This post is an excerpt from my newest Bible study, Shine: Sparkling with God’s Love.
In my life, I’ve struggled with real hope-crushing sadness. Not just the kind of sadness that comes from something hard that’s happened, but the kind that shifts my whole outlook on life.
My worst season of darkness came when I started middle school. The Disney Channel could have made a show about me as The Girl Most Poorly Prepared for the Seventh Grade.
Imagine a large, bald ostrich, with its weird pink skin and awkward long neck and skinny legs. With my thin blonde hair and bony legs, I was that ostrich at Weis Middle School. I bobbed through the halls between these clusters of beautiful red and yellow birds.
Not only was I an ostrich, but I was surrounded by poachers who needed to punish me for looking so weird. They tripped me, made nasty noises, put ketchup packets on my chair, and called me names that were so R-rated, my private-schooled self didn’t even understand them.
When I visited the school counselor, she told me I needed to get thicker skin. I think maybe there was some truth in that, but it wasn’t very helpful as a coping strategy. I tried everything: laughing along with the bullies, pretending to be sick, telling the teacher, and finally, walking out of the classroom to go home and give up.
I barely survived the year. Every day was hard. My stomach hurt constantly, and I cried a lot. I was so ashamed that I looked different and didn’t get the jokes and couldn’t make friends, but I was also ashamed about how sad I was.
Up until then, I had been such a happy kid. I really wanted to make my parents, teachers, and classmates happy, but I was letting everyone down. I couldn’t see a success plan here. In this new place, I couldn’t be the easygoing, sweet girl I had been before. I just didn’t fit in, and that was failure. All of it felt physically painful.
Seventh grade eventually got better for me. The teachers paid more attention to the trouble I was having, the kids found someone else to pick on, I made some nice friends, and I stopped caring (a little bit) about my own awkwardness. I had some wonderful moments of prayer. For the first time, I really knew that God was active in my life.
Even though that year still sticks out as the worst for me, I also learned a lot from the experience. Most of all, I learned about hope. Because that school counselor was a little bit right about my thin skin. I had no coping strategies for the hard parts of life. When the teasing started, I didn’t understand that it wouldn’t last forever. I had no perspective that their bullying didn’t define me. Everything felt so hopeless.
Here’s what I wish I could tell my seventh-grade self: “You, sweet girl, are going to be okay. Yes, you’re dealing with a lot right now. Yes, it hurts, and I understand how much you hate all of this. But it will get better. You will have a whole life of moments so beautiful, they’ll take your breath away. You can’t see it now, but one day God will redeem all this pain. You’ll be a teacher, and you’ll tell your students that you truly do understand how much it hurts to not fit in. You’ll remind the outcasts not to let the mean kids define them. You’ll be a mom to sensitive sons and daughters, and they’ll need to hear the lessons you learned in those horrible middle school hallways. Most of all, that hard season will teach you about hope. Because even when it seems like there’s no hope, God is doing something bigger. I promise. You can count on this more than anything else. This season will end up being about you trusting God, and that lesson will get you through other really hard seasons in your life. So hold on, dear one. You’re going to be okay. Better, actually.”
God’s Silver (Glitter) Lining
There is a ’90s movie called Hope Floats about a woman who goes through all the worst drama you can imagine (divorce, death, grief, embarrassment, and financial ruin). In the movie, she has to put her life together, even though it seems hopeless. She finally finds hope in a romance with a cute guy who takes her fishing and line dancing. It’s called Hope Floats because hope gets her through. In the movie, it’s the cute guy that gives her hope.
But as you’ve probably learned, cute guys and movies don’t really provide the hope we need. I mean, both can be really fun distractions, but we need something deeper to believe in, a true hope.
There is only one true hope that will save us and that is Jesus. We will find so many fun distractions (the search for the right college, the best grades, the promising political candidate, the grand adventure—and yes, the fun romance).
But it’s our Savior who will give us the real peace. He provides the hope because He really does know us and love us. You can trust this. It’s the promise that puts the sparkle in our lives—and fills even the hardest seasons with hope.
Dear Jesus, thank You for living a perfect life and dying on the cross for my sins. Be with me when I feel hopeless. Show me the deeper love through each of my hardest seasons. Give me Your peace and help me to share it with those in darkness. In Your name. Amen.
Check out the Bible study Shine: Sparkling with God’s Love for stories, journal prompts, and discussion questions for ministry to teen girls.