I teach a missions class on Wednesday nights at church for 5th and 6th grade girls. As much as the girls drive me crazy (and they totally do!), I love each of the girls with a passion that I can’t describe. I’ve worked with this age group for seven years now, and I’ve seen so many girls pass through my class. I guess I like this age group because:
1. They are old enough to wipe their own hineys.
2. They are young enough to not be a completely hormonal obnoxious mess.
3. They are still impressionable enough for me to be able to make a difference in their lives.
I know that it’s because of the third reason that I continue to give up my time on Wednesday nights to work with these girls. I want them to know and love God with a passion that is undeniable. I want them to know why missions are important and why we should always live for Jesus. I want to be one of those people in their lives that they know will always be on their side.
And last night my heart was broken…
I have an adorably sweet girl in my class. She’s relatively new to the area and her family is in the military so she moves around quite a bit. I’ll call her “Lauren”. We were in the middle of just having a good time, not particularly being serious at all, and she looked at me and said, “Mrs. Amy, what would you do if everyone was always telling you how ugly you are?”
I was very taken aback. You see, “Lauren” is a completely normal looking little girl. She’s a petite little thing, with big brown eyes, shoulder length brown hair, and a huge smile (missing a few teeth). She is the epitome of an average little girl.
And people at school are constantly telling her how ugly she is.
I guess this would be a good time to share with y’all that I went through a phase in my life, around 5th grade, were I had an extremely low self esteem. I struggled with confidence and speaking out for myself and it wasn’t until I saw a counselor did I work through some of those issues.
Now, granted, it wasn’t easy for me to build my self esteem, but it did happen over time. And when my backbone finally developed, it grew in strong.
And my heart is broken for “Lauren” having to go through this. She started crying a few minutes into our conversation, and then I came thisclose to busting out in tears for/with her. The other girls, who sometimes tend to be a bit snarky with each other, quickly clued into the fact that “Lauren” was really struggling with this. It warmed my heart to watch them reaching out to her and telling that she was very pretty. I told her over and over again about how beautiful she is and then I asked her, “Do you know what I see when I look at you?” She said, “Probably someone ugly.” I quickly said, “No. When I look at you I see a beautiful girl with big brown eyes, pretty brown hair, clear skin, and a smile that lights up the room! You are made in God's image "Lauren" and that makes you beautiful. You're sweet heart makes you beautiful. Don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”
In all honesty, I see a good bit of myself at her age when I look at her: A good, sweet kid who just wants to fit in. Maybe that’s why I got so upset listening to her describe what’s going on. I’ve been there, and I know that these bullies could crush her spirit if she lets them.
I don’t understand why kids have to be so mean to each other. I don’t understand why some people feel the need to tear others down in order to build themselves up. I don’t understand why people have to hurt each other. I know that kids have no idea how cruel they can be, but I can guarantee that one day “Lauren’s” image will come back to some of these kids, and they are going to be ashamed of how they treated someone who is such a kind person. It is so easy for some people to just say something just to evoke a reaction out of others, but kids have no idea the lasting repercussions this could cause for her. I just don’t understand the unnecessary cruelty involved with growing up.
“Lauren” and my conversation quickly opened up a door in order for me to share my experiences growing up. I want these girls to realize, that the old saying of, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a big fat lie. I’ve been there; I know how bad it hurts to have people say mean things about you. I know what that feels like, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Words do hurt, and sometimes they cut deeper than a knife ever could. And the worst thing about words is that once they come out of your mouth, you can never, ever get them back. I want these girls to fully grasp that and understand the power behind words. It's a lesson that I wish I could go back in time and teach myself.
And if I was the only person that “Lauren” ever heard say that she is beautiful, I hope she will cling to that, and remember it always, because she is.
“So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (The Message)