I was born different. My bright ginger/red hair and masses of freckles ensured that I stood out in any crowd. They also gave anyone and everyone an opportunity to tease. This teasing, which came as much from my family as from anyone, had a profound and lasting effect on me. The perpetrators thought it was harmless fun, but didn’t know that they were totally destroying my self- image, if I ever had one. I became very shy and reserved. To compound the effects of my appearance, I was raised in the Salvation Army. This is not a bad thing – in fact it’s something to be proud of – but at the time, when I was a boy, attending the “Army” and wearing the “uniform” I was expected to wear provided another avenue of opportunity for kids to tease and mock. I never felt “normal”: I felt like I was some kind of freak.
The teasing caused me to become extremely sensitive and self-conscious, so that when I entered puberty I started to imagine all sorts of things, such as the idea that I had a big nose. That’s funny, I know, but to me at the tender age of thirteen it was a big problem. So as soon as my parents gave up telling me to get my hair cut, I grew it as long as I could in order to cover up my nose, so that the girls wouldn’t notice how big it was. My parents never enlightened me on the subject of puberty or body changes, so I thought that what was happening to me was abnormal. As I was “abnormal”, I assumed that everyone else thought I was abnormal too. I was not able to talk to girls, because I was convinced that they all thought I was a freak. Consequently, I grew up without the understanding of how to deal with the opposite sex.
For a time in my teens, I somehow managed to attract some friends and girlfriends without trying to. But when I lost a girlfriend that I had dearly loved and from whom I had once received a lot of acceptance, I suddenly felt an overpowering rejection again, which led me into drunkenness and drug taking. They were social drugs which overcame my inhibitions, so that I could feel “normal”, but only while I was high.
I started to look for ways to be acceptable to people, particularly girls. But the harder I tried the more unacceptable I became, so that by my early twenties I was painfully lonely, even though I had a few friends. They all had girlfriends or wives, I didn’t.
I became a Christian at twenty-three. It was not something I had planned: it was one of those dramatic salvation experiences, which to this day I do not regret, but thank God for. However, this salvation experience put me even further out on a limb. In order to live the Christian life, I now had to shun the friends I did have. By this time, I felt absolutely no connection with the world of humanity. I was very, very different. My tastes and experiences, and the fact that I wasn’t wealthy, practically ensured that I did not fit in to the church scene that was available to me, and all the people I knew were married and had “normal” lives. I also did not fit in with my old mates, even when I made the attempt to during a spell of backsliding.
In order to get more directly to my point and not bore you any more than I have to (there’s that old self – effacement again), I have to say that I have learned to accept the fact that I’m different, and more than that: to celebrate and develop my uniqueness. For that self-acceptance I thank the Holy Spirit of God, who has slowly but surely changed me, and continues to change me by His grace and mercy. It’s because of Him that I am happy to be me.
There are basically two kinds of changes: physical and spiritual, and I suppose the two are inseparable.
I tired of trying to impress or to please a long time ago. In the process, I began to develop my very own tastes and character. I listen to music that nobody else I know listens to. I appreciate art that no-one else I know appreciates. I laugh at things when others are straight faced. I’ve had some unique ezperiences. I see things in nature that no one else is interested in. I have my own view of certain scriptures and doctrines, which go against the grain in all the Christian circles I’m familiar with. I find no pleasure in most of what passes as “culture” these days, or as the late- great Vivian Stanshall sang:
“Don’t think that I will smile at it, I’m not a weak-willed hypocrite…”
I’m not talking about being self-righteous here: there’s no place for arrogance. I’m just talking about being different, and willingly so. I’m no better than anyone else, but in a world where we are all pressurized to conform, to fit in, to play the game- I’m thankful to God that I am out of the game. No longer do I feel the need to impress. I’m not interested in gathering toys or wealth in order to have something to boast about and feel pride over: Hallelujah, I’m free!
The commercial world thrives and survives on our insecurities and desires. People are trying so hard to be fashionably different that they are really all the same: cookies out of a cookie cutter. We spend all our lives working to buy the right things, dress the right way, have the right tattoo or hairstyle, live in the right neighborhood, and to drive the right car. People are working to pay for the car that they go to work in. It’s all a big, stupid game that sucks the life out of us, warps our minds, and keeps us from just being ourselves and enjoying life. But we can’t blame it all on the clothes designers or the cosmetics industry: after all, they are run by humans for humans. It’s human nature that’s at fault. It’s something in ourselves that gives us the desire to impress – something God calls “pride”.
So let me say that in my humble opinion the way to really be different is to be yourself. Don’t make the gigantic mistake of spending your life trying to find ways of impressing people. What good is it going to do anyone? How does it glorify God? Instead, bless the world and glorify God by being just who He made you to be. There’s so much diversity in life, and it’s all God’s design. Haven’t you heard that everyone’s DNA is different, our fingerprints are different, and our irises are different? To the same extent, everyone’s potential character is different, to the glory of God. Don’t deprive Him and us by trying to be someone or something else.
This principle applies to Christians just as much as non-Christians. Years ago Mike Warnke said that when he got “saved”, he bought himself a David Wilkerson suit because he thought that was how he should appear to the world, until he came to the realization that God wanted Mike to be Mike.
Don’t conform to the pressure within the church to appear to be what it wants you to appear to be: do it a favor and be yourself.
To take the spiritual side of this to its Biblical conclusion, God has said to us:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).