Be You

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”  
Jeremiah 1:5

The Change I Made
I moved from Union, NJ to Swansea, SC in the summer before my 6th grade year. Actually, to say that I lived in Swansea would be an overstatement. I lived 4 miles outside of this two-stoplight town. We were in Lexington County, but our property ended where Calhoun County started, and we were less than a mile (as the buzzard flies) from Orangeburg County.

image courtesy of Bubbels via sxc.hu

From a town next to Union you could see into New York City. On our 10+ acres in Swansea, you could see pine trees and fields. And pine trees. And fields. And snakes (in the years we lived there, we killed a rattlesnake, copperhead, and cottonmouth on our property).

Moving down right before middle school meant adjustments. Nearly every day the temperature reached 100 degrees, and the closest pool was over 40 minutes away. “Next door neighbors” (besides stray dogs, toads, and those dang snakes) were about  a mile away. No place to ride my skateboard except a small concrete slab where a trailer used to rest.

And people talked funny. Really funny. But I figured they said the same about me. So when school started I did the one thing I could. I changed.

I changed, just a little, just to fit in. I talked a little differently, acted a little differently. There was nothing innately wrong with trying to fit it in, except that it just wasn’t me. After a few months of working hard to fit in, I realized it wasn’t worth the effort.
Another Boy’s Change
image courtesy of Sweet Trade via flickr

Fast forward 24 years. When we opened the particular after school program where I work on January 31, we had one Caucasian boy who came regularly. Add the two Hispanic children, and that made a grand total of 3 non-African-American children in our program. (So on my kids’ first day at the Club, we DOUBLED the number of non-African-American attendees!)

This boy, let’s call him Mark, was always the first to arrive, having come from the local private school. Mark came in ready to do his homework and showed respect to everyone. I was also pleased to see how well he was accepted by the other kids (as opposed to another Caucasian boy who came only once, until – as I found out later – another boy told him, “We can’t be friends because you’re white and I’m black.”)

Mark did great connecting with other kids in sports and activities for a few weeks. But then I started noticing some changes in his behaviors and speech. Nothing really horrible, but it just wasn’t him. It hit me that it was the same thing I had experienced two decades earlier.

I pulled Mark aside one day, and brought this up. I told him that he was a great kid and nothing was wrong, but cautioned him about getting caught up trying to please others. I explained that I had been through the same situation when I was his age. He needed to just be himself.

It seemed to sink in, as over the next week, he was back to his regular self. Unfortunately, due to some personal issues, his parents needed to pull him out of the program.
Is Change Bad?
To be clear, changing who we are is not innately wrong. In fact, the apostle Paul explained how he “became all things to all men” (I Corinthians 9:19-23). The core issue, like all Gospel-related issues, is the motivation. We need to examine our hearts, and as parents and leaders, help children learn to examine their heart motives. Are we doing it for the glory of God, or to please others and to desire them to accept me?

For a child who is struggling to fit in, I would try to help her see that God made her exactly like He wanted her to be. There are over 6 billion people in the world, and God made each of them unique. To want to look differently could be (not always, but often) going against His divine will.

This was the same general message I recently had for a girl at the club, who has visible scars from a severe burn when she was younger. Another child was making fun of her for getting burned (like she could have helped it!), and it made her distraught. I tried to reassure her that she was absolutely special and that I was so glad that I got to know her.

When we feel alone and out of place, the solution isn’t to fix our environment. Read this excerpt on Stuff Christians Like:
“Ultimately, God doesn’t just replace our solutions with new solutions from him. He replaces them with him. He knows that if he gave us a new list of action items, we’d worship that instead. When pushed into a corner, when darkened by stress and turmoil, we would seek comfort in our printed out list of instructions, instead of the instructor.
“So instead he offers us a savior instead of a solution. He offers us a relationship, not a routine. Full of mystery, full of creativity, and yes, sometimes full of frustration.”
God doesn’t so much want our comfort as He wants our worship. Maybe the hardships we have — even when we feel different, alone, and wrong — are tools that He can use to draw us to Himself. Don’t so much seek to change our environment, as much as seek to worship Him more.

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