I recently started reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a biography of an olympic runner and World War II survivor named Louis Zamperini. (If you haven’t gotten a copy of this book yet, you really should. I haven’t traditionally turned to histories or biographies for my recreational reading, but a year or so ago I thought I might—likely the result of feeling embarrassingly uncouth after reading a dozen editors’ choices for the best books of last year or something. The book languished on my Kindle for nearly a year before I finally began reading, but now I can’t stop. It’s a superbly written and realized story that is at once both fascinating in its detail and thrilling in its pace.)
Louis Zamperini started out as a bit of a hoodlum, living in the shadow of his popular, athletic and charismatic older brother in Depression-era Torrance, CA. When his brother, Pete, suggested that he turn his fleet-footed getaways from the local police into a more structured pursuit on the high school track team, Louis scoffed and begrudgingly plodded through a race or two only to learn that he had a bit of a talent for speed.
Like many people who earn a bit of recognition or encouragement in a particular pursuit, running became his sole pleasure and ambition. Louis went on to become one of the greatest runners of his day.
(I promise I haven’t ruined anything. This all happens in the first couple chapters. The saga gets much larger, and I’m not even halfway through!)
As I was reading the other day I began to think, what if Pete had never made Louis join the track team? What if Louis had never been encouraged in his pursuit? What if he’d never had a chance to train, and strategize and dream? Louis Zamperini could very well have lived his entire life not knowing that he had the potential to be one of the fastest long-distance runners in the world.
And then I began to wonder if there might be other things that Louis Zamperini could do that he’d simply never tried? Perhaps he had the makings of a classical guitarist, or a world-class animator or a molecular biologist.
My thoughts soon turned (as always) to myself. Of what things am I capable that I’ve not yet been made aware? What gifts and passions or abilities lie dormant in me? With each new challenge that comes my way I will—over the course of my lifetime—continue to adapt and change and call new abilities and sensibilities to the forefront of my arsenal. But will I ever see all that I can be?
I believe there is a great deal of untapped potential in each of us. I believe there are things that each of us can do that would astound those we know, that may even astound us.
But many of these abilities may forever lie dormant. They may never be needed. They may never be called into service.
Some might lament the untapped potential in each of us, but I think it’s something to celebrate. In my mind, our unrealized potential means that there is always a potential adventure ahead. Though our bodies may begin dying from the moment we begin living, our understanding of who we are and what we can do and what we are meant to do can expand ever outward until we are no more.
I don’t believe any of us will ever exhaust all that we can be.
And once again…I find the mark of our Creator in each of us.
For just as we each carry with us the talents to overcome obstacles we will never face, to excel in races we will never run, to create things we’ll never dream, our God is exponentially more inexhaustible. If we can never reach the end of ourselves, how much more will we never reach the end of our God?
He can save us from perils we will never face. He can wow us with beauty we’ll never see. He can stagger us with power we’ll never feel. But even the amount of God that we will know in the circumstances, the victories, the pitfalls and the minutia of our lives will be more than we can absorb.
So in the new year I raise a glass to potential, both realized and unrealized. For life lays before us as a grand adventure through which we might still discover what we can be and what our God can do.