In the fourth grade I received a letter from a secret admirer. I couldn’t breathe. It said something about how pretty I was, funny, and that they loved my “fluffy” hair. My admirer said he was too shy to tell me who he was, but wanted me to know that he thought I was special. At the end of the letter it asked me to write him back. The instructions said something like, “please put your response in a bottle, and leave it by the furthest end of the fence after school.” And so I did. I wrote back saying that I appreciated the kind words, and that he didn’t have to be afraid to tell me who he was. I had my hopes about who could have written this letter. There were a couple of boys in my class who I couldn’t help but imagine and dream had been the orchestrators of this adorable manifestation of childhood romance.
I was not allowed to have a boyfriend. My parents both made that very clear. But they couldn’t stop me from having a crush on whomever I wanted, or in this case, a secret admirer. My admirer and I corresponded daily throughout the week. I’d find notes in my desk, and I continued leaving bottles at the far end of the fence.
I don’t know what it is about us girls, but there really is nothing like the feeling that someone else is thinking you’re special. We have to learn how to get this need for attention and flattery in check because it causes so many problems later in life. You have to learn how to love yourself. How to not need to hear you are pretty from a boy in order to believe it. I can’t tell you all the stupid mistakes I made in my life until I learned this valuable life lesson. You want a man to stand by your side one day, but you don’t want to need a man. There is a big difference between want, and need. Want is normal human emotion, but need places us in a position where we do desperate things to fill a void.
At some point the next week, I received my last letter from my secret admirer. He asked if we could meet, and said that I could find him at the far end of the fence after school where I had been leaving all my bottled up letters. I went to the fence, and he never showed up. I waited, looking around anxiously, but I never saw anyone. I figured perhaps he had gotten too nervous, or maybe his mother had picked him up earlier than he anticipated. The next day I found out why he had not come. Essentially, he didn’t exist.
A group of girls in my class had made him up, and had been writing me the daily notes, and reading the letters I had written back. I was mortified. They were laughing when they explained to me their prank. I am not sure if they thought that I would think it was equally as funny, or if they wanted to see me cry. I think probably a mixture of both. I didn’t think it was funny though, and yet I did cry. I suppose one out of two isn’t bad.
These were the days that I would come home and get wrapped in the arms of my parents. “They’re just jealous.” My mother would say. That’s what my mother always told me when mean school-yard bullies would make their presence known in my life. It was sweet of her to think that jealousy was the cause of my every female battle. I realize now though that often a lot of the problem was me. I think for a long time I was a difficult person to like. I was extremely opinionated and hadn’t yet learned that it’s always best to save your thoughts for those who ask to hear them. I wasn’t always very nice either. Whatever thought popped into my head I usually thought should be said aloud. How mad or hurt could I be by those girls when in other moments in my life I had been that girl?
No matter how terrible a day at school may have been, I always found such peace and love in the arms of my father, and words of my mother. They loved me, and that mattered. To them, I was somebody. To them I was smart and beautiful and funny. They didn’t admire me in secret they loved me out loud!
My mother-in-law has a prayer that she wrote for her three sons over ten years ago. In it she asks God for something that I thought was incredibly bold and yet brilliant. In her prayer she had listed all the things she wanted for them; hopes and dreams she begged God to hear her out on. In that list of great things she longed for her sons to experience, she included one request that wasn’t so typical. She asked that they would never forget what it feels like to be hurt. People who know what it feels like to ache, tend to be more considerate of how they treat others. You see pain can cause hardship, but it can also lead to growth. In a way it is kind of like growing pains. Growth can hurt at first, but in the end, you see that it was necessary.
I can think of countless biblical prophets and patriarchs who went through these growing pains. One such example came to my mind through a parable found in Luke 15:11-32. Verses 11-15 reads “11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.”
So here we see this rich young man who had the world at the tips of his fingers, and wastes it. I can only imagine the embarrassment he must have felt when a man who before had wanted for nothing, now finds himself applying for a job caring for pigs. It would be like the son of a CEO squandering his inheritance and working at McDonald’s. I bet that first day that he felt his stomach churning, desperate for food, his heart ached. I’m sure his memories wandered to the late night snacks and dinner parties he had at his home, with his daddy. I can just picture his eyes wandering, landing on the muck being fed to the pigs and in that split second that he contemplates eating it he falls to his knees in agony.
How could he have let things get this bad? How did things spiral so quickly? Suddenly more than he wants money, more than he wants food, more than he wants his dignity, he wants the arms of his daddy. Because when every hand rejects you there’s always one palm that’s wide open. When growing pains pulse through your body peace can still be found in the embrace of the Father.
Verses 17-24 conclude, “17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found…”
You see quite often it takes pain to initiate growth. Through the dark times, through the moments that we feel unworthy to be much of anything, nonetheless sons and daughters of Christ, through toil, and tears we force ourselves to dig deep and stand. As we lie there with our face on the pavement, empty and weak, the pain too heavy to lift on our own, in that moment of fumbling and wobbling back to our feet, we grow.
The real beauty is that no matter what we’ve done, our heavenly Father is waiting. The second He sees us coming in His direction He runs as fast as His legs can carry Him. He falls on our necks and kisses our dirt stained faces. We tell Him about the pain, about our bullies, our adulteries, our mean spirit, our sexual indiscretions, and our carnal addictions. We tell Him we are not worthy but He isn’t listening. He’s too busy placing on our backs the most beautiful robe, fastening rings to our hands, and calling for a banquet. He’s sorry about the pain, but He’s ecstatic about the growth.
When I look back on my life I see that all the shattered dreams, tears, and secret admirers that didn’t exist were a part of my growing process. It helped mold me. All the moments I was embarrassed by my classmates made me want to give the world one less bully. Pain has an incredible way of leaving imprints all over everything that it touches. Once you’ve felt it, you don’t forget it. It causes you to reassess and figure out how you can avoid that feeling in the future. It makes you pause the next time you see someone is caught in its claws because the memory of what it did to you still lingers. I’m convinced that pain is a necessary ingredient in future success and so I’m done complaining about it, I’m just ready to collapse in the arms of my Father.
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