My youngest daughter has a new, common refrain: “You’re the best, Daddy!”
It sounds cute. Then you realize — as I recently have — that it’s a phrase she reaches for when she’s in trouble. When she’s trying to redirect or placate me. When she’s caught in the act with nothing but a smile and a high-pitched voice for defense.
Still. It’s cute, even if I’m usually irritated when I hear it. I smile all the same. She’s forced my hand. My response is obvious. “You’re the best—”
And, of course, I pause. I have two daughters after all. “You’re the best, Mira,” I say. Even when my oldest is not within earshot, I add, “And Elianna is the best Elianna!” Based on who else is around, or who we’ve recently seen or talked about, I add a few more names. A few more “bests.” Just so we’re all on the same page.
It feels a little silly. Almost like a cop out. What am I really even saying? I’m just naming people we know at this point.
But the more I’ve done it and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize there’s a profound spiritual truth embedded in this silly bit of parenting. Profound and elusive because we’re so hesitant to claim it.
We are necessarily the best of ourselves. Just insert your name in the blanks: ______ is the best ______. Uniquely and wonderfully made!
Are we perfect? Of course not. Is there room to grow? I sure hope so. But pause for a moment in this month of gratitude to realize that baseline from which we begin is pretty high: We’re already who God had mind. We’re already the beloved of God.
And now, we pursue our own magis. We recognize that we are the best us around — there is no other version of us with the same set of experiences and insights, pains and passions, relationships and desires out there. From that place of utter uniqueness, we allow for the constant unfolding of our vocation.
In short: “Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.” That’s the final bit of Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation. The bit that highlights the magis. The bit that reminds us that we are the best and only getting better because we’re already the delight of our God — and God still desires greater and greater things for us.
Can you hear God saying to you: “______, you’re the best!” And if so, what response do those words stir in you?
Perhaps a deep sense of gratitude. Perhaps a desire to go out and into your own unique corner of the world to experience exactly why God considers you beloved.
It’s a simple, basic truth. And yet, I don’t think we can ever fully plumb the depths of its spiritual resonance for our unique selves and our shared world.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Small Wonders Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. His next book, My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality, is due out in February 2024 from Loyola Press.