Growing up, there was a lot of pressure to be accepted, to be in the in group, and to perform well. From peer pressure at school, to family life at home, to church rules and expectations, everything taught us to please people, to fit in and not be the one to break rank and stand out like a sore thumb. To do so meant to be excluded, isolated and looked down on, or be marked in some way.
It took many years to unlearn this, and find the courage to stand alone, hold tight to my values – and do so with grace for others – and risk the inevitable rejection. That learning process was painful, and at times I reacted out of my fear of rejection and let it all get inside my spirit, when the resistance came. But, having learned it (and continuing to learn it) I thank God for the freedom it brings.
I had been fairly warned, before doing my Masters, that secular education would possibly, even likely, leave me bankrupt of my values. On my first day in one of my courses in the program, we were asked to write our names on the board. Two dry erase markers lay on the ledge in front of the board, one green and one blue. At an awkward distance away was a red marker, and to use that one meant asking the prof for it. When it came to my turn, I chose that one, and added my name to the collection. The class continued with blue and green, and when it was over, my name stood out like a sore thumb.
I chose the red that day to remind me never to lose myself in a crowd, to always be true to my heart before God, true to myself, and never prioritize blending into accepted norms. It probably felt more awkward to me than to everyone else, though I recall the professor looking surprised, and felt the class staring…. though it was likely more a ‘feeling’ than a reality. They didn’t understand why I chose red. Nor did it matter. In that moment I wanted to accomplish one thing, and take that one thing with me through my education, through my day to day interactions with people in my personal life, and ultimately through life.
To my intrigue, throughout the program we were encouraged to express ourselves and be critical thinkers, but also to honour others with whom we differ. There were some interesting and intense conversations, but there was respect. Contrary to what I might have anticipated, given the concerns shared, I came through the program more confident in my spiritual journey, not less. I embrace my faith more firmly than before. But I also developed skills in really hearing the other person, and honouring and caring for them without feeling like I need to endorse their beliefs.
I think back often when I ‘swim against the tide’, whether in religious communities, in university, or in my own mind and thought processes. And I choose again to pick up the red marker. Getting lost in a sea of other people’s expectations is a curse. Whether those expectations are secular society or religious performance, they steal something from us. Standing true to one’s heart (before God for the Christian), and to personal values and beliefs, while difficult, builds confidence, as long as it is done without attacking or belittling the other.
When I live life with that authenticity and grace, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I am trustworthy. This is my goal in life, to live in such a way that people experience compassion, love and grace in my presence, even when we are worlds apart on an issue or in beliefs, and even when we openly disagree.
I encourage you, don’t be afraid to write your name in red… to stand out in the crowd… to be different, and swim upstream. Let your name stand boldly for what your heart holds dear, and for the truth your spirit embraces. But, in that, let love for all be your mantra as you view them through the eyes of God’s grace, as worthy, beloved, and deserving of respect even in those difference.
~ T ~