Apparently, eight years old is when the way others see you begins to trump everything else.
I'm hearing a lot of words lately from my daughter regarding her developing awareness that other people may not think she is as amazing as her family does. Perhaps those people, in fact, hold the truth about her. Perhaps my continual praise and instruction about what a beautiful creation she is in ours and God's eyes is just a thin sheet of lies that can be easily ripped down.
Suddenly, she's hearing a lot of junk from the world. No more double ponytails for her, since she was told she looks like she has puppy ears. No more using the "babyish" umbrella. One of her best friends likes to point out that she is last in completing her math every day. I can see the wheels turning; that must say something about who she is. And for the first time, she chose not to include God in her essay about the most important things in her life. She's never before been self-conscious or afraid of being a light. Overnight, it seems, everyone else's perception of her really, really matters. And by everyone else, I mean lots of other small children who are starting to uproot everything I've tried to plant for the last eight years in her tender self-image.
Then the other day, I was tired of it all. Tired of her feeling the fight to determine who she is and whose she is. And I took the fight into my own hands. I stopped her as she raced through the kitchen, leaned down looking her in the eyes, grabbed her face with both my palms, lifted up her head to mine and firmly said, "You don't have to be anything but yourself. You were created to be exactly who you are, and God is so proud of what He's created. Don't ever forget that."
You and I are assaulted by the same junk from the world every day. But we're more immune to it. Right? Now that we're grown ups? You and I would never be swayed by the opinions of handfuls of people who don't really even know us. Who cares what the neighbor says, or the annoyed cashier, or the mother of the wild child, or the aloof teacher. Nothing they could say or do could tear us away from believing how beautiful and unique we really are. Right?
Yeah, right. We don't do half the fighting we should to protect truth in our hearts about ourselves. The world kicks me around, and most of the time, I'm too busy or distracted to kick back. "You didn't turn his homework in yet?" "You don't know about Prop H?" "You aren't going to the fundraiser?" "You didn't finish your Bible Study this week?" And the negativity starts to seep in around my unprotected heart. I can start to reel, feeling like a bad mother, a bad homemaker, a bad anything! Some days, a bad EVERYTHING.
Last night, we went to mid-week church, and the woman who led worship sheepishly introduced her next song by saying it was a "moldy oldie." And what do you know, I knew the song. The words are right out of Psalm 3, and I remembered the tune from singing it in high school youth group.
Thou, O Lord,
are a shield about me.
You're my glory.
You're the lifter of my head.
It reminded me what Jesus does. He is the good parent who gets tired of watching me lose the battle for my identity. He grabs my face in His gentle, scarred palms. He lifts my head to look me in the eyes, and says, "You don't have to be anything but yourself. You were created to be exactly who you are, and I'm so proud of you. Don't ever forget that." His kindness sucks me in. His kindness is what makes me want to follow, and grow, and follow some more.
I love who I am when I let Jesus define me. But it takes a stopping and a listening. He is the lifter of my head, and I let Him see me. Then I listen in my heart to what He sees. His love for me is the shield about me, my glory, and the only thing that will protect me the next time I walk out the door.
But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
My glory, and the One who lifts my head.