People in general long for companionship and love. Companies capitalize on this with their advertisements – buy these clothes to be liked, buy this perfume/cologne to grab someone’s attention, eat this food and you’ll be admired. On a deeper level, we’re conditioned to believe that unless we follow the party line, we won’t be loved or truly accepted. It’s very easy to feel like you don’t belong or aren’t wanted.
People can also be mean. I spent a long time in school or in new social settings feeling, and knowing, and that I wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. I wanted so much to feel accepted, despite already being loved by my family and being raised in a loving, Christian home. Peer acceptance is a different thing from family acceptance, and those who have been bullied will understand that. While I had friends when I was younger, it’s hard to feel accepted and wanted when those friends prioritize other people over you – especially if someone else is bullying you at the same time. Thankfully over time I’ve made some lasting friendships built on respect and a mutual liking for one another. And, being a professional student (who is often a hermit with her books) I hadn’t thought of feeling out of place for years.
Until recently. I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in almost a year, and the dread on their face at seeing me stung as much as if I scraped my knee on the pavement and poured lemon juice on the wound. And just the week before, a lifelong acquaintance had hesitated before giving me a hug. As someone who likes to hug and smile and see people, I took both of these encounters to heart. I was letting how other people’s behaviour towards me define how I felt about myself. I asked myself the inevitable questions: What did I do? Did I hurt them? How can I make them like me? Is there something wrong with me?
In other words, I let other people define my worth.
I have such an innate need for belonging and love, that when I didn’t get it, I thought that there must be something wrong with me. It’s the same thought I have when I don’t get a job I applied for, or my entry doesn’t get accepted to a competition, or when someone doesn’t like me the same way that I like them. It’s a feeling of inadequacy that’s hard to shake, because if I were ‘better’, I would have gotten the job, my piece would have been accepted, and kind feelings would have been reciprocated. Right?
But when someone else is rejected, is that the same thing we tell them? “I’m sorry Joe, you didn’t get what you were looking for, but that just means you’re simply not good enough. You need to change.” No. I would like to think we tell our friends, “It just wasn’t time”, and that they are not any less worthy of love or acceptance.
As a Christian, I’m taught that my self-worth comes from God’s love for me, not from anything else. And, while I’ve known this, it’s much harder to put this knowledge into practice. We still yearn for love from other places in our life, whether it be from admiration from our peers, from a romantic partner, or from a pet. This I think is because these loves are more tangible. We can see people. It’s hard to see God.
But also, I must realize what being a Christian truly means. It means that I believe Jesus died on a cross for my sins to save me from going to hell. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty radical. Romans 5:7 states, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.” Being that Jesus died to save my soul means that I am worth saving, and the God of the universe thinks so too.
On the flip side, being a Christian also means that my aim is to be like Christ. And if Jesus was on Earth yet hardly ever accepted by people, why, as a Christ-follower, should I expect to be? And why even look for love that is fleeting and fickle when I already am loved by the God of creation who loves me unconditionally for who I am?
This reminder to myself is awfully freeing. I don’t need to feel worry over the opinions of others. I can love freely because Jesus already loves me. And while I still need to try my best in order do the work God has sent me to do – my shortcomings do not make me inadequate. And it doesn’t really matter if someone thinks I’m a little crazy for feeling so free.
Because you should feel free too.