I like to blend in. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, but I am beginning to see this goes a little deeper for me than just not getting catcalled or stared down by a suspicious Slovak grandma. I don’t want to be noticed.
I see this most readily in myself when moving around by myself in public, on transportation, walking in the city, sitting in a cafe, etc. Any sort of activity where I might be observed by others. To some extent my skin color allows me to look the part, but in a foreign country my smile, my clothes, and my language give me away. I am different, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. My reaction, I am noticing, is something like embarrassment, like I am embarrassed to have people pay attention to me. It reminds me of a time last summer where I thought a lot about myself, my weight, and my body–comparing them to others and feeling overly concerned about how I “measured up.” This was all sparked by an incident with some teenage boys; some of my brother’s friends would call me fat (in earshot) whenever they were over. And I was mortified, I wasn’t sure how to address the situation.
To myself, I’d think, “I’m 21 freaking years old, shouldn’t I be passed this nonsense?” Naw, I wasn’t. Whenever they’d say something along those lines, I would seize up in my heart a bit, put on a fake smile and pretend I didn’t hear. That seemed to egg them on though, they’d keep saying words like “fat” and “gross.” I don’t have a lot of experience with feeling bullied, but I’d say last summer I got a taste of what that feels like, and it was bitter. I’d wait until they left, grab my Bible, and cry over the words that I could not believe, pleading to God that I might. That I might really, at the core of myself believe I was beautiful, loved, and created with a purpose. I’d pound down Psalm 139 again and again, hoping that it could be true. Wondering if I could even believe it was true.
And remarkably, and with aching slowness, the words began to fasten themselves in my mind, when I would think negatively about myself, but then a memory of what the psalmist had said would bubble up into my mind.
“Miranda, you are are all alone.”
“You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.”
“Miranda, you are so ugly.”
“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.”
This practice of acknowledging I have these thoughts about myself, and then holding them up to the words that God has given us in the Bible was so helpful for me. It was freeing, it was humbling, and it was hope bringing. Not that it always stuck like I wanted it to.
The thing about the Gospel is that it doesn’t sink in completely–or at least it doesn’t feel like it. In Psalm 71 (vs. 14 and 15) it says:
“But as for me, I will hope continually,
And will praise You yet more and more.
My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness
And of Your salvation all day long;
For I do not know the sum of them.”
What God has done for us will probably never be fully grasped in this life, His mercy is too rich, His grace too vast, and His loving kindness too extensive.
I don’t fully get it. Psalm 71 is a new one for me, it is all about an old man asking God to faithfully persist in his life. God had been with him from the beginning, and the author is asking that God leads him still, until the end. I think one of the points of life is to understand who I am. And I don’t have to force it, there is something inside of me that demands this investigation, that I might better understand myself, the world and ultimately God. The funny thing is though, to accomplish this, I have to work backwards. If I try to understand myself by looking at myself alone, I will get nowhere. I end up staring at myself disapprovingly and without understanding, entirely heartbroken. I am a broken mess, and I can pretty myself up, try and prove that I am good enough my some measure of my own design, but it is ultimately going to be fruitless. However, if my starting point is rather Jesus and who He is, and who He dares to say I am, then we have a whole new story.
This life is a messy, bloody, hilarious, and frustrating story, and my pride and my belief that I can somehow win people’s approval by fitting into some collectively decided box–no matter how convincing or ideologically alluring–is going to get me nowhere. I’ll tell you this, if some kid calls me fat, or stupid, or unqualified tomorrow, I’ll probably cry, but you better believe I’ll be crying over words that each day grow more fixed in my heart. I am (by only the work of a Holy God) starting to believe them and it not only changes the way I see my God and myself, but it is shifting the way I see other people, for they are precious too. This crap practice of comparison is being poked at here–on a tram in Bratislava–and Christ ain’t gonna quit until I believe the truth. And praise God for that.