I was almost 12. Having just been given up by my birth mom and living in a new state, new home, and new school, I was anything but cheerful. As a matter of fact, I was down right miserable. The jarring denial I had bubble wrapped my heart in was just now beginning to have each tiny bubble popped one by one. This day, I had only a couple left to be popped and as I got my tray of food in the lunchroom or O.L Smith Jr high I did not know that I was talking right into a cactus. I scanned the room for an open place to sit. There was only one area (from what my shy eyes could tell) that had an open seat. I walked over, sheepishly, and went to slide the chair out with my foot and sat my tray down. “You can’t sit here!” the words made my eardrums start to beat as the blood began to pulse. I looked up, started to say something but before I could, tears began selling over the brims of my eyes and before I could do anything about it, they betrayed me and fell out to my cheeks. I sniffled to try to make it stop but it was in vain. “Oh, are you sad? Go back home to your mom!” the girl yelled the words only inches from my tear-stained face. Then, something happened, the last bubble of my denial was popped and I snapped. I stood up straight, slowly picked my tray up, slid the chair back with my foot, walked to the garbage can, dumped the entire tray (food and all) in. I slowly turned around and saw she was standing a few feet from me. I walked over to her and then put MY face inches from hers. “I don’t want to sit there.” I said it just above a whisper and through clenched teeth. My arms then, as if being pulled by all the bitterness, loneliness , rejection I had felt in the last month grabbed the girl by the shoulders, swung her around and slammed her against the cafeteria wall. She was truly surprised and with her eyes wide she tried to speak. “Shut up!” I yelled. “Don’t you EVER talk about my mother!” I was crying uncontrollably now, the voice coming out of me was almost unrecognizable. “You know NOTHING about me and I don’t want to sit with or near you and your (insert expletive) stuck up friends!” I let go of my grip on her shoulders and she slid under my arms and ran back to her seat. I then walked out of the cafeteria, down the hall, into the girls bathroom, went inside a stall, slid to the floor and cried until the bell rang. Needless to say, she never bothered me again. I however was plagued by the still burning desire to belong somewhere and to maybe, just maybe have a seat at the table with the “popular” crowd.
It has been many years since that day and I feel that I have something to say about it. Let me start by telling you another “memory/story” of my life. I became a Christian when I was 18 years old. Growing up, I was always in church (whether I liked it or not) and although I would sit in pews a lot, I rejected the whole “idea” of God until then. The services I sat in were rather mundane to me at the time. The standing and sitting while singing out of a hymnal. The preacher asking everyone to open their Bibles and turn to such and such a book and such and such a chapter. It was all I could do to keep my attention. After church, there were tons of potlucks. THAT I did believe in.. whole heartedly. If God was real (and I was still debating that..) he most certainly would want us all to bring food to a church and eat. I would sit and watch people gathering together, smiling, laughing, sharing stories. Kids would go off and find some game or activity to do and would have a blast doing it. It was the closest thing to a “family” that I saw in my life at the time. It was beautiful to watch everyone gather, and just BE. There was a pouring into each other that was taking place and it was good, really good.
It is said that “hurting people hurt people”, and I believe that. However, I also believe that if Christ has become the center of your life that it should be “hurting people allow God to take that hurt in order to heal and help people”. It should be that way, however, if I am honest, it is not always that way. Actually, it is not that way much more than it should be. Too often the enemy (that would be the devil.. ooo she is getting her preach on) comes at us in very sneaky ways. In today’s culture I believe one of the most devious ways he is coming at us is in the false narrative of “love yourself first”. It is sneaky and quite frankly one of the most damaging narratives that is being adopted even by the church. I have sat in Bible studies where the “advice” dealt out is to “take care of yourself first”, or “you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself first”. I am not suggesting that there was bad intention behind this advice given, just that we have been tainted by the “me first” mentality that is hidden behind the guise of “love yourself”. In the word, Christ Himself laid out the truth in this, “.. Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”(Matt 22:37-39) But Heather, it says right there to “love others as YOURSELF, so we ARE to love ourselves.” This is an argument I am faced with many times. The response is simple. The order of what Jesus is saying is just as important as what He is saying. He says to love God first, then others, than ourselves. Make no mistake about it… Jesus was all about putting others before ourselves. He wasn’t kidding around when He also said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) Let me be real with y’all right now… Taking up your cross, dying to yourself SUCKS BIGTIME.. it is not an easy thing to do. It is also not just a one time thing. It’s not waking up one day and saying.. “ok, self you are out of here, and here’s my cross, lets go for a nice stroll around the park of my life now and show everyone how holy I am. Oh, and if I see anyone struggling to carry their cross today, or worse (gasp) not even carrying their cross, I am gonna smack the taste out of their mouths, then hope to God I don’t actually have to have a conversation with them. (ew.. I am so NOT going to do that).” It is a daily, hourly, minute by minute, sometimes even second by second decision. It is practicing patience with others when they have treated you badly. It is speaking life into someone who has just emotionally vomited all over you. It is sitting with the broken and just being there with them. It is grieving with someone, even when you feel uncomfortable, and may not know what to say.. don’t say anything.. just BE.
When I was 12, and had that lunchroom encounter, I projected my hurt onto someone who hurt me. Did it feel good? In the moment, yes. Did I feel good about myself? No. Plain and simple, I think of that story quite often, God uses it to remind me that it is not about me. He uses it to remind me that even in moments where I feel justified to give someone a piece of my mind, or just plain kick some tail, to die to self, and allow Him to move in those moments. He continues to surprise me with what He does in those moments. I have seen lives changed, hearts softened, and even lives given to Him in moments where I got out-of-the-way, allowed God to use even my self-centered, “justifiable” anger and hurt. How beautiful it is to Him when we as those who are His, lay down our life, our “rights”, our own self-serving, and allow Him to weave us together, mold us, use us for something greater than ourselves. It’s a big ol’ potluck of stories, we all get together.. and let God be the one who serves the meal.