The Apostle Paul, Cool Runnings, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders

I have a four-year-old daughter, and like many other four-year-old daughters, she is obsessed with “My Little Pony.” While I rarely sit and watch an episode with her (her TV time is my Responsibility Champion time), the episodes I have seen in full are quickly making me a fan. The writing is great, the characters are superb, and there’s a ton of truth woven into these twenty-three minute episodes.

In the mythical land of Equestria, each pony has what’s called a cutie mark: a special symbol on their rear flank that signifies their special talent. The thing that makes that pony unique. The gift they’ve been given, and which they will use to better the community. To put an evangelical spin on it, it’s their “calling.” To put a Blues Brothers spin on it, it’s their “mission from God.”

Ponies receive their cutie marks somewhere during adolescence, though the timing is different for each pony. Young ponies who have received their marks sometimes tease the ones who haven’t by calling them “blank flanks.” Receiving a cutie mark is a rite of passage in Ponyville. What’s more, it’s a symbol of a pony’s identity.

Throughout the series, three young ponies—Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo—have sought after their special talents so they, too, can receive their cutie marks. So dedicated are they to their quest that they’ve banded together as the Cutie Mark Crusaders. For years, these three ponies have been watching. Wondering. Waiting for that magical moment when their flanks are no longer blank.

Finally, in an episode from last season, the little ponies take a break from searching for their special talents, and in the process, help several other ponies find theirs. They’re so fulfilled, so rewarded by taking their focus off themselves and putting it elsewhere that they gleefully announce that they don’t care if they ever get their cutie marks. They’re having so much fun hanging out and helping others that they no longer need the validation.

And then, because this is a kids’ cartoon, all three ponies finally, finally get their cutie marks. Only in total surrender, in letting go of the thing that has so consumed them, only then do they finally receive it. Their special talent is, in fact, helping others find their calling.

There’s so much truth in this episode it’s almost painful. No matter what we want, no matter how wonderful a thing it is, wanting it, straining for it, striving for it, can choke the life out of us if we’re not careful. If we’re focused on finding a spouse, we get jealous every time a friend announces her engagement. If our heart’s desire is to have a baby, it’s painful every time someone else gets pregnant.

If what we want, more than anything, is to be a published author, then it becomes very difficult to celebrate when someone else’s novel debuts.

When our focus narrows and crowds out everything but that One Thing we want so badly, it costs us our joy. We become anxious. Insecure. Fretful. Frightened. Sometimes even downright nasty. (I’m thinking of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, here, with his preeccccciiiooouuusssss. Guys, don’t be Gollum).

These things we want may not be bad. In fact, most of the time they’re not. Marriage, a family, a career, an opportunity to leverage the gifts God has given us for His kingdom…all of those are good things. It isn’t wrong to want them. But when we get tunnel vision, when we put blinders on and see only the object of our desire, we commit idolatry. That thing we want, no matter how worthy, has pushed God off the throne of our hearts.

In the movie Cool Runnings, the coach of the Jamaican bobsled team says this: “A gold medal is a wonderful thing…but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” If we’re not content with what God has given us right now, if we’re not content, satisfied, enough, without the thing we so desperately want, then we will never be enough with it.

So how can we be enough? How can we let go and live in peace, even without the thing our heart so desperately wants?

God gives us the answer through the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13. This is a famous verse, and one of my favorites, but I think we’re guilty of misinterpreting it. The pop-Christianity translation is, “I can reach my goals, follow my dreams, and overcome all odds, through Christ who strengthens me.”

While it is indeed true that God equips His children to do whatever He has called them to do, no matter how stacked the odds may be, that’s not really what Paul is talking about here. He’s talking about contentment. Here’s the verse in context:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Here it is, paraphrased for writers:

 “I know what is is to be unpublished, and I know what it is to be a bestseller. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether swimming in five-star reviews or receiving yet another rejection, whether rolling in a great book contract or still querying agents. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

These dreams you have, these things you want, these deep desires of your heart…chances are very good that God put them there. But you must give them back to Him. Put them in His hands. Don’t allow them to become weeds, choking out the beautiful flowers in your garden. Don’t let them steal your joy and contentment. Rest in the fact that God is enough.

Cutie mark or no, He will always be enough.