For the longest time, after I left high school, I yearned to run into all the people I was never able to impress there. I wanted – on some random day when I was looking fabulous, feeling on top of the world, wearing something smashing, and on the arm of my trophy husband – to bump into one of those popular people who had seen me as a nerd, and breezily say something witty about how successful I felt.
After a while I realized that, while harmless on one level, it was bad news on two other levels.
Firstly – why continue to give those people “power” over me, by rating their opinion? How pimpleless and fashionable did I need to be, for how many years, before my life stopped being about them? I was posing for people in another country who hadn’t given me a second thought since 1988. And the best revenge isn’t living well. It’s not feeling the need to prove it.
Secondly – exactly what was I wanting to achieve in this little show-off fantasy? Did I want to be more beautiful,more happ’nin’ than they were? Deep down, was it really about transferring my feelings of inadequacy to someone else, by attempting to make them feel inadequate next to me? So I stand toe-to-toe with those boys who never asked me out – what next? Look down at them? Force them to look up to me? Let’s say I do achieve great things. Do I really want to be someone who parades her successes in others’ faces? Isn’t that the thing I was fighting against? Do I only rail against elitism until I’m elite myself?
The irony in this whole deal is that since I’ve caught up with more and more of my old schoolmates online, I’ve found a curious trend. Here it is: the popular girls felt hated too! That’s right. They felt like plain little misfits, and high school scarred them just as it scarred me. I’ve started to realize that the enemy’s favourite teenage lie is “you don’t belong, you don’t fit in, nobody likes you, you’re not enough”. He tries it on the beautiful and the ugly alike. Most of us swallow it whole. It’s a leveler – but it’s still a lie.
I hope I’ve changed since the age of 17. I know I feel different. I see the world differently, and I see myself differently. God doesn’t come across to me as exasperated any more. Some things will always be the same – my sense of humour, for instance. But some things do change. I hope I’m less judgmental and more inclusive. Sometimes I still wonder what those people would find “if they could see me now!” Am I Romy or Michelle with a borrowed flip phone, or am I genuinely a woman whose life has been turned around by God? I look back with a mixture of pity and embarrassment at the young girl I was, full of erroneous theology, massive insecurity, black-and-white idealism and huge dreams. And then I think, the people I want to see me now – they’ve changed as much in 22 years of real life as I have. And they probably look back on *their* former selves with much the same feelings. I only really wanted to show up the sneering ones. But no one approaching their forties has much sneering left in them. Our waistlines are thicker, our hair is not. A school reunion is a dream ten years after, but twenty years after, it’s more in the order of a nightmare – a mutual humbling. “I drive a Porsche now and live in Paris” conversations give way to the “I can’t get over how many camps and excursions I’m expected to pay for, and how on earth am I going to shift this muffin top” sort.
Gideon began his story as the runt of the runt tribe. He had weaknesses galore. He felt the shame of his runtness acutely. He only did the right thing under cover of night. He had to be spoon-fed by God every step of the way. Then the Spirit of God put Gideon on like a cloak, and together they changed the course of Israel’s history.
Even in that moment, Gideon wanted to share the glory. “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” they cried as they shattered the night. And once the victory was won and the Spirit lifted, Gideon’s protestations of not wanting to be king were soon belied by him setting himself up as a pseudo-priest. After leading his nation into liberty, he then led them into idolatry. His weakness of wanting to be seen as a leader was with him to the end. Yet he made the Faith Hall Of Fame for what he accomplished when the power of the Spirit was upon him.
My hope is that, since the Spirit of God lives in me, rather than resting on me for one episode, I might have a shot at being transformed over the course of my life. It’s clear that without the Spirit, man isn’t much chop. He’s born weak and he dies weak. Only when God takes hold of us, do we have a shot at overcoming. But it’s not to flaunt at others – if anything, it’s to testify to what God’s gifts of faith and grace can accomplish in spite of the dust that we are. So, speaking as one very cherished dirtbag to another – here’s mud in your eye.