I’ll never forget when Richie Rojas texted me asking for my “fun facts” for fellows. I was elbows deep, head spinning, about what I could say that would make me sound unique from this sea of seemingly similar people - all college graduates seeking discernment in vocation and in this community. I wanted to differentiate myself with something other than “hiking” or “coffee shops,” manipulating and overanalyzing what response would most make me stand out.
I’ve been conditioned to speak like a broken record on what MY strengths are, what I (and only I) can bring to the table, and heck, what enneagram number I identify with. I think we all strive to be - or atleast to present ourselves as - irreplaceable. Our culture and our internal narratives tell this that irreplaceability that this is the peak of success and height of security. To work our way to the top at any cost, even if it means exploiting others in order to keep our irreplaceable knowledge and power.
The Fellows recently got to hear from Josh Hancock, Cafe Manager at A Place at the Table, a nonprofit in Raleigh providing community and healthy food for all regardless of means, who spoke to the fear we all have that if we teach someone everything we know, they will replace us, and not need us anymore. In our pride, we hold power over others. We like to be needed. I am learning that this sense of irreplaceability is hurtful - breeding a sense of pride within ourselves, damaging growth in community, and destroying human flourishing.
Our own strength and power will always fail. Fellows recently read Joshua 24 in Old Testament Class, reminding us of the strength and power coming from the presence of God. In our world, we are ritualized to blindness, overstimulated to to the point that we fail to see reality clearly. In the Old Testament, the Israelites faced this competing reality with Baal, who presented his own narrative that was mutually exclusive and territorial. Like the Israelites, we also have counter narratives. In class, we pointed to success and busyness as temptations we feel acutely today. We project busyness because it gives us worth, value and productivity. Yet busyness, drives us into despair, loneliness, isolation. Our pursuit of irreplaceability - to stand out - can lead us to ultimately stand in isolation.
We aren’t irreplaceable, and if we are honest, we don’t want to be. We are simply a mist, a vapor, and our time is not guaranteed. Being irreplaceable is a huge burden to bare, a constant source of worry and stress. If we are irreplaceable, failure isn’t an option, and we wouldn’t dare to admit we are overworked, overwhelmed, or ever ask for help. The weight on our shoulders will take us one of two ways- either crush us, or inflate our ego to create a suffocating, competitive ladder within our community.
Irreplaceability can’t outlive itself. As fellows, we recently wrote eulogies for Mary Vandel Young’s spiritual formations class, the concept being to “begin with the end in mind.” But, if we live with a mindset that we are the only fit for our role in our vocations, communities, or ministries, then those very eulogies truly are the culmination of our lives. Upon our death, that moment will, at best, proclaim truth ever about us, and at worst, depict an inaccurate picture of what we did or who we were. In order to truly leave a legacy, we need to learn to replace ourselves, to cultivate a movement beyond this mist of a lifetime we have. Irreplaceability takes no care to the enduring quality of the places we care most about, because it dies, relocates, or moves on with us.
As much as I want to believe the opposite- I am not the only girl for the job. I am not the only fellow who could sleep in my upstairs bedroom at the Dotson’s house, I am not the “best fit” to tutor my friend Jay at Neighbor to Neighbor or lead eighth grade girls small group. Nothing stands out about the work I contribute during the week in class or at my internship. But, I am passionate about empowering these people and giving them dignity so that they may flourish with life and vitality. And, most of all, to make room for someone to come after me. My hope for this year, and for this community, is that we are paving a way for a legacy filled with grace, peace, and love to go behind us. If we believe we are the only fit for the job- we will be. But in a few months, the year will end, and so will our influence here. What this community needs is not more of me, or another person just like me to come after, but, for me to pave the way today for flourishing long beyond my time here. To care deeply these people and this place beyond the nine-month timeline I’ve been given in this space. Who will I equip and empower in this season? Who will I be proud to take my place when Fellows Graduation rolls around?
What a beautiful thing to strive for - to replace ourselves.