‘Beamer! Beamer! Look, she is taking a full beamer!’
I used to hear this a lot at school.
The cause for the beamer could be the smallest thing- a cute boy asking me for a pencil, dropping my change in the queue in the canteen, some dire role play in English Lit or just walking into class late. I didn’t like being singled out and once the heat began to crawl up my neck, that was it – game over.
Like most, at school I was so acutely aware of my outward appearance. It was pre-straightener days so my hair was….difficult. I had train tracks for three years. I didn’t have a shape, mostly just straight up and down. I wasn’t sporty, wasn’t brainy, wasn’t musical, wasn’t a cool kid but I just slotted into the large year group of 180 teenagers as best as I could.
I would over think the length of my skirt and the shape of my legs. I would count the ruffles in my slouchy socks and debate the size of my tie knot every morning. I agonized over my choice of record bag and style of shoes. I wondered if I was a bit more Byker Grove than Dawsons Creek. Most of all, I despised the fact that I got embarrassed so very easily and obviously.
And I remember all this stuff because at the time, it really mattered.
What mattered a bit less, was the fact I was a Christian.
Here’s the thing. When I started high school I had been a Christian most of my life, believing in God and in his goodness, going to church, praying at mealtimes, helping out at summer clubs. And let me be clear – this was all good stuff. I had wonderful parents who taught me to be kind and grateful and generous.
But at school, I began to find it hard to see how Sunday at church had any bearing on Monday at the lockers. I knew a fair amount of Bible verses but they didn’t really seem to affect how I survived in this sea of teenagers. In school things moved quickly. One day we were watching How2 and Round the Twist then the next we were all about Party of Five and My So-Called Life. One moment it was innocent sleepovers with The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams playing on our HiFi. Then everyone went all moody and The Drugs Don’t Work and Wonderwall became our soundtracks to life.
My faith didn’t seem as important as just fitting in and appearing normal.
Praying in church didn’t seem to affect life with my peers in the canteen.
My mates weren’t Christians and I loved them but in truth I often felt a bit lost amongst them. There was a certain pressure to ‘convert’ everyone (because I was so holy!) but also a strange fear that I should really keep my distance (because they were so worldy!)
And I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that.
Sometimes it felt like sweet redemption lay in my most distinguishing features -I didn’t swear, I didn’t drink or smoke and I never hooked up with boys! I clung onto the hope that this was something I was doing right. This was something God would be proud of.
But in the end, my main mission in life was just to exit the building relatively unscathed.
I wonder if there were others like me? Others who had a faith but lived it in holy confusion, lost as to how to imitate Jesus amongst their peers, unsure why they felt how they did.
There was a gap at school I suppose. A gap between my actual self and the self I presented to others. A gap between what I truly felt in my heart and how that translated into everyday life. I loved God but I kept him hidden and I swung between liking it that way and hating it. In the end there was a lot of guilt and guilt just makes you keep God at a distance.
Sometimes, I would let Him come a little closer on Sunday. But then I would come home from my youth group and push Him away again….
Incredibly, 15 years have passed since school.
I still get embarrassed and go very red. I still have unruly hair, though GHDs have brought considerable improvement. I DON’T count the ruffles in my socks anymore.
And something simple but so significant has been happening.
That gap, or rather the chasm that existed between what I believed in my heart and how I lived – it’s been closing.
It’s a beautiful change really, too much to write about in one blog post. But perhaps best described as all the knowledge I had about a lofty God with a pointy finger started to be replaced with a growing relationship with a loving and very present Father. His love for me began to melt my heart.
The focus shifted from me and everything I could do (or not do!), to Him and everything He has already done for me. This is now the hope-filled light that I am able to abide in. And like any growing relationship it has inevitably impacted my choices, it has shaped my values and formed my character.
Prayer and worship are increasingly becoming a lifestyle rather than a Sunday service. Truth is something I preach to myself, whether I feel like it or not. And the truest thing about me is not guilt or misplaced motivations but rather acknowledging that I am in need of the endless grace that brings about change and renewal and hope.
The closing of the gap.
The big, small, slow, dramatic, simple, difficult, desperate, surprising and joyful closing of the gap means Jesus is in the business of change. He is all about wholeness. I know this because although there’s still a gap today – because of Him, it’s smaller.
May my heart always be melting, always be changing, always be grateful.