When I was a little kid, I was picked on a lot, and eventually came to the conclusion that I didn’t care what other’s think about me. I was just going to be me, and if people didn’t like me the way I was, that was their issue! So, I did my own thing and stayed mostly on the edges of any forming, and reforming social structures. I mostly stayed away from the ‘childish’ popularity clashes that were the plague of the school-yard.
Unfortunately though, I didn’t do it very well, I had opinions and hated injustice and would often end up once again the brunt of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Eventually I became the ‘classic victim’, the easy target – and as much as I told myself it didn’t matter what others thought, it really did hurt, and I would often cry myself to sleep at night not understanding what was wrong with me. I came to the conclusion, somewhere around grade 5, that I didn’t matter.
When I was in year 9 in High School, there was a girl a couple years older who was my Nemesis. She was a bully, and took great delight in taunting and humiliating me whenever she could.
One day I was leaving school for home and she came over with a bunch of girls in tow, and emptied a can of Creamy Soda over my head. I remember the laughter and the teasing, and I remember not even being angry with her and instead of smacking her [really hard!], I turned around and started the 4klm walk home, Creamy Soda running down my back. I remember walking through the main street of Dandenong trying to act as if nothing had happened, as if nothing was wrong. I also remember being incredibly disappointed with me, because I hadn’t stood up for myself and lamenting the fact that there wasn’t anyone else around who would stand up for me either.
I went home and showered and went to netball practice, and acted as if nothing had happened. But I knew it had, and the rest of the team also knew by then that it had, and I knew I’d have to go back to school the next day, and I knew that it was easier to pretend that all was okay and to believe that I deserved the humiliation, then to stand up for myself in what was clearly a losing battle.
I was 15 at the time, and as hard as I tried, and desperately wanted to believe I was okay, I knew that I wasn’t. And for a very long time, I didn’t think too much of myself. I could no longer ignore the voices around me that were telling me I was a waste of space, and eventually, and even against my better judgement, I believed them. This is what I heard, and this is what I believed. Somewhere along the line, I’d blocked out the quieter voices of those who did love me, like my grandparents. I suppose because the dissenting numbers were so great.
By the time I left school, I mostly hated me. I hated that I had no clue how to interact with others in a socially acceptable way. I hated that I was so easily bated. I hated that I couldn’t stand up for myself and mostly I hated that although I acted as if they were all childish morons, I really wanted them to like me. I really wanted to matter, I wanted to be heard and I needed to know that there was some sort of reason for my existence beyond being the local punching-bag.
My point is, that no matter how much we maintain that we don’t care what others think about us, it affects us because we are relational beings, and as much as I hated the greater part of my school years, I did learn a very valuable lesson. I learnt that we spend a great deal of our time comparing ourselves to, and competing with others, and not just throughout our school years, it’s everywhere, and throughout every age. It is, I believe, a very stark indication of our need for reassurance and love.
I suspect we need to hear a voice outside ourselves tell us we’re okay, we’re beloved, we’re accepted. This of course is the gospel, the good news, no, the great news, and it’s why I made it through those harrowing formative years, and why it is that I’m the amazingly confident and incredibly together person that I am today (well okay, I’m getting there).
The big difference for me now, is that I know that I am truly loved by my Creator, and I also know, just as assuredly, that I do matter and I also know that the words and actions of those around me, (no matter how wonderful, or dreadful) are just the voices of other broken people who need to know that they are loved. And while the love of family and friends is important, it’s not redeeming love, and if we rely on a jury of our peers to continually reassure us, we’re going to get caught up in the competition/comparison cycle, always looking for the next compliment or pat on the back, and not thinking twice when we put someone else down.
The Father’s love however is different, it’s redeeming love. There’s nothing we can do or say that can persuade Him to love us more or less. It truly is amazing. It flows from Father to us and on to others. It’s the kind of love that takes hold of your heart and compels you to fly, to soar to run and not grow weary!
And, it’s the only kind of love that can redeem us from the competitive/comparison cycle, and allow us to live in the freedom that God first intended. Free from proving ourselves, free from fighting with others, free to love, to live, to learn, free from religious obligations and guilt, free to make mistakes, and mostly, free to share this love with others and not tear them down for fear that this love may not come our way again.
It’s the most amazing truth I’ve ever experienced, and it has made life, truly delightful!