Is There a “But” in Your Story Too?

When Greatness is Blemished

Can I tell you that you are great? You may not realize it now, but the Bible calls every believer God’s handiwork (See Eph. 2:10). You are a work in progress and every day is God’s tool to craft in you the vision He has planned for your life. You should know, however, that greatness can be blemished. Not only can your personal greatness be blemished, but anything great can be blemished. The greatness of your marriage, career, family relationships, church and much more, can all be blemished.

We learn about blemished greatness reading about Naaman in 2 Kings 5. The first part of the story regarding his life is fantastic. He had career status. He had honor bestowed on him by the king. Lastly, he was revered in war. Naaman was a great man indeed. The only problem was that he was a leper, according to 1 Kings 5:1. He had a disease that was just as visible to the outer world as his accomplishments. Sure, they saw the battle scars that proved to be an indicator of his unmatched warrior status. Sure, they saw the multitudes of soldiers that confidently placed their lives in his hands and came home safely to their families. Sure, they saw the way the king doted over this mere human. Nonetheless, they also saw his issue.

Some readers may not understand the complexity of leprosy. Leprosy is a skin disease in which the affected area becomes discolored and rots over time. The condition can be so extreme that the affected area dies entirely and falls from the body. This means that Naaman was in a position to lose something. It may appear to you by my description of leprosy that Naaman was at risk of losing a physical part of himself. However, I would like to suggest that his potential lost was far more significant. He was at risk of losing his dignity. He was at risk of losing his great name and the respect of all who would come to admire him. What is a soldier without an arm? Or what good is a mighty man without his legs? What use is a sword to a man that has lost his hand? Folks, Naaman was at risk of losing what he had worked so hard to achieve. He was at risk of losing his greatness!

In fact, I would also like to suggest that it had already started happening. In reading this text, I was amazed by Naaman’s resume. I was not only amazed at how great he was on paper, but by how blemished he was by his issue. I mean, the writer spent all that time listing his great achievements only to blemish it with, “…but, Naaman was a leper.” The writer put his “but” in Naaman’s business, and now our thinking regarding him shifts to something negative.

You see, “but” is a conjunction used to bring two sentences or phrases together. It is also used to make comparisons. It also has the unique power of diminishing the power of the first phrase or sentence. For instance, I could say Naaman was great even though he had leprosy. Or, I could say, “Naaman was great, and he had leprosy.” Neither of these two sentences diminishes Naaman’s accomplishments. Howbeit, when I use the term “but” I am immediately casting a shadow over all that Naaman achieved to inform you that there is a more significant issue; one that is greater than his life accomplishments.

Having blemished greatness may seem unique to Naaman. However, you too have areas in your life where a visible issue overshadows your greatness. If we put Naaman’s life into today’s context, it could easily read, “The pastor was a great man who built many churches, birthed many world-changing ministers, but he cheated on his wife.” Or, it could have read, “Naaman was a great businessman who changed the landscape of his community and impacted the lives of the youth, but he was a gambler.” Likewise, it could have read, “Naaman was a great husband and raised great children, but he had an anger problem.” Or, “Naaman was a great speaker, but he was shy.” Put your name in for Naaman’s, and I’m sure you will see how easy it is for someone to put his or her “but” in your business. What this means is that all of us can have our greatness overshadowed by our issues.

Speaking for myself, I can attest to the reality of this truth. I can remember growing up as a kid who dared to dream, and I dreamed a lot! I always had an idea in my head. At one point I was a fashion designer. At another time I was a rapper. Then I was an artist. I have always been the guy that told everyone I was going to do this and that. Despite how many times I imagined achieving my dreams, I failed every time. I did not fail because things did not work out. I failed because I was afraid to try and too undisciplined to finish what I started.

As you might imagine, people were a little tired of hearing about my plans. After a while, it was as if I were the boy who cried wolf.

Anyone who knew me back then would tell you that I was talented. I have been an artist since I was five years old. I am also gifted in how I use words and images to communicate. My ability to creatively use words and pictures made me a great rapper and poet. I had access to my greatness. Likewise, everyone admired what I could do. Be that as it may, I was undisciplined and fearful. I had a blemish on my greatness. I am willing to bet that you do too!

Nevertheless, blemish or no blemish, you should know that you are great. Likewise, it is that greatness that I intend to help you unveil.

(Excerpt from my book, Undefiled Greatness: Harnessing the power of conflict to maximize our greatest value)

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