The question the kids were really asking

The question the kids were really asking

One by one, the kids trickled into the small room, shoes off, yellow sheets in hand. It was Health Screening Day at the school, and a crowd of volunteers gathered and recorded heights and weights, and administered vision tests.

I stood off to the side, writing the numbers on the yellow sheets, then entering them in the computer. It was my first time at this gig and I watched the kids from the corner of my eye. Some of them had zero inhibitions about having their height measured and stepping on the scale. Others approached with a let’s-get-this-over-with attitude. We were told from the beginning not to announce any weights, especially with the older kids, and I could 100 percent identify with the reason for that. I was mortified anytime anyone had an inkling of my weight as a tween/young adult.

We saw kids of all shapes and sizes, no two of them alike. But they did have one thing in common. I’ll get to that.

Heights were measured in inches only, so we had to calculate a bit, which meant the heights were often spoken out loud.

“Am I tall?” some of the kids asked. “How many feet is that?” “How tall am I?”

We answered as best we could with encouragement and truth. But it was the questions and comments after the scale that had my heart breaking.

“Is that good?” “Is it okay?” “This scale weighs me five pound heavier.” (That last comment has to be something they’ve heard at home, right?)

Weight. It’s such a tricky thing. And it wasn’t just the girls asking. Some of the boys hopped off the scale and announced their numbers, even though they had been told not to. One boy was relieved that he could still play football.

A lot of the girls were silent. If I could read the silence, though, I know what some of the thoughts were. Because I was a girl whose number was always too big compared to her friends, too embarrassing to repeat. Even now, at my heaviest apart from pregnancy, I can hardly stand to admit the number out loud.

With a prepubescent daughter, though, it’s long past time for me to tackle these issues head on. Because she is strong and beautiful and her body is so different than mine was at that age, but the words and attitudes and pressure are just as damaging. Maybe more so.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about. Not really. There is another question behind all those questions that had nothing to do with height and weight. It takes many forms, but at the heart of it all, this is the question I think they were really asking:

Am I enough?

Tall enough. Thin enough. Athletic enough. Am I worthy? Am I loveable?

Maybe I was reading too much into it, but isn’t it the same question that drives what we adults do?

Am I rich enough? Thin enough? Smart enough? Busy enough? Accomplished enough?

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

I wanted to wrap each kid in a hug and tell them how exactly “enough” they are. Kindergartners, sixth graders and all the ones in between—these numbers don’t measure their worth. 

They don’t measure ours either.

But we keep looking for the place where we belong. How we identify ourselves. Are we with the athletes? The skinny kids? Do we think we’re fat because of the number on the scale? Are we tall for our age? Or too short? Where do we fit? Where? If it starts in school, when does it end? I’ll be 40 next year and I’m still fighting the urge to label myself in comparison to others.

When will we see that the thing that makes us who we are is immeasurable? That the most precious part of us is created in the image of the Divine and so is the most precious part of the person next to us? When will we shed the shells of identity that tell us who we are, where we belong and realize that the answer is more simple yet more mysterious than we can imagine?

Who are we? Image-bearers of God. Me. You. The most difficult person you know. The person who is the least like you. The one you are tempted to hate.

Where do we belong? Everywhere and nowhere. This is how I think of it when Jesus walked the earth. He was both in the world but not of the world and it is what He calls us to be, too. We can go anywhere, to any group, associate with the lowly and the high-standing and at the same time not attach our belonging to any of it. We can be the ones who are like Paul:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Photo by Oliver Pacas on Unsplash

This freedom to walk through the world as image-bearers of God, nothing more, nothing less, is the starkest of contrasts in a world that wants to label, group and divide. To achieve, acquire and conquer. It is never enough. We can never be enough for those groups and we can never attain enough to make us feel worthy. We can never be secure in our identities apart from Christ because the rules of belonging always change. And we change.

In Christ, we are enough. Yes, the work in us continues but it is never about making us more worthy of belonging. It is about making us more like the One who created us. More like the One who walked the earth perfectly and loved lavishly. One who couldn’t be contained or claimed by one label or a single group. His allegiances baffled the crowds: He eats with sinners! He speaks with women! He associates with Samaritans! He teaches in the temple!

May our identities be so secure that our lives baffle the world. May the people we associate with be a surprise to us and others. May we walk in freedom knowing our souls are the truest thing about us, no matter the ways the world tries to label us.

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Lisa Bartelt About Lisa Bartelt

Lisa has been writing stories for more than a decade, first for newspapers and now as a freelancer, blogger and budding novelist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Read more at her blog, Beauty on the Backroads.

Comments

  1. Beautifully articulate. I think my favorite concept is that we belong everywhere and nowhere.

    [Reply]

  2. Tina Dorward says:

    Loved this Lisa! Thank you for your words and reminder that we are His image bearers.

    [Reply]

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