Courage for Humble Beginnings

Have you ever been encouraged because someone believed in you, far more than you even believed in yourself? Who saw things in you that you couldn’t see? Who made you want to live up to those things, and become the person they believed you could be?

I recently listened to a podcast, whose speaker was comparing newcomers in a specific business to people who didn’t know how to swim. He gave the analogy (paraphrased): Say you’ve never had a swimming lesson in your life, and I throw you in the water. How do you think it will go? You’ll probably sink. But it would be silly to say you’ll never be able to swim, based on your current inability. That is entirely up to you, and whether or not you’re willing to learn. If you’re humble enough to take instruction, and put in the time to learn, you will swim.

The same idea can apply to a lot of the things we feel insecure about. We shut down a lot of possibilities by simply deciding we can’t do certain things. We protect ourselves by piling up excuses for why we shouldn’t try, because we’ll only fail. Then, we’re frustrated when we don’t magically possess the skills and knowledge that people around us have and are successful in.

I was recently struck again, not for the first time, by this quote:

“Una pila de piedras deja de ser una pila de piedras en el momento en que un solo hombre la contempla, concibiendo por dentro la imagen de una catedral.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, El Principito

“A pile of rocks ceases to be a pile of rocks, the moment one man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Sometimes certain structures, habits, mindsets, or external circumstances in our lives need to be dismantled, in order to build something new. But in the midst of that process, things look a lot less like potential, and more like piles of rubble. Our own messes loom larger, when we exaggerate other peoples’ successes, and misjudge the effort it took to get them there.

Are we able to look at the rocks in our lives, and see potential? Or, are we determined to despise those small beginnings? Can we see ourselves not as failures, but as elaborate works in progress? Will we regard our own ignorance and inexperience as locked doors — or doors we just haven’t opened yet? Are we willing to learn? Can we extend the same grace to other people? Or will we rely on our own near-nearsightedness to assess worth, and dismiss people by appearance?

Do we see rocks, or potential for cathedrals? Which do we encourage others to see? If we’re honest, which do we want to see? Because if rocks stay rocks, don’t require much of us. They stack up into obstacles and excuses. But if we start dreaming, and those rocks suddenly have potential, we will need to actively change. Most of us, somewhere deep, are afraid to change. We are afraid of heartbreak, failure, what others think, and giving up what is safe.

But we underestimate the human spirit. Even more, we underestimate the God-given spirit: to look at something as finite as dust, and see past current state to innate beauty, because of what it can be.

You and I were made to build and restore things — not to be stuck kicking at the rocks. Let’s believe in each other, and see beauty in the process. Let’s celebrate the small victories. One day we’ll step back and see, where a pile of rocks used to be, there’s a cathedral.