I’m sure it will come as a huge and utter shock to everyone when I say this, but when I was in high school I wasn’t one of the cool kids. I know, I know, I’m sure EVERYONE assumed I was like homecoming queen or something! *sarcasm*
I was really good at weaving my way in and out of different social groups, “playing the field” so to speak, but as for actually being one of the cool kids that everyone wanted to be like and hang around… yeah I sucked at that. The reason I sucked at that is probably because I wasn’t too great at playing the whole “look perfect, act perfect, and dress perfect” game. I was more into the “wear baggy clothes, only brush your hair if you have to, and listen to angsty punk rock music” game.
I think I’ve always been kind of different in the sense that I never went with the flow of what everyone else was doing. In junior high my differentness made me a target for the ones who were better at conforming. With that came name calling and peer pressure. I quickly learned to wear my individuality like armor so that it couldn’t be used to hurt me. I went to a private school and so expressing myself was quite a challenge but I managed to find a way through bright colored shoes and baggy pants.
“I don’t care what anyone thinks about me!” I declared.
But it did care. I cared so much that I tied my identity to my differentness. I wanted to be seen as a rebel. I wanted to be known as a rebel. This is who I was.
Because of this it was impossible for me to relent any part of myself for the sake of other people’s comfort. I couldn’t cover my tattoos or wear pink or show my soft side because, as I would argue, that would be “hiding who I am.” Which sounds pretty reasonable, at least it did at the time, but it sabotaged by ability to create spaces of grace for people around me.
There’s this verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul talks about this idea of “being all things to all men” and he also talks about “being free from all so I make myself a servant to all.” This use to be a really frustrating passage for me and each time after reading it I would curse Paul’s name and be like, “Really, dude? Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I’ve heard some argue that these verses are proof that we need to be extra careful that we’re behaving correctly. Recently, someone I know used the last part of that passage as an argument as to why we should mix grace and law in our sermons because “people can’t handle extreme grace.” In essence, we should water down and conform our truth so that everyone stays happy/attending church/paying tithe. (Insert angry Jess tirade here).
I do NOT agree with either of those things. In fact, I’ve recently had somewhat of an “ah-ha” moment when it comes to this passage and it doesn’t frustrate me nearly as much anymore. What Paul is saying here is not that we should bend and conform truth to fit within everyone’s belief system. What Paul is talking about here is the idea that we should meet people where they’re at. That we should get down in the mud and grunge of their life (or come up to their white towers) and show them why they need the gospel.
Back to high school Jess, I was unable to relinquish any part of my “style” or attitude because my identity was tied to it, and really ultimately because I was insecure in my identity. I lived in bondage to this identity and did all I could to tighten the shackles. Paul is able to minister to different people groups why? Because he is confident in his identity of freedom in Christ! He is no longer bound to have to look, act, or communicate the gospel one particular way. See, it’s not the message that changes, it’s the vessel.
So what does that mean for me now? Well, sometimes it means that I can cover my tattoos when I go to speak in more conservative churches. Other times it means I get to Mohawk my hair and wear ripped jeans and hang out with awesome youth students. Sometimes it means I speak out for the voiceless and other times it means I stay silent and allow people to chew on and work through truth. Some days it means I get to be a cool kid but most days it means I’m still a misfit. And you know what? I kind of love being a misfit! Besides, there is one place I fit perfectly, intertwined and tangled in the spirit of my Savior, and really what could be better than that? There may be days when I don’t fit, when people reject me and exclude me, but I am accepted and treasured by the Creator and Carver of the universe—The ultimate Cool Kid.
God is limitless and therefore the gospel is limitless. It is for the misfits and it’s for the cool kids, and let me tell you both desperately need the freedom that it brings. It’s for the high society and the homeless. It’s for the self-righteous and the self-loathing. That’s the beauty of grace really, that all need it and all can access it.
So, today, may you be set free from the bondage of your self-made identity. May you come to see and be confident in your true identity as a free and flawless child of God. May you be sabotaged by the gospel of grace. May you embrace your misfit side and may it empower you to meet people where they’re at with the freeing power of God’s grace. And may you be fully aware that rejects are royalty in the kingdom of God.