Every time I hear someone start touting the benefits of being your true, authentic self I waffle between excitement and cynicism. Part of me is tired of the cheerleading, while another part needs the encouragement. What if the cheerleader and the cynic need to hear the same message? Different is a good thing!
Questioning one’s self
Based on our past interactions, the day was like any other—a teenage girl just navigating life and trying to be herself while simultaneously fitting in with the crowd. Our interactions are sporadic, yet regular. I’ve watched her mature and change for the last 5 years, always in awe of her quiet strength.
Lately, her demeanor seems a little more aloof and her actions more guarded. Of course, these changes could easily be attributed to adolescence but that seemed like too easy an answer. Something deeper was at work. She seemed to be questioning herself.
Confidence cannot flourish in the depths of comparison.
In her element at school, she shines. Surrounded by others elsewhere, she feels different and insufficient. Her strong, quiet, amazingly intelligent self sets her apart from the fun-loving, free spirited girls around her.
Who is right and who is wrong? Should she be more like them?
To be seen, known, and loved as you are
If choosing between right and wrong or better and worse emerge as the best way to proceed when feeling unsure of ourselves, we’re destined for disappointment.
Even as adults with families, jobs, life experience, and a desire for spiritual growth, we still struggle to believe different is a good thing, especially when we’re the one who’s different. We want to be seen, known, and loved for who we are, but we desire inclusion as well.
Imagine this kind of relationship (excerpts from Psalm 139).
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” (v.1) You know everything that I do and everything that I think, before even I. You know me better than I know myself. What I do and say doesn’t scare you off.
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?” (v.7) Even if I wanted to hide, you are always with me. At the heights of my success and joy you celebrate as well. When I find myself in my deepest despair, you climb into the depths with me. There is no place too dark, too lonely, or too bad for you. You refuse to let me alone.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (v.14) My body, my mind, my spirit, my personality—you created it all with a purpose I can barely comprehend. There are moments waiting for me as I confidently step into the life you’ve created. When I embrace the notion that different is a good thing, I appreciate your creativity in my life and others.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! … lead me in the way everlasting!” (v. 23-24)
Different is a good thing (for you too!)
I watched her struggle for 3 days, wondering if I should speak up. Wrestling with who she is in comparison to those around her may not be bad. Maybe this internal questioning and visible discomfort can help her become more confident.
But my spirit was uneasy. Questioning is healthy, but so is encouragement.
Quietly, I pulled her aside and shared the message stirring in me. She is strong, intelligent, kind, serious, and quiet. She is a leader. I see the way she struggles around others because she’s different. God made her just the way she is and it is good. She doesn’t need to be like anyone else. She can grow and change. She can have fun and be funny, but she doesn’t need to change to suit others.
The same is true for you and me as well.
I don’t care how old you are, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. We see a friend having fun or being successful and we wonder why we don’t feel the same way. Why can’t I be less serious and more light-hearted? When do I get a turn being the fun director?
You are seen, known, and loved just as you are by God. And many of us. But most importantly by God. And he wants you to see, know, and love yourself as well.
Different is a good thing.
Your Next Steps:
Read Psalm 139. Yes, even if you are not a big fan of Psalms or David, read it. Then, let the words reach the places where your questions and insecurity live.