I have this scenario in my head that I keep coming back to. Usually there’s a beautiful girl trapped and helpless, a damsel in distress if you will, and some kind of dastardly evil villain leaning over her. Then I charge in heroically, beat up the bad guy, and embrace and comfort the girl until we ride off into the sunset together.
Sometimes it’s a dragon, and I’m a knight in shining armor. Sometimes I might be a superhero, or it might just be ordinary me. The settings and details vary, but the scenario stays the same.
Call me melodramatic, even quixotic — because I probably am. But this strong desire to be a rescuing hero of sorts has been deeply rooted in me since childhood. Maybe it comes from reading too many fantasy stories and comic books. Maybe it comes from that protector instinct that’s supposed to be inherent in men from generations long past. Or maybe it comes from serving a God who strongly values rescuing the oppressed, comforting the afflicted and loving the brokenhearted. In any case, this compulsion to be a hero to someone in need is never too far from my mind and heart, and it often comes through in my actions as well.
I don’t mean that I actually go around beating up bad guys or physically rescuing people from danger (although that would be pretty awesome). But I do find myself frequently looking for opportunities to be a hero in my own little sphere of influence. Sometimes it’s just little things — an encouraging word or a small gesture of appreciation if I happen to notice that someone is going through a hard time. In several instances, it’s been bigger than that.
Here are a few examples:
- I see a girl crying nearby at lunchtime. Thankfully I had a pack of tissues ready to offer her.
- A good friend is discouraged and distraught after a broken engagement. I sent her some flowers to try to remind her of her worth on the weekend of the would-be wedding.
- Or a different friend calls me from the hospital following a suicide attempt after a bad break-up. I’ll be the one to talk with her, as long as she needs, to reassure her that life is still worth living.
Before I start to sound like I’m bragging about my own altruism (because that’s not what I want to do here), I must admit that this heroic compulsion has some possible downsides too. For one, I recognize that it seems outdated or unfair to look only for “damsels” in distress. I do feel compelled to help and encourage my male friends as well. It’s just that we guys aren’t always as good at showing our emotions or admitting when we’re in need, so those opportunities to help may not seem as readily available. And it’s true that, for me as a single male, the idea of comforting a female is more appealing.
But there are a few other problems too. While I may be able to help and encourage others at times, I must not assume that anyone (male or female) needs me to save them. Sometimes if I’m not careful, I can let the White Knight Complex (as I call it) go to my head. I can take it too far and start to think of myself as this grandiose action hero whose right and responsibility is to save everyone. And I can use my good deeds as a way to feel better about myself, as a means to look good in the eyes of others, or even to try to earn more favor with God — as if that were even possible.
Obviously, those are the wrong attitudes to have. Saving people is Jesus’ job, not mine, and I’m only supposed to be here to point the way. Even when I’m doing good things that appear selfless on the outside, I need to check my own motives, guard my own heart and make sure I’m doing them for the Lord and not just for my own conscience, for my own pleasure or gain.
Once in a while I may have to take a step back from my grand chivalrous quest and ask myself if I really am doing the right things for the right reasons. Nonetheless, though, I do believe that this heroic impulse can still lead me to do a lot of good if I handle it in the right way.
On the night before I wrote this article, I stayed up late because someone I was talking to in an online forum was at possible risk of suicide, and I had to contact all the right people to make sure they got help. Obviously, in serious situations like that one, helping someone in need is clearly the right thing to do. In many instances, I definitely need to let my compassion motivate me to act and shouldn’t worry too much about debating the purity of my own motives.
Still, I think there’s a simple solution to my inner conflict. As long as I keep my heroic instinct rooted in Christ’s love and not merely in my own self-fulfilling daydreams, I can reach people who need it and make a positive impact on their lives. It’s not a matter of abandoning these heroic fantasies, or of thinking I can actively alter my own motives. It means finding practical and positive ways to live out these compulsions, and making sure that the glory goes to God and not to me. That’s a big part of why I wanted to be a teacher, because now my job at a Christian school affords me regular opportunities to encourage, guide and comfort young people and to influence them for good. I don’t have to dramatically save anyone to be a hero; I just have to be faithful with the tasks God gives me, and always be ready to actively demonstrate Christ’s love.
Matthew 5:16 says to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Where in your sphere of influence can you be a hero in ways that will bring glory to God?