I teach a group of 3rd thru 6th grade girls in an AWANA class at my church. I have discovered that apparently, eight years old is when the way others see you begins to trump everything else.
I'm hearing a lot of words lately from these girls regarding their developing awareness that other people may not think they are as amazing as their family does and that I think they are.
Suddenly, she's hearing a lot of junk from the world. No more double ponytails for her, since she was told she looks like she has puppy ears. No more wearing certain clothes because she has been told they are "babyish". One of her “best” friends likes to point out that she is last in completing her math every day. I can see the wheels turning; thinking that must say something about who she is. She's never before been self-conscious or afraid of being unique before. Overnight, it seems, everyone else's perception of her really, really matters. And by everyone else, I mean lots of other small children who are starting to uproot everything their parents and religious instructors have tried to plant for the last eight years in her tender self-image.
I sometimes get tired of it all. Tired of her feeling the fight to determine who she is and “whose” she is. I want to take her face with both my palms, lift up her head to mine and firmly say, "You don't have to be anything but yourself. You were created to be exactly who you are, and God is so proud of what He's created. Don't ever forget that."
You and I are assaulted by the same junk from the world every day. But we're more immune to it. Right? Now that we're grown ups? You and I would never be swayed by the opinions of handfuls of people who don't really even know us. Who cares what the neighbor says, or the annoyed cashier, or the mother of the wild child, or the aloof teacher. Nothing they could say or do could tear us away from believing how beautiful and unique we really are. Right?
Yeah, right. We don't do half the fighting we should to protect truth in our hearts about ourselves. The world kicks me around, and most of the time, I'm too busy or distracted to kick back. "You haven’t lost any weight yet?" "You don't know about Prop such and such?" "You aren't going to the fundraiser?" "You didn't finish your Bible Study this week?" And the negativity starts to seep in around my unprotected heart. I can start to reel, feeling like a bad mother, a bad homemaker, a bad wife, a bad anything! Some days, a bad EVERYTHING.
But then God gently speaks to me in the form of an old hymn…
“Thou, O Lord,
are a shield about me.
You're my glory.
You're the lifter of my head.”
It reminded me what Jesus does. He is the good parent who gets tired of watching me lose the battle for my identity. He grabs my face in His gentle, scarred palms. He lifts my head to look me in the eyes, and says, "You don't have to be anything but yourself. You were created to be exactly who you are, and I'm so proud of you. Don't ever forget that." His kindness sucks me in. His kindness is what makes me want to follow, and grow, and follow some more.
I love who I am when I let Jesus define me. But it takes a stopping and a listening. He is the lifter of my head, and I let Him see me. Then I listen in my heart to what He sees. His love for me is the shield about me, my glory, and the only thing that will protect me the next time I walk out the door.
But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.