Over the weekend, I spent time with a 14 year old girl who shared with me that nobody at her school likes her, no one in her small group at church likes her and her parents don’t really know her. I don’t know about you, but this sounds just like I felt when I was 14: insecure, unsure, approval seeking. I grew up in a one [flashing] stop light town, along with ~2,500 other souls. Our town was smack dab in the middle of nowhere, Washington, about 3 hours from the closest city with a mall. Everyone knew my story, my parents’ stories and the stories of my extended family. If there was anything they didn’t know about me, they felt free to fill in the blanks with their very own opinions – sometimes kind, sometimes ugly. When my parents bought my younger brother and I cars when we were 16 and 18 respectively, the mother of one of my best friends went around town telling other parents that I must be ‘bad news’ because my parents had bought a nicer car for my brother than for me. The reality was that we’d both chosen the cars we’d been given and my dad had worked out a deal in that he would purchase several upgrades for my brother’s car, but that there wouldn’t be any argument when he took this more fuel efficient car on his monthly trips to dental meetings in Seattle.
In High School, I participated in volleyball, cheerleading, tennis, drama, Future Business Leaders of America, Future Homemakers of America, Student Government, choir, church youth group and was an exchange student to France during my Junior year. If this were a movie or a YA novel, this list of activities would be used to demonstrate how athletic and talented I was. But then, we get back to the fact that there were only 100 of us in my class and you realize that talented or not, we all got to participate as a reward for merely showing up in the correct uniform. I was awarded Most Inspirational Player in Volleyball, which is the equivalent of ‘You Suck, but You Cheer Really Loud’; I was cheer captain, but couldn’t even do a cartwheel so I think this was more in recognition of my ability to organize events and make copies of our cheer books; I don’t think they even had a C-Squad in tennis until I showed up with my racquet. Needless to say, you won’t hear my name memorialized in the hallways of my alma mater as the star of anything. At graduation, I was surprised to be handed a gold cord to wear, symbolizing graduating with honors. All those wearing these cords were lined in chairs by GPA – I was the last before the order was switched to alphabetical. I remember the sting of feeling as though love was nothing but conditional: if you dressed and acted the right way, your school friends would accept you; if you were ‘good’ enough, your church friends would accept you; if your grades were high enough, your parents would accept you. The problem with trying to measure your worth as compared to others is that there will always be someone who you think is ‘better’ than you in one of the categories you’ve decided to track. Other girls might be skinnier or funnier or more athletic or better at math.
Not knowing what I wanted to so with my life when I grew up, and feeling enormous pressure to have my life figured out before leaving High School, I enlisted in the Army and found myself crawling through mud at basic training as my friends entered their Freshmen years at various colleges across Washington. Once again, I found myself very average. I was not the fastest, nor the strongest. While practicing throwing grenades into bunkers, my head was almost taken off by the drill sergeant who’d had to reroute the heavy sphere I’d managed to toss directly into the doorframe, bouncing it back at the line of young soldiers awaiting their turn to practice this obscure skill.
Recently, I’ve had the privilege of volunteering to help with an after school club at a local girl’s school where we tackle topics like value, worth and strength. Finally, after all these years, I can articulate the battle my average self had struggled with: Self Worth. We used a $50 bill to demonstrate to the girls that no matter how much you crumple, dirty or abuse the bill, it will still have the same worth. And so do we girls. We abuse ourselves by saying our thighs are too skinny or too fat, that we are too smart or not smart enough, that we are too loud or too shy. Enough. We were all uniquely made – there is no one on this planet who was created like you! Who else on this planet has your same fingerprints – no one. You same corneas – no one. You are the only one on this planet who posses the unique set of experiences, gifts and skills all packed us as YOU. And guess what, you are no more or less valuable than any other human being on this planet. It’s time to stop being our own biggest bullies.
One of our club’s leaders, a middle school girl, had an excellent suggestion to write encouraging notes to other girls in their school who had not participated in our club. How brilliant of an idea is that? Can you think of anyone in your life who could use an encouraging note? What if we’re all still 14: insecure, unsure, approval seeking? What if one small gesture on your part could help another see their worth? I challenge you to touch someone’s life today and let them know they are valued.
For me, I’ve learned that my worth can only come from God. After all, anything else you could imagine putting your worth in can be destroyed, lost or can change value. When you put your worth in an unchanging God, you find real worth that lasts forever.
“But the lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7