Who was your hero growing up?

For most, an image of the sports star, celebrity or father, if you’re lucky, pops in your head when the term hero is mentioned.

For me, Michael Jordan was my hero when I was growing up. I was a teenager during his hay day of winning back to back championships for the Bulls. I was drawn to several great characteristics that Michael Jordan portrayed as an elite athlete. He seemingly never got flustered under pressure and was the definition of “clutch” in the midst of high stakes. His work ethic was unparalleled as he spent endless hours honing his craft even while at the top of his game. Jordan also seemed like a “good guy” and I could relate well to his story of having been overlooked for the 9th grade basketball team and how he overcame that set back to become great.

Unfortunately, the inspiration that Jordan provided me became somewhat of an obsession. I watched over and over every video he made and watched and read about every game he played. I knew every stat and came to feel like I knew him personally. While playing basketball I trained myself to emulate (as best I could) the way he dribbled and juked and took fade away jumpers. He had something that I wanted and to me he portrayed what a real man looked like.

I don’t think my story is all that different from most boys who grow up idolizing their favorite sports star or other famous personalities who show us that they made it and have what it takes. The attraction to greatness and the desire to model our lives after people who demonstrate high aptitude is good in and of itself. However, it can become dangerous when we become so attracted to these figures that we lose sight of who they image…namely God.

While I always had a basic intellectual understanding of who God was growing up, I never made the connection that these great people who I looked up to were mere imperfect images of our Creator. While these popular high achievers can show us glimpses of greatness, their lives are typically centered on the gifts they have been given instead of on the Giver.

Had I known this great truth I would have begun to look to the Saints for inspiration. Saints individually convey the greatness of human expression while simultaneously pointing us towards our Creator. Men like St. Maxamilian Kolbe or St. John Paul II were wildly successful and attractive people. They and many others over the past 2000 years have lived out the life of a disciple of Christ in such a radical way that they reveal to us the full potential of the human being and what real greatness looks like despite our weakness.

If you are looking for a hero to model yourself after, I urge you to look to the lives of the Saints. We often diminish them as soft pious church mice who lived in some distant age, but that is a false image of who they are and what they can teach us. The lives of the Saints are replete with stories of courage, heroism and dramatic turns of events. Through them we can see practically how real people like us lived out the Christian life…and won!

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)