I’m Not Superman


Growing up, I loved Superman because he was so strong. Clark Kent fooled people sometimes, but his vulnerability was just an act. Underneath was the man of steel. Superman came to help people who were weak and needy; but he himself was never afraid, never confused. Superman never joined a twelve-step recovery group, even though he had lost both his biological parents and the planet he had called home. He never joined a lonely hearts club, although he was always alone. He never got into therapy, even though he wore blue tights and a cape beneath his regular clothes.

I wanted to be Superman. I wanted his X-ray vision, wanted to bend steel with my bare hands, and most of all wanted his chest, with that giant red S on it. I never had the kind of chest that could accommodate a red S — a less curvy letter, perhaps, a lowercase l or i.

Sometimes we adults try to be Superman. We try to look smarter or more successful or more spiritual than we are. We try to answer questions we don’t understand. But it is a heavy burden, trying to be Superman when we’re grown up.

There is another way to help people out instead of trying to be the Superpeople we aren’t. The primary reason Jesus Calls us to servanthood is not just because other people need our service. It is because of what happens to us when we serve.

This has to do with the nature of the relationship between authentic helping and healing. We discover this difference in Earnest Kurtz’s excellent book Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Not long after he found sobriety, Bill Wilson — known in AA lore as “Bill W” — realized he was about to get drunk. In desperation, he sought and found the name of another alcoholic, Dr. Bob, to whom he could tell his story.

Ultimately, Dr. Bob also became sober and with Bill W became the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous. But Bill W understood that the main reason for telling his story was not to save Dr. Bob; rather, if he didn’t give away what he had, he would get drunk again.

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Bill W knew that it was not because he was strong and Dr. Bob was weak that he was able to help Dr. Bob. Bill W could help because he was weak, and in helping, he received strength.

This truth went deep. As AA became known, Bill W began giving interviews and became known as the “founder” of the organization. Gradually he grew too busy and began to neglect his family, but he told himself that all those alcoholics needed him. Friends pulled him aside and spoke truth to him: “You are on a road to death. You are thinking of yourself as unique; exceptional — and this is typical alcoholic thinking.”

Like Bill W, we have to realize that we are not Superpeople or messiahs. We must embrace limitations. That is whence strength comes. God is not chewing his fingernails over whether or not we can save alcoholics.

We must minister out of weakness. The reason we help others is not because we are strong and they need us; it is because if we don’t help them, we will end up a hopeless relic.

Why does AA insist on anonymity? The purpose is not only that people can attend AA meetings without being exposed to the outside world as alcoholics; there is the added reason that no one is allowed to use AA as a vehicle to fame. The founders realized the fatal lure of celebrity. The only way to life was to remain a fellowship of drunks helping each other.

That is the kind of servanthood Jesus calls us to — a society of sinners helping each other.

From The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg

Copyright © 2006 John Ortberg, Used with permission. Published by Zondervan.

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