"You're amazing!" "You're so smart!" "Good for you!" "Congratulations!""You deserve it!"
I've gotten this a lot this last week. Not because I just started being amazing or smart, or because I actually did something important, but because a group of people out near Palo Alto said I was amazing. They did this in the form of an offer of acceptance to Stanford School of Medicine.
I can now brag (and so can my friends and family) about "being accepted to Stanford." I have achieved the very highest of Med School Applicant-dom; I am the greatest! But what is greatness? What is my greatness? What can be my boast?
The first thing to consider is that this acceptance is just a symbol. I have not actually done anything. The thing that changed was not that I accomplished something new, but that someone important recognized that I had accomplished something. I can't boast about another's opinion; it's not mine.
Nevertheless, the acceptance was caused by my accomplishments. All the hooplah might be indeed justified, if a few years late. But let's look at this closely. Why did I get an acceptance to Stanford? There are three main reasons:
#1 I had good enough numbers; i.e. I was smart enough.
#2 I had amazing extracurriculars. I started FISH.
#3 I had a great research experience. I got published.
#1 My smartness is not something I control. I was born smart; it was literally a gift of God. I can't rightly boast about something borrowed. "Hey guys, check out my Ferrari!" "When'd you get it?" "It's not mine, but aren't I cool?" Nevertheless, you could say that I put my smarts to good use by studying hard. Perhaps I could boast about my choice to use my talents.
#2 The story of the founding of FISH and its early years is one built upon miracles. 6 people agreeing to work towards something that none of us had ever done or even thought possible was the first. The second major miracle was the introduction to Dr. Tamez. One phone call to my friend, caused his friend's mother's church's deacon (who's a doctor) to call us and invite us immediately to a clinic, getting our foot in the door abroad. The third is our discovery of Maclovio Rojas. Armed with the information: "a town called Maclovio Rojas off the free road to Tecate needs help," we drove to Mexico, without almost any Spanish speaking ability. We ended the day with the keys to a clinic secured for the following week and an open invitation from the leadership of the community. Without any of those three events, FISH would be exactly what most other premed groups are: not impressive. And I'd be what most other premed officers are: not impressive. But God chose to perform these miracles in FISH. How can I brag about that? Sure, I worked hard, but it would have been for naught without the miracles.
#3 My research position was a gift from God. I was by no means the smartest or best researcher. I, an engineer, was picked up by a Pathologist, who decided he wanted to train me and bring me up as a scientist. He gave me a job I could actually do, throwing me right in the middle of the most promising collaboration he had going. And I got published. Good for me! Not really. I was faithful and did my job as best as I could, but the biggest and most impossible hurdle was getting the perfect position. I had no say in that. If anything I can only boast in doing my job.
So Stanford didn't get a brilliant, intrepid, innovative leader-scientist as they thought; they simply got a someone who God blessed and is blessing. I suppose it's all the same for them; they get blessed on account of me (like Pharaoh on account of Joseph). The bottom line for me is that, in each of these three critical areas, I don't have much that I can claim besides faithful work. Can I boast in that?
How did I even choose to work hard? My choice was an act of my will. If you're a scientist and a determinist, my 'will' is nothing more than an illusion, so nothing to boast about. If you're a Christian and anything but a Calvinist, my will itself is perhaps the most incomprehensible gift of God: freewill, independent action, is a divine attribute that we have the great privilege of sharing in. In essence, God has ceded part of His will to me, on loan until (or if) He wants it back. Until then, I can use it to make decisions about working hard or not.
So even the mechanism by which I make my decisions is borrowed. So can I rightly boast about it? My will acts before God; if I were to boast, it would be before Him. That is an exceedingly bad idea considering how often and grievous my errors are.
So what is left of my greatness? Nothing. It is, at best, only as the greatness of a mirror. I have no greatness in me, and the most I can ever hope to do is to cleanly reflect the brilliant glory of God. There is no other shape or form in which I can appear as brightly. While I cannot boast about my greatness, I can certainly boast about His.
Listen to the conclusion of the matter:
Praise God. Praise God for FISH. Praise God for his blessings in my research. Praise God for the mental talents he has bestowed on me. Praise God that someone saw it and has given me an opportunity; indeed, praise God that I was accepted to Stanford! But please, for the love of God, don't praise me.