Imagine living in a world where the social currency is gold stars and grey dots. The gold stars are awarded to the best looking and most talented individuals while the grey dots are given to those whose looks are deemed unworthy and whose talents are seen as lacking in merit. The gold stars in fact are handed out to people who don’t have grey dots simply to award them for being better, while grey dots are given to anyone with no stars to remind them of what they lack. Imagine wearing the thoughts, feelings and judgements of others outwardly. Imagine being branded and therefore being forced to wear the title of better than or less than.
In Max Lucado’s children’s book “You Are Special” Lucado creates an allegorical world full of wooden people called Wemmicks who live in a town where every single person is carved by a man named Eli. Eli carves each and every wooden person yet he allows them all to look different and possess varying traits. Each and every day the Wemmicks do the same thing – they hand out stickers. Each Wemmick has a box of gold stars and a box of grey dots that they hand out throughout the day. The story centers around one particular character, Punchinello, who has only ever received grey dots. Punchinello admires the other Wemmicks who are coated in gold stars and stares sheepishly at his own body covered in grey dots. One day Punchinello stumbles upon a girl, Lucia, who has no stickers at all. When Punchinello asks Lucia how it is that she has no stickers she tells him that the stickers quite simply do not stick. Lucia explains that it’s easy – that every day she simply goes up the hill to see the woodcarver Eli and she sits in his workshop with him. Punchinello takes Lucia’s suggestion and makes his way up the hill to meet Eli. When Punchinello meets Eli he is both shocked to learn that Eli knows him by name and embarrassed to come before him bearing his grey dots. To Punchinello’s astonishment Eli does not care about the dots that cover his wooden body. Eli tells Punchinello that it does not matter what the other Wemmicks think of him at all but that all that matters is what Eli thinks of him and that Eli happens to think Punchinello is pretty special. Immediately Punchinello lists a thousand reasons as to why he is not special – his paint is peeling, he has no talents, he can’t walk fast or jump – but Eli tells Punchinello he is special because he is Eli’s, his exact words in fact are “you are mine”. Eli tells Punchinello that he had been hoping he would come and that he heard from Lucia that Punchinello might make his way to the workshop. Punchinello then asks Eli why it is that the stickers don’t stick to Lucia. Eli replies “she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them … the stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love the less you care about the stickers.”
This world full of Wemmicks is a beautiful allegorical representation of our world as it is. Whether we are quick to admit it or not our words and actions have the ability to make others feel incredible or overlooked. We can’t always see how we impact those around us but the truth is that we do – we are forever influencing the world around us. Sometimes we make people feel loved, cared for, special and valued and they feel empowered and believed in. Other times we are full of judgement, condescending words and harsh tones and throughout these positive and negative exchanges we’ve metaphorically been handing out gold stars and grey dots.
I asked you to imagine living in a world where the social currency is gold stars and grey dots but I wonder if perhaps we don’t have to do a lot of work in the world of imagination. We don’t all carry around boxes full of stickers but in our own way I think we are daily awarding gold stars and grey dots. We can’t always see the damage our words or our actions cause someone, not in the same way we would if they wore a sticker, but we need to know that the impacts are scarring none the less.
I don’t know about you but there are days when I feel as though I am absolutely covered in grey dots. The harsh words of others feel like daggers and I feel like the whole world can tell that I feel broken and battered. There are days when the idea of being covered in a thousand gold stars would be really appealing – like before a job interview, or when I step into a new group of people for the first time – but the reality is I think the pressure of maintaining those gold stars would get to me. I think that I’d be so afraid of losing stars or never getting them again that I would abandon living life as I should and instead live for the increase in gold stars.
If we begin to see ourselves as the Wemmicks – a town of wooden people caught up in the social currency of stickers – then it isn’t too much of a leap to recognize that the woodcarver Eli serves to represent God. Eli is the maker of the Wemmicks just as our heavenly father handcrafted each and every one of us. We get so caught up in what other people think and say – so uncontrollably caught up in it – we let it seep into our thoughts and minds and we let it alter our actions and our beliefs about who we are and what we can do. Our tendency is to want to just dismiss the grey dot comments and only tune into the affirmations that accompany gold stars. But you know what I love about this story – it reminds me that none of it matters. All that matters is what my Heavenly Father thinks of me and he does not hide his affection – he loves us unconditionally and that will never change. And not only does he love me but he thinks I am so incredibly special – not for what I can do or say or for what I have – he loves me simply because I am His. And once again I am astounded by grace – a gift given not earned and given simply because I am his child and as my Father he wants to shower me with affection. It is this undeserving gift of grace that meets me around every corner, in the depths of every valley and the top of every mountain.
In Lucado’s book we see this picture of Punchinello coming to Eli – a reminder that as God’s children he waits patiently for us to come sit with him. This story of Punchinello reminds us that it is only when we spend time with God that we come to know his abounding love for us. Through that time together we gain trust, we develop faith and we begin to feel secure in who we are and whose we are.
I often wonder what it looks like for me to come to the father’s feet. We talk about it a lot in our churches, at conferences and in songs we sing. I tend to have this picture in my head of God on this glorious gold throne in a humungous hall. Pillars line the sides of the room and a deep, rich, red carpet paints the floor and leads me to him. I picture myself with hunched shoulders slowly making my way to him, weighed down by the burdens I carry and the things I wish to place at his feet. I see myself slowly kneeling before him and bowing my head and cautiously and quietly asking him to help me. And then I whisper I’m sorry that it took my so long to come.
I’ve come to realize that picture I have in my head is so wrong. I’ve reconstructed the image and come to realize that I have misunderstood God’s heart for me. I now picture that same gold throne and that same pillar lined room with a rich red carpet. This time though I understand that when God sees me enter the room he runs. He runs towards me and he embraces me, he tells me to throw all my worries, my troubles and my fears at the door and then he takes my hand and we walk back to the throne and he sits on it and invites me to come join him. So I sit on my father’s lap and I begin to utter “I’m sorry” and he says “my child you are here now, don’t worry, don’t apologize, I’m just so glad you’re here”. And in that moment I know I am infinitely and unconditionally loved and that there is nothing that would keep him from loving me the way he does. It’s because of that love that I no longer see myself with grey dots and why I no longer allow other people to give them to me. It’s that love that allows me to no longer care for the number of gold stars I or anyone else has. It’s that love that allows me to live freely. I don’t live with the oppression of this social currency – I live for kingdom currency and that currency will always be love.