I remember the sweat dribbling from my forehead down onto my quivering lip as I stared straight into the face of a giant beast they called a defensive tackle. He was at least 4 and three quarters my size and I could tell he loved the taste of a small fourth graders blood.
I’m no football expert but I still have no idea why the coach decided to put a boy with the stature of Frodo Baggins on the offensive line across from the bloodthirsty, orc-sized humans on defense. What’s even more confusing is that I continued to listen to everyone around me, line up right of center, and get squashed on every play.
I enjoyed watching football with my dad and listening to him and my cousins talk about it relentlessly, but the truth is I had no business being on the football field. I wasn’t fast enough for running back, I was too scared of getting hit to be a quarterback, I had a 40 yard dash time reminiscent of a soaking wet sloth, and if I mustered all the strength I had, I might have been able to topple over a newborn calf, but nothing close to a living, breathing football player.
What I did love was reading and listening to music, spending hours practicing piano and writing stories of animals and people defeating dark forces. I would wake up before dawn and sneak into the kitchen to make a mouth watering concoction of whatever I could find in the cabinets, and then I would spend the rest of my day following people around talking their ear off about the most recent game I was playing or the plot points of my new favorite book.
So why on earth did I want to quit doing everything I loved to get repeatedly pounded into the ground?
I wanted to belong.
We moved to a small rural town in Oklahoma when I was eight and I was afraid the people who surrounded me wouldn’t accept me for the person that I was. So I became what I thought they wanted me to be.
I decided to choose “safety and comfort” in the the acceptance of those around me because I was afraid. I was afraid I would have no friends, or that if people saw the real and quirky me they would laugh and walk away.
Choosing the path of conformity seemed like the best option at the time but it was often at the cost of true belonging in God and who He created me to be.
There is a whisper (the Holy Spirit) inside of each us that speaks to our soul, that encourages us, that speaks to the good of who God created us to be. When we choose to listen to this, to pursue this, to believe the whisper, it leads us to freedom, and living through it we can accomplish great things.
In competition with that whisper though, there is a mind numbing shout. That shout says things like “you will never be good enough unless you are like them.” “You won’t be accepted if you do this, so go and do that.” “You need to be this, you should have done that” …. and the list goes on and on.
Shame lives in the words need and should. Shame lives in the thoughts and feelings of “not enough.” It feeds off fear and insecurity.
Shame has no place in the whisper. In fact, the more intently we listen to the whisper the quieter the shouts become. Shame does not thrive when we live out of a place of belonging, and it ceases to exist when we live out of the belonging that comes from being a child of the Living God.
I am so glad that I don’t have to continue to line up on a football field I have no business being at to find my belonging.
It has taken my whole life to realize that I don’t have to keep pretending to be something I’m not. God created me to be Joseph Hoffman and no one else.
There are good days and there are a lot of bad days. It’s so much easier to listen to the shouts then it is to truly hear and listen to the whisper.
The truth is God is overjoyed at who he created me to be and loves me for me. And the same goes for all of us.
Ephesians 2:10(NRSV) says this” 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
What would happen if we chose to believe that God not only loves us but He likes us? He is in love with what he created. Not just us at our best but in all of the goofiness and awkwardness, the falls, the triumphs and especially in the ugly crying.
I believe that we live our best lives when we truly see ourselves how God sees us, which is loved, redeemed, beautiful and belonging.
This week may we choose to listen to the whisper, and walk in the confidence that we are children of the living God.