There was movie some years ago that most of you have seen called Toy Story. It had a deep impact on me for it came out a critical moment in my life.
It was my 33rd year of life and my 6th year of priesthood. I had suffered a nervous breakdown that required a week in the hospital, and a month off recuperate. What drove me there was being asked to take an assignment I really wasn’t ready for. I was asked to pastor a parish that was in serious financial trouble.
Invincible? But I was a young priest at the time and was still emerging from my “invincible” stage where I thought I could do anything. I guess it’s pretty common for men in their twenties to figure they can handle anything. In those years opinions are strong, dreams are still vivid, and hard experience has not always taught its tough lessons yet.
So the young priest in me said yes to the assignment, even though I had reservations. It’s proper to say yes to the bishop, but he had asked me to discern not simply obey. Soon enough the panic attacks came, followed by waves of depression, and days where I could barely come out of my room. All this and I hadn’t even reported to the assignment yet. A priest friend, my pastor, reached out and helped me discern I wasn’t ready and that it was OK to ask the Bishop to reconsider. I did so, but felt I was an utter failure. My personal sense of this humiliation had me further decline into depression and that’s when I sought help, with the encouragement of others. A week in the hospital for evaluation, a month off to recuperate, and years of good spiritual direction, psychotherapy and sacraments have been God’s way of restoring me to health.
Somewhere in the early stages of all this I saw Toy Story. And right away I know I was Buzz Lightyear. Buzz begins the movie as a brash, would be hero, and savior of the planet. Buzz Lightyear’s theme was, To infinity….and beyond! The only problem was that he seemed to have no idea he was just a toy. He actually thought he had come from a distant planet to save the earth. He often radios to the mother ship and, hearing nothing, concludes she must be just out of range.
At a critical point in the movie it begins to dawn on Buzz that he is just a toy and may not be able to save the day. He struggles with this realization and resists it, leaping to the rescue not knowing he can’t actually fly. He falls from the second floor and his arm breaks off. (See the second video below) Suddenly he realizes he is just a toy, that all his boasting was based on an illusion. He then sinks into a major depression since his sense of himself has been destroyed.
But God wasn’t done with Buzz Lightyear. In the end Buzz saves the day by simply being what he was made to be, a toy. One of the kids takes him up and attaches a rocket to him. In the end that enables Buzz to fly and save the day at a critical moment, with the help of friends.
The lesson of the movie is a critical one and certainly the lesson I learned in my own mid-life crisis. And the lesson is that our greatness does not come from our own self-inflated notions, but from God. And God does not need us to pretend to be something we are not. What he needs is for us to be exactly what he made us to be. Buzz succeeds by realizing that he is a toy and being just that, a toy. As such he saves the day. For me too, I have come to realize that I am but a man. I have certain gifts and lack others. Certain doors are open to me and others are not. But when I accept that, and come to depend on God to fashion and use me according to his will, then great things are possible. But if we go on living in sinful illusion and grandeur we miss our truest call and place in God’s kingdom. Ultimately we must come to discover the man or woman that God created us to be. That is our true greatness.
All from a cartoon.
Here is another very brief video from the Superbowl ads that makes a similar point. A young boy thinks he is invincible and strives to order about inanimate creatures. But then, like Buzz Lightyear (and me), he discovers his limits and doubts. In the end he actually succeeds. But what we know, and he still has to learn, is that the power is really from his “Father.”
Here is the clip from Toy Story where Buzz discovers he is just a toy:
And here is where buzz saves the day. A kid had attached a rocket to his back, meaning it for ill, (but God intended it for good!).