"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not."
When I was in the sixth grade, I wasn’t what most people considered cute. I was tall and gangly, with buck teeth, a big nose and unkempt hair. Two other sixth graders, whom I’ll call "Buffy" and "Fifi," made life torture for me that year. Among the most cute and popular girls in our grade, Buffy and Fifi sauntered about in their Calvin Klein jeans and top-of-the line Nike tennis shoes, chattering with their numerous friends. But they took breaks from socializing at regular intervals to torment me.
Each morning they cornered me in homeroom, then again in math class, making fun of my clothes, my hair, my lack of friends, or any other thing they could think of to make me feel small and stupid. Fifi would make ugly remarks, and when I'd retort, Buffy would mimick whatever I said in her high, squeaky voice. Sometimes other kids would sit in on the 'fun' and add their own two cents worth.
The daily bus ritual was the worst. Somehow I got stuck sitting by them nearly every day, I couldn’t get away from them. They would pull my barrettes out of my hair, pull my papers and books loose from my stack, scathingly tease me and call me names until I was nearly in tears. I would hear their taunting laughter sail through the open bus windows as I tried to make sense of my tattered belongings once I got off at my stop. Sometimes they'd do me the courtesy of returning my barettes or books via chucking them through the bus window, sometimes not. More than once I fished my wadded-up math homework out of a rain puddle. I always managed to hold back the tears until the bus was out of sight.
"The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they struck him in the face.’" John 19:2-3
It seems detrimental to dwell on such experiences as my sixth grade year. So I haven’t allowed myself to pull the experience out of the file cabinet of my mind and examine it for quite some time. Yet for some reason it has surfaced and stayed in the forefront of my mind, a couple of weeks after my "going to church" experience.
I’m not totally clear on the connection here myself, as there is still a gap between the people I liked the least at IC on their worst day, and Buffy and Fifi on their best (if they had one) day. Yet perhaps Father has brought the sixth grade experience to mind to remind me of a couple of things.
First, being happy, comfortable, popular, and having a place you ‘fit’ does not necessarily mean you are living with a right heart or doing as Father would want. Second, even if you are unattractive, mocked, lacking a circle of friends, a 'misfit' and badly outnumbered, it does not necessarily mean you have done anything wrong or that you aren't where Father intends you to be.
I’ve never truly understood how suffering is supposed to help mold us into the image of God. It is counter-cultural, both in and out of the church, to see suffering as anything but a result of your failure in some way. Hence my struggles in accepting suffering even now. It’s going to take time for me to ‘get’ this, but I’m at least beginning to understand.
One day recently I was praying, again telling Father how this path feels like traveling through west Texas and I really don’t want to be wrong. I want my heart to be conformed to his, and things sure don’t look too promising on the outside. If it’s him leading me, I will go wherever he leads. Yet we’ve all heard the name calling and perhaps at low points wondered if it's true. Unrepentant, unteachable, unsubmissive, "Jezebel spirit," lone ranger Christian, rebellious.
It can make a person feel a little crazy some days. In sixth grade I would walk home from the bus stop crying, wondering why a girl like me who was never mean to anyone was viewed and treated as a nobody. And why these mean girls had SO many friends and apparently no one else was ever bothered by (or hardly even noticed) the things I saw! If I could have put myself into a Transformer machine and come out with a cute new face, new Calvin Klein jeans and a vivacious personality, I would have.
I'd be hard pressed to believe that anyone staying on this 'out of the box' path for any length of time just said, "hey, that emergent church thing looks trendy, I think I'll go hop on that bandwagon." If I had any reason to believe I could go ‘back to church,’ find a good fit, and actually grow and thrive spiritually, I’d be there this Sunday! It might be easier to be happily oblivous to the things we wrestle with and yearn for. We could just put on a nice Sunday dress and go Belong to the Sunday crowd. No, we don’t walk off the beaten path because we enjoy being labeled or looked down on. We as humans naturally tend to take the path of least resistance. Walking through west Texas is something I'd only want to do with the Lord! He calls us, and he equips us, even though we may struggle and suffer along the way.
As a Christian, the most frustrating part of not fitting in is wondering when Father is going to finish working it all together for good. I’m still waiting to see the kingdom purpose in a lot of the things I’ve suffered. Waiting is hard.
But as I prayed I felt Father take me by the shoulders and hold me comfortingly and firmly. It’s all right, he said. It’s gonna be fine.