Wednesday night I got to speak to a group of teen girls at a nearby church. I started out talking about missions and human trafficking, but then as I looked at these girls and thought about their lives and their choices, I found myself telling a story from long ago, from when I was a teen girl myself . . .
I was not cool in high school, and that's likely an understatement. I used to read books in between classes so I wouldn't have to talk to anybody and risk saying something stupid.
There was this one girl in my class, Kerry, who was everything I wasn't. She was cool. She was great at sports. She knew how to talk to guys. She wasn't intimidated by anybody, or at least that's how it seemed to me. I would watch her and wish I had some of whatever it was that made her so self-confident.
Then one day, in Mrs. Bertenshaw's typing class, Kerry burst into tears. Everybody froze. Nobody knew what to do. The group around her all just stared.
She finally spoke and said that her stepdad had slapped her that morning. Again, silence. Nobody moved.
As I sat there watching this scene, I kept thinking, Hug her. Somebody hug her. But nobody did.
And to this day I regret that I did not get up, walk through that group, and give Kerry a hug.
After awhile she noticed that no one knew what to do with her when she wasn't been cool, so she dried up and I never saw a glimpse of that side of her again.
But that day changed me. As I watched that scene I realized something very important. They were scared. They were all scared. They were so scared about their own cool status being compromised that they could not help one they called a friend.
I had thought I was the only one scared, the only one worried about what people where thinking about me. And because I was so self-focused, I could not set my own fears aside enough to help someone else.
I wonder how Kerry's life might have been different had someone, just one person, treated her as if she were valuable whether she was cool or not. I'll never know, because I didn't.
After I told the teen girls that story, I told them that they were valuable to the God who made them, so valuable that He declared them worth dying for. Their worth is not in their looks or their abilities or their achievements. God loves them. He thinks they are beautiful. He sings over them (Zephaniah 3:17).
And I told them that if they could live filled up with that kind of value and love, they could get past the me part, the part that is so worried about what others think of them, and in doing so they can truly make a difference.
That is something I still struggle with. I used to think I thought lowly of myself because I'd spend so much time beating myself up. But I'm learning that's really inverted pride. Spending all day berating yourself is still spending all day thinking about yourself! Negative self-absorption is still self-absorption.
It's ironic. We worry so much what other people are thinking of us, when the reality is that most people aren't thinking of us--they are too busy thinking of themselves and what other people are thinking of them!
Instead of trying to prove my worth and worrying I haven't, I want to soak up the fact that my worth was determined before my creation, and whether I do or say something stupid in the near future doesn't change that. If I can set myself aside, I have room to focus on others, and can have the courage to care more about what they really need than how I might be perceived.
So my first wrong thought pattern to overcome is to stop worrying about what others think about me--to stop thinking about me at all, and to focus on others.
Do you struggle with this too? What helps you?