A few years ago, I was in the habit of reading the newspaper at the weekend. One of the UK papers ran a column-of-sorts in its weekly newsmagazine, featuring brief interviews with well-known people. Many of them I had never heard of before reading about their first kiss, their biggest accomplishment, their most treasured possession, and the like. The questions were not always the same, but one that recurred frequently was, ‘What would your superpower be?’
It just so happened that during that same stretch of time in which I was reading the paper regularly (or at least the weekend magazine–I make no pretensions to being interested in news in general), I was also engaged in a struggle against some darkness in my own life. It was ugly, and I never want to go there again. I really thought that if only I could get a person or two to come round to my way of thinking, the darkness would recede a little. Maybe even a lot. So my answer to the question, ‘what would your superpower be?’ came without any hesitation: mind control.
What foolishness, you think, and of course you’re right. But at the time (and you know how these things are), it seemed like a reasonable solution to the problem. Impossible, but otherwise perfect. Usually the superpowers identified by the folks in the interviews fit into the usual range: flying, invisibility, and that sort of thing. One day, though, I was brought up short by something completely different: to make people’s dreams come true. In other words, this interviewee wanted the ability to bring contentment to the lives of others.
Suddenly my own desire seemed vulgar and selfish, which of course it was. Probably not at exactly the same moment, but as a part of the same general process, I realized that the mind over which I most needed control was my own. I modified my desired superpower just a little: ‘mind control–starting with my own.’
Years passed. A couple of months ago, I was talking with my 11-year-old son, and the topic of abilities came up–not exactly superpowers, but astonishing abilities that might or might not be possible. I suppose it is a sign of my continued self-centredness than I can’t recall my son’s idea for a helpful power. But I do remember the very first thing that came to my mind: ‘perfect self-control.’ Though I hadn’t thought about superpowers in quite a long time, I remembered at once the struggle I’d had, and my old desire to manipulate others’ thoughts.
Somehow, in the intervening years, I had acquired a measure of the mind control I sought. Not perfect control, of course, but at least the desire for it. In my world now, distractions and vexations tug at me, and the darkness lies in anger and despair–when I lose my temper or find myself wanting the success or gifts of another. I would love to have the ability to resist the distraction and bear the vexation, to carry on with my mind fixed where it ought to be: on the road ahead, a road I think of as the path of discipleship.
I don’t have that ability. Not yet. Probably I will never have it perfectly. To desire it, though, seems the next best thing, and for that I am profoundly grateful.