“Nobody likes you… everyone is annoyed by you and we all think you’re just really weird. Everyone says it behind your back. When you come up to talk to us, we all wish you would just go away… I just had to tell you the truth.”
November 18th, 2003. I was in 4th grade. I sat in the bathroom stall unsure of how to process what I’d just heard my friend say to me.
Now, in her defense, she had a reason to be upset with me. The day before we had been playing some silly game outside at recess where you go around bopping people on the nose with their palm after you tell them “you know if your hand’s as big as your face…” then you all laugh and move on to the next silly 4th grader game. The problem was, we were smack dab in the middle of a Midwest winter and it was quite cold outside. So when I playfully bopped my friend’s palm as it hovered over her face, there was only laughter from my part for the half second before her nose started bleeding. Maybe the cold had made her nose a little dry or maybe I had bopped her just a little too hard, but regardless, her nose was now dripping blood down into her hands and the words begin to spread around the schoolyard that Megan punched Alex in the face. She’s crying and running inside and I’m crying and pacing in circles because I’m absolutely terrified that 1) I’ve really hurt her and 2) I’m now obviously getting expelled. Great. No amount of A’s were going to save me from this one.
I was in a state of sheer panic when my mom picked me up from school. I promptly told her that I would be getting expelled tomorrow because I had just been playing the same game everyone was playing, mom, and someone’s nose started bleeding even though I didn’t hit her that hard but it looked really bad and everyone now thinks I punched her in the face. Through tears I informed my mother that my friend had even told me I better watch out because her dad was going to know about this and he would make sure I was punished. Oh were there tears and so, so much fear.
My mom, like any parent, quickly brought me back down to reality by explaining the science of cold temperatures and nosebleeds and public humiliation. She assured me that my friend was probably more than a little embarrassed by this scene and, naturally, reacted in a way that would move the attention off of her and onto me. She encouraged me to apologize, which I informed her I already had, but reluctantly agreed to apologize again. So the next day at school, I brought Alex flowers, a handmade “I’m Sorry” card and a box of chocolates to make it up to her.
“Alex, I’m so so sorry about what happened at recess yesterday. I didn’t mean to hurt you but I know I shouldn’t have been playing that way. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
She took the gifts and said something along the lines of “okay.” I shuffled my feet right down the hall and into the bathroom, a place of solace for an introverted elementary school student like me. I would run into a stall every time I got a bad grade, the severe thunderstorm alarm went off, or got into an argument with a friend. The bathroom was my place of safety and quiet. Until now.
I heard another pair of feet shuffle across the cold tiled floor.
“Megan? It’s Alex.”
“I have to tell you something, but you have to promise you won’t get mad.”
At this point, I’m naively believing she had forgiven me the second I handed her the box of Whitman’s assorted chocolates. So I respond, “Okay.”
It was then that she delivered the words, ”You know, nobody likes you… everyone thinks you’re annoying and really weird. Everyone says it behind your back. Like when you come up to talk to us, we all wish you would just go away. I just had to tell you the truth.”
I believed her. Oh, did I believe her. I was 9 years old. She was 10. Alex was older, wiser, prettier, and so much “cooler” than me… there was no doubt in my mind she knew what she was talking about. Not a moment’s hesitation. She knew the truth, and she had just shared it with me. Of course I believed her.
I opened the stall with tears in my eyes and she said in what seemed to be a half amused, half bewildered tone, “Are you crying?”
That was fifteen years ago. Fifteen years. I hadn’t thought of that day in the bathroom with Alex in probably the better part of a decade. For the two years following I marked November 18th on my calendar with a red X because in my mind it was Doomsday. It was the day I accidentally “punched” someone in the face, made her nose bleed, walked past her dad shaking so hard I had to wrap my arms around myself and the next day at school, tried to fix it all in the best way I could think of with a chocolate-covered apology, and it absolutely wrecked my world. I was actually alone, and there was no one I could fully trust.
Memories of that day were eventually filed away into the long-term storage parts of my brain, the parts you think are tucked safely away into a filing cabinet under lock and key until specifically requested at a later date when you can safely and quietly go retrieve only the exact details you need. So removed, so sterile, so perfectly stuffed into a box shoved waaaaay under the bed, all the way at the back where the light can’t reach and the dust can gather. At least, that’s where I thought Alex’s words were. All these years, they’ve been hiding in plain sight.
I recently had what I thought was a falling out with a good friend… a best friend. Someone I would consider one of the closest people I’ve had in my 23 years on this earth. I was just tired of the competition. She had never come out and said she was competing with me, but I knew it had to be there. If I saw it and thought it was there, it had to be there, right?
There’s this book circulating through quite a few circles right now called Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. I put off reading it for months because I was convinced I was the only person who actually really did feel left out. I’d see someone share a quote from the book on Instagram and think, “How could you of all people ever feel left out?” I’d think, this is the person who I would consider so “in” that if I was friends with them, I’d instantly be “in” too… I’d know I belonged. That I was included. That I was good enough.
Do you see a pattern emerging? Does any of this sound familiar? Does it maybe sound like a fourth grade girl’s response to being told she really doesn’t belong, even when she thought she did?
In her book, Lysa Terkeurst writes, “If we react with more emotion than is appropriate for an isolated incident, it’s probably not so isolated. The escalated emotion of this situation is probably an indication of painful ties to the past.”
I couldn’t sleep that night I read the chapter that ended with that quote. How could a situation I hadn’t thought of in years have such an effect on the way I view the world and interact with people? I’m an adult… I know no one intentionally leaves me out or wants to make me feel like I’m not good enough or like I don’t belong. Right?
…or do they? All these years have I just seeing what I subconsciously believe to be true about myself? That I really don’t belong?
It becomes much more than a 10 year old’s mean words in a bathroom when you unknowingly carry it with you for the following decade and a half of your life. It wasn’t just Alex. It’s never just Alex for anyone. We’ve ALL had people say really cruel things to us and about us that we reassure ourselves aren’t true but they just might be, right?
The fear of rejection fed by the hurts of our past is enough to wreck every good and true relationship we have if we don’t treat it for what it is: Doubt, weak faith, and ultimately a lack of confidence in who the God of the universe tells us we are and who he made us to be. With Christ, we are more than enough and we more than just belong. You have a purpose that is meant to have an impact so great it will change the world, one step and one heart at a time. The only person making you feel less than, left out, and lonely… is you.
I went to a conference this weekend where the main speaker, Jennie Allen, shared a crazy good amount of earth-shattering revelations and Biblical truths. One of my favorites was the fact that when we feel enslaved or trapped by something, oftentimes we are the only ones keeping ourselves imprisoned by it.
When we worship anyone or anything other than God, we imprison ourselves in a cell of our own making. With Jesus we have the key to open the door and get out. We just have to choose to leave the cell.
Right away, I knew what aspect of my life had slowly and steadily become my prison cell. Oh the pressure I put on myself to perform. To prove that I measure up. To put my life on display in such a way that everyone would believe I am someone they should want to get to know. “Look at me, look at me, look at me,” the cries of Instagram ring out. How readily I have joined the choir of voices singing praises for man and not for the Father… seeking the approval of people and not the approval of Christ. Lord forgive me for losing sight of you in the pursuit of what this world would define as both good and good enough.
I wrote in my journal as Jennie was talking all of the things I’ve been carrying around on my back as a burden, what I’ve allowed myself to be enslaved by. The burden of feeling the need to perform for others through this public display of my life in just the right perfectly edited way with a consistent feed and just enough pops of color and travel photos to meet the necessary expectations. What is the final goal here? What is the finish line I’m running so desperately towards? If it’s not Jesus, that line will just continue moving further and further away from me. I’ll never reach it.
Earthly markers of success will never, ever fulfill and will only leave me emptier as time goes on. The more effort I put into seeking after those marks, the more I will drain my own strength and joy trying to reach a target that never stops moving.
The only unwavering place I can fix my eyes on is Jesus. If I’m listening to the world more than I’m listening to Him… let me say that in another way. If I’m spending more time, effort, and mental energy on INSTAGRAM than GOD’S WORD, there is something seriously wrong. It’s a sin. And it will only lead to death.
Death of contentment, death of the joy I have for my life, death of relationships I choose to check out of because I’m “checking in” to whatever we’re doing on social media. And eventually, all of this vanity will lead to an eternal death. Eternal separation from God because I continued to choose this world and its demands of me over Him.
You see, in the end, we get what we want. If I live my every day running after the praise and applause of man and less time getting to know Jesus, what does that say about the desires of my heart? Man, I’ve got some work to do.
If I have been called to the ultimate calling – to set the captives free in the name of Christ Jesus – I must be free myself. The door to the cell is open. Just because it’s decorated cute in a perfectly consistent feed doesn’t mean it’s not a prison in disguise. In my cell alone, the only person I can think about is me. It’s impossible to see Christ if I’ve locked myself into the routine of displaying my life and not laying my life at the feet of the cross.
So I start to run. I open the old, rusted, creaky cell door that looked heavy as steel but feels light as a feather to push against the wall as I take off as fast as my two feet can carry me. And I cast off the fear. Oh the fear and the heavy burden it has become. The fear of never belonging, not being good enough, not measuring up, not being applauded or praised or included by the people I admire most, not being “likable,” not being significant in their eyes, not living up to the world’s standards of the best and definition of success.
I throw it all off and run like it’s my last chance on this earth to do so because it just might be. Tomorrow isn’t promised, and my today has been given to me for a divine, heavenly, God-ordained reason. How many days have I wasted in this life chasing after false hopes of fulfillment?
100 years from now, my Instagram feed won’t exist… but I will. My body will be gone but my soul will live on in one of two places: with God or without Him. How tragic that I have spent countless hours pursuing flat, two-dimensional hearts on a screen rather than real, living, beating hearts that crave a change only God can provide… through me, an ambassador for Christ in this world. Oh, the hours I have spent seeking followers in the form of numbers a couple pixels tall instead of real, living, breathing relationships that inspire and move us to love harder and make a truly lasting impact on this world. It is the ultimate deception that these virtual pleasures aren’t actually sin. Satan wins many, many hearts this way and it’s dark, sickening, and full of confusion and chaos. No more. I’m done.
Lord may I invite more people into my home to sit on my living room floor with bibles in our laps than people whose photos I comment on. May I reach for your word and not my phone as I rise first thing in the morning and last thing at night when I fall asleep. May I start and end with and keep my day wholly and fully rooted in you. Every second of it. May my eyes be fixed on you and you alone. Not on myself. Not on my Instagram profile. Not on the numbers. Not on my bank account. Not on what other people are doing or saying or believing or promoting or applauding but on you. You are the only one who can fill my heart and give me ultimate joy. I fix my eyes on you as you lead me to love others in a real and relevant and life-changing way. I fix my eyes on you.
“So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name.” Hebrews 12:13-15