We are afraid of each other. Hopefully we are walking away from that fear and into fear of God, but we know and have often felt the deep pull of worry about what other human beings think about us—perhaps even as children. Stories can be so helpful as we work through heart issues, giving us hope and encouragement for continuing on, and, in this case, showing us just how ridiculous this people-fear really is.
You Are Special, by Max Lucado, may seem like just a simple story for children. But simplicity can yield deep insights–often showing us just how uncomplicated our issues really are–and, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”
The short book opens with a description of life for the wooden people in Wemmicksville. Day after day, the citizens mill about their town while sizing each other up and pronouncing their own verdicts: if a Wemmick seems especially worthy they give him a gold star sticker, but if he fails or flops or is generally ugly, he is shamed with a gray dot sticker.
Punchinello always has dot stickers, never stars. After trying so very hard to somehow earn a star sticker, he finally resigns himself to his lot. But then he meets Lucia.
Lucia is different. She doesn’t give other Wemmicks any dots or stars, and curiously, they can’t seem to give her any, either. Not for lack of trying—some give her dots and some give her stars, but they all fall off. They won’t stick to her. Punchinello is intrigued, and decides to visit Eli the woodcarver, who Lucia insists is the secret to her sticker-free life.
It is Eli who gives Punchinello confidence that it doesn’t matter what stickers other Wemmicks try to give him; it only matters what Eli—his maker—thinks about him. While Punchinello doesn’t immediately turn into another sticker-free Wemmick like Lucia, he is given confidence to begin walking toward that goal. And he will be sure to visit with Eli more often.
You Are Special is a sweet and freeing look at fear of people and freedom from it. The story has its drawbacks: Eli seems to be a somewhat weak and distant representation of God, and there is no mention of the gift of Jesus’ righteousness that our worth is based on.
With those caveats in mind, Lucado’s story is a gentle introduction for children learning to fear God rather than people. And we will find much to enjoy in it as well, perhaps reentering daily life with Eli’s words echoing in our hearts: “The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.”