She is 9, a year older than my Tobey. She's been catching a ride to and from summer school with us, Monday through Thursday. Last week she joined us Thursday night for a ministry event I'm involved in where we hiked for a couple hours in a creek. This week, she is joining us nightly for VBS. And, of course, I see her frequently in my yard, her yard, the cul-de-sac, my living room, etc. She is the lone girl in her age group in our 'hood. There are nine boys.
She has, among some adults, earned a reputation as an evil little manipulator and a bully. She's done and said some things that certainly support that evaluation, but to stop there would, of course, be unfair. This week, I have seen her outside of her 'cul-de-sac kingdom' and I see her feeling unsure of herself, unsure of her place outside of her comfort zone.
I get her.
At her age, I was reputed to be neither a manipulator nor a bully. I was painfully shy and withdrawn. I was considered a sweet, good girl. However, that evaluation would not have been fair either.
I distinctly remember being both a bully and a manipulator. I was just better at hiding it than our young neighbor girl.
In fifth grade, I was at a very low point - a deep depression (before I knew that depression was a disease). I wanted to die. I could not stand being around other people. I felt anxious. I couldn't talk, couldn't look people in the eye. I remember dropping my pencil in class and feeling horrendous shame and embarrassment. I felt so stupid. I wanted to die - or disappear (yes, seriously, because I dropped a pencil! I know! The shame of it all, right?).
I came up with a solution. I would be sick.
I think that it all started with an honest to goodness, sore throat and minor ear infection. I got to stay home from school - away from the shame of just being in front of people. Home was better than school. Private shame was better than public shame.
I came up with a plan. I would stay sick - so that I could stay home.
I frequently snuck into the bathroom and tilted my head over the sink. Then I would pour icy cold water into my ears - and wait for it to leak into - I don't know - my ear canal? I don't know exactly what the implications of this are - but my hope was to prolong the ear infection - and it worked. I missed four weeks of school.
After repeated trips to my home town doc, no one could figure out why the infection would just not clear up.
Finally, I was to be seen by an ENT two hours away. On the car ride there, I began to panic. I knew why it wouldn't clear up. I didn't want it to.
Half way to our destination, I announced that after four months, I felt miraculously better. I went back home - and back to school.
After four weeks of manipulating those around me to give me the compassion I desired, the comfort I needed in my emotional anguish - by prolonging my physical anguish - the gig was up.
This was neither the first nor the last manipulation for me, but it is one that sticks with me as a reminder of that in me which is manipulative, evil - sinful.
During the time that I was bed-ridden with the neverending ear infection, my parents hired a local gal with 3 small daughters to stay in our home and care for me and for the house while I was ill. I despised these 3 girls. Loathed.
They were so adorable - and happy - and with their family all day - and I HATED that. I hated that because it was what I wanted - and didn't have.
The youngest of the 3 was probably 1-year-old at the time. She would sit on a little footstool by the sofa where I lay all day watching re-runs of Fantasy Island, I Dream of Jeanie and Hart to Hart. She was a precious little girl - and I bullied her, passively. As she sat on the stool, I would reach down my foot, catch the leg of the stool with my toe, and flip the stool. She would tumble to the floor crying. Her sisters would rush to her aid believing she'd fallen due to her own 1-year-old clumsiness.
As I type this, disgust is rising up in my chest. Loathing for the evil that was in me. The fact that I would do this to anyone repulses me ... and yet, I hang onto this memory ... and for good reason.
It reminds me that, yes, this is a fallen world. And I am surrounded by fallen people. And (gasp), I am one of them!
I just read an article in Leadership Journal (Real Ministry in a Complex World) - I highly recommed this publication to those in ministry, both the paid and the volunteer - about how damaging high self-esteem has been to ministry. High self-esteem leads us to believe that we are all really great people. Sometimes, we do bad things. We all do bad things, but basically we are really good. The article, "The Gospel for iGens" by Scot McKnight, asserts that 2 of the early examples of the self-esteem movement are Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. The former taught us that "I am okay." The latter taught us "We all are okay."
While this message is not a bad one - we are God's workmanship, fearfully and wonderfully made - it leaves out the fact that we are all also sinful. We are NOT all okay.
If we were all okay, we wouldn't need a Savior.
But we aren't ... and we do.
Scot McKnight writes, "[D]eciding to stake one's life on Jesus and the cross requires a sense that we are wrong, that we need Jesus, and that his saving death and resurrection can become effective."
He continues, "(iGens) do not feel guilt as much as they feel shame for not achieving what they are designed to accomplish."
That resonates with me. I've been taught that I am basically good, smart, wonderful - and as such, I can accomplish ANYTHING I want to ... and then when I don't ... oh, the shame. Not guilt that I'm not good (I've been told I'm good), but shame that I've not lived up to my goodness.
I felt shame when I pushed that little girl off the footstool. I feel shame when I don't keep my house perfectly clean. I feel shame when I can't get over my own junk sometimes.
This shame is foolishness. It's a stumbling block. Self-esteem in all its glory ... is a stumbling block.
It is easy to say there is evil in the World. Satan is evil. His dark angels are evil. Bad things happen - we say Satan's at work.
But maybe its US. Let's just say it. It is us. WE are evil. WE are infected with Sin. Sin is a genetic disease - we are all born into it. I had it in me when I was a sweet, good little girl. And I have it in me today as a passionate Children's Ministry director - and SAMmy's (Strength Among Moms ministry) leader - and mother - and wife - and friend - and child of God.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
I NEED my Savior. And He and I will fight against the evil in me. He and I ARE fighting against the evil in me. It is a daily battle. Somedays, the battle is brutal. But I am on the Winning Side - the Good Side. And it is NOT I that am good and a winner - but it is He with whom I will one day stand, finally free.
Free of sin - and Good at last.