As young kids, my sons toted around four-inch tall plastic creatures called action figures. Some of the figures were from comic book series like Masters of the Universe or GI Joe. They appeared in our house after birthday parties and visits to friends’ houses. These characters were often gruesome and scary in appearance. Their skin tones were white, blue, and brown and their bodies were over-muscled from head to toe. Their weapons and outfits proclaimed power and war and a “don’t mess with me” message. Action figures were about just that: action. “Destroy now, think later.”
I understand the desire of young children to feel strong and safe and even superhuman. As an adult, I have the same desire. I want to fix the brokenness in the world and in my family. Swift and direct action seems, well, the best course of action to correct the errors of the universe.
A few years ago I was talking to a friend about how my actions and interference often backfire; they cause more trouble than healing. Without considering my own bad behavior and flaws, I try to take the inventory of those around me and tell them how to improve their lives without a clue how to change my own. Not only is my action arrogant but my advice is often wrong. I told my friend I needed to tote around a non-action figure, a reminder for me to stop, think, and mind my own business first.
A week later, my friend showed up with a gift for me: maybe the first and only non action figure . This wild-haired seven-inch plastic doll reminds me to consider my actions. She says it with words, duct tape, gloves, and footgear. The Step 1 and Step 2 on her feet refer to the first of the Twelve Steps of AA and Al-Anon:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
For the word “alcohol” in Step 1, I can also substitute just about any other noun. I am powerless over institutions, my children, my spouse, my colleagues, my friends, the government, alcohol… and almost everything in my life except myself. Step 1 and Step 2 remind me that I am not superhuman, that I am not the Master of the Universe; that sometimes I need to surrender my actions to a Power greater than myself.
Sybil MacBeth is the author of Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God and The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist. She is an Episcopal layperson and lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Action Figures? was first posted on www.prayingincolor.com/blog on September 30, 2014.