone to a single way of thinking, dressing, and living. Most of us do not question our received mores and habits. We just go with the flow, hoping to look cool or at least not stick out too much. Everyone is getting tattoos, so we get tattoos too. Everyone shops on Amazon, so we do it too. Everyone goes in debt to pay for college, so we do it too.

Not the individualist!

The individualist is hard wired to question what is popular and, in the words of Robert Frost, take the road less travelled.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.1

What’s Great about Individualists

Individualists know who they are. They are self-aware, sensitive, and in touch with their own emotions. They tend to be creative and utterly unafraid of defying convention. These are people who see everyone going one way and nevertheless feel a tug in the opposite direction.

Think of David when he found out about Goliath. The warrior had come out day after day, walked down into the valley between the Israelite and Philistine armies, and boldly proposed single combat. “I defy the ranks of Israel this day,” he said morning and evening for forty days. “Give me a man, that we may fight together” (1 Sam 17:10). Scripture says that all Israel, including their champion-king Saul, himself a battle-hardened man of impressive stature, “were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Sam 17:11). More than a month, the Israelite army spent shaking in fear, utterly paralyzed by this mighty Philistine, until little David arrived.

Jesse had sent him to check on his three older brothers, Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah. He came with a supply of grain, ten loaves of bread, and a present of cheese for their commander. As he drew near, he saw the army approaching the battle line shouting the war cry. Quickly, David left the provisions behind with someone and approached the valley. He looked down and saw Goliath come forth with his bronze helmet, coat of mail, armored legs, and ridiculously large spear. He listened as the defiant Gentile made his speech. As David watched, “All the men of Israel…fled from him and were much afraid” (1 Sam 17:24).

But not David.

Instead of catching mass hysteria like a communicable disease, he asked the question, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?” (1 Sam 17:26). Where everyone else saw disaster, David saw opportunity. He did not go with the flow. His oldest brother Eliab heard him asking around about the reward and rebuked him, saying, “I know your presumption and the evil of your heart” (1 Sam 17:28). Undeterred, David moved on asking others the same question.

You know the rest of the story. Word of David’s inquiries made it back to King Saul who authorized him to fight Goliath on behalf of Israel. God was with him, and he won the fight, killing the bully and leading the army to victory. The takeaway here is that we need people like David to ask the question no one else is asking, to commit to the action no one else will take, and to change the course of history. Individualists are not afraid to think differently, ask the awkward question, or try something new.

The Downside of Individualists

People wired this way are so needed in our world today. Too often everyone just goes with the flow without asking themselves the question, “But, is this right?” or “But, is there another way?” or “But, does this please God?” Sometimes, we need individualists to show us a new way of doing things, or we need them to stay the same even though everyone else has changed. Their independence is their superpower. But they also have a downside.

Consider Samson for a moment. Here’s a man whose birth was foretold by an angel. A man set apart from the womb to be God’s chosen instrument to “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judg 13:5). A Nazarite from birth, Samson was not allowed to cut his hair, partake of the fruit of the vine, or touch anything unclean. He was unique from the cradle.

Sadly, Samson’s desire for the foreign and exotic caused him no end of dysfunction and heartache. His first recorded act was to tell his parents, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife” (Judg 14:2). To this his parents replied, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” (Judg 14:3). Marrying a Philistine wasn’t merely going outside of his race or culture, it involved joining a family who worshipped other gods and who was currently oppressing Israel. Samson ignored his parents’ traditional wisdom and said, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes” (Judg 14:3).

The relationship was a disaster right from the start. He put a riddle to the men who came to the seven-day wedding festivities that they could not figure out. They forced Samson’s new wife to get them the answer, so she badgered and wept before Samson for the whole seven days until he told her. She told them, and they told Samson, obligating him to pay them thirty garments. This, in turn, led to Samson killing thirty men who had nothing to do with the situation and taking their clothes to pay his debt. He left in a huff, and the next time he came to visit his wife, he found she had married someone else, resulting in a fresh spat of violence. Before long, the Philistines killed Samson’s wife in revenge, ending his first romantic relationship.

His second recorded relationship was with a Philistine prostitute in Gaza. His third was Delilah, another Philistine who utterly played him for the prospect of earning 1,100 pieces of silver. Over and over, Samson spurned traditional wisdom and chose the path less traveled. Over and over, his path was fraught with heartache and violence. In the end, Samson collapsed a building, killing thousands of Philistines and himself. This is the downside of defying convention. Rebelling against the way things are commonly done sometimes results in much unnecessary suffering.

Another struggle that individualists sometimes face is the feeling that something is missing in life. No matter how well you do at work or in your relationships, you still feel like something is evading you, like your missing “it,” whatever “it” is. Such a built-in dissatisfaction can lead to tremendous pain. Applied to relationships, you can end up never settling down with someone, or worse, getting married and then divorced and then repeating the cycle over and over, convinced that one day you’ll find just the right match.

In a similar way, searching for “it” can lead to alcoholism or drug addiction as you search for ways to satisfy your longings. Ironically, drinking too much and using addictive drugs leads you further away from what you are seeking, leaving a trail of people wounded and worried in your wake. Thankfully, God does not leave us in despair. He provides a way out.

The Gospel for Individualists

Creation tells us that God is the ultimate artist. He lavished flowers, fish, and flamingos with color. Our sky is His animated canvas on which He daily dazzles us with clouds, sunsets, and blue. Within His well-designed self-replicating DNA-based, living systems, we find so much speciation and diversity that we have yet to catalog it all. As a painting reflects the creative genius of the painter, so our world and the trillions of others that light up the night sky, reflect the heart of our creator.

Yet, for all His brilliance and power, He is not disinterested in our little lives. His definitive love note to each and every one of us is the incredible sacrifice of His Son on the cross. O, how He values each and every human life, that He would give His most precious Son on our behalf!

Romans 5:8. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God sees you. God knows you. And God loves you. Even when you were in your dysfunction, your sin, and your rebellion. Then, God acted decisively to reconcile you to Himself. John Mark McMillan put it this way:

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me2

The God of the Bible is not a cold pillar. He is a passionate lover who jealously desires exclusive relationships with His children. Over and over, the Old Testament prophets reveal God’s heart. They speak of Him as furious when His people leave Him for other gods. They tell us of a God who had Hosea marry a prostitute just to show Israel how He felt when they cheated on Him. This is the God who three times told Jeremiah to stop praying for the people because of their infidelity. This is the God who brought the Babylonians in to conquer His own idolatrous people and take them out of the land. He’s a lover who fervidly wants to be loved in return. He’s neither indifferent nor calloused.

And He’s a God of second chances and new life. He decisively demonstrated this when He raised His Son from the dead. He showed everyone that death is not the end. He didn’t merely resuscitate Jesus; He brought him back to life in a healed and upgraded body. Jesus’ resurrection shows us just a little window into what our future will be like. Scripture says when God made Christ alive, he was the first fruits of those who belong to Christ
(1 Cor 15:23).

Do you belong to Christ?

If so, then resurrection is in your future as well—at his coming. This grand event will occur on the last day when Christ returns to initiate God’s restoration of our world. If you’ve had a suspicion that this life isn’t all there is, that there’s got to be something more than what this world has to offer, you’re right. God plans to renew everything, remaking it into paradise. God will be reinstated as King over all.

Sadly, many Christians have inherited a mutated message of playing harps on clouds or floating around in heaven. This is not even close to what Scripture tells us about God’s coming Kingdom. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mat 5:5). God made the earth, and one day He will renew it. That’s His plan, not transferring our souls to another dimension of pure light. (I challenge you to find that idea in the Bible!)

If you’re honest, the heaven idea sounded pretty boring anyhow. Thankfully, God’s plan for a Kingdom will have plenty to for us to do, enjoy, and create. Jesus’ resurrection showed us that eternal life is not a wispy disembodied existence. No, we will have bodies that can walk, talk, eat, and do things. We just won’t have the pall of sin, sickness, and death hanging over us anymore. We’ll be free to be our true selves, to try new things, to develop our skills, to explore, to build, to produce art and literature. I can’t wait to see what everyone will do!

The Challenge for Individualists

Within the body of Christ, we do not all have the same temperaments, capabilities, or functions (see 1 Cor 12:12ff). Part of this results from our unique personalities, and part of it derives from how God equips us via His spirit. We are not all supposed to look the same, do the same things, and think the same way. Just as in creation, so in the church, God loves diversity. This is good news for individualists who would rather defy societal norms than blindly follow the crowd.

The church needs these people. Christianity has always been countercultural. However, many of us too easily allow the world to seduce us into its attitudes, fads, and preferences. Most of us want to fit in. We want others to think we’re cool, or at least, not exclude us for being weird or different.

Not so for individualists.

The individualist is suspicious of popular ideas and practices. As American society moves more and more out of sync with the Christian worldview, entering a post-Christian era, we are going to need courageous and authentic prophets and poets to confront us and inspire us to be authentic to God and His way of thinking and living.

What’s more, our society has increasingly denigrated the bureaucrat and the homemaker while celebrating the artist and the designer. Our culture highly values creative people, giving them the opportunity to influence and evangelize. The individualist has an opportunity to reach millions like never before.

Also, people wired this way are hypersensitive to hypocrisy. Like sharks who can smell blood a quarter mile away, the church needs prophetic voices to call us out when we’re faking it or compromising. If you’re an individualist, we need you! More than ever, the church needs the prophetic voice to hold us accountable to what God says is right.

In addition to these incredible advantages, individualists must also overcome several disadvantages. Spiritually immature individualists can easily become self-absorbed, rather than other-focused. It’s easy for them to retreat into their own elaborate interior world. Stewing on negative and critical thoughts can become a self-imposed prison. Due to their unabashed honesty and self-awareness, guilt and shame can be especially difficult. Sometimes, we feel like we must punish ourselves for sinful actions before we are willing to accept God’s forgiveness. Of course, making amends, paying restitution, and seeking reconciliation are important aspects of honestly taking responsibility for our actions. However, you can’t let yourself get stuck in a toxic cycle of beating yourself up. Own what you did, bring it to God in confession, and ask Him for forgiveness. This pattern the Scripture lays out nicely:

1 John 1:6-9. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Once God has forgiven you, accept it, get back up, and start walking in the light. This is hard, but the alternative is to get stuck. You’ll never be able to punish yourself enough, nor does God want that for you. He wants you back in relationship with Him. He’s already paid the price. He doesn’t need you to add a tip.

In the end, we don’t need to stay aloof. We can go back to our loving God and allow His love to inspire us to accept ourselves and do the work He has for us.

As if God hid the building blocks
Of every beautiful thing
In this game of hide-and-seek
I can’t help, but think that ordinary has swallowed the key

I’m stuck swimming in shadows down here
It’s been forever, since I came up for air
Flashlight in hand determined to find
Authenticity, only poetry could even begin to try to describe

What if we already are
Who we’ve been dying to become
In certain light I can plainly see
A reflection of magnificence3

Notes

1 Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken, accessed Aug 22, 2022.
2 John Mark McMillan, “How He Loves Us,” The Song Inside the Sounds of Breaking Down, Nov 28, 2005.
3 Sleeping at Last, “Four,” Asteroid B-612, 17 on Atlas: II, September 10,
2018, YouTube.

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