Whose acceptance matters most?
A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart. Proverbs 21:2
I recalled a moment in time when I was much younger and living in Minneapolis that will stick with me forever. I was newly hired into the world of finance. This was my first endeavor into the high stress financial realm of corporate America. I was motivated, task oriented and all about business.
As with most offices I was part of team that was grouped together in a set of cubes. Imagine an old school ice cube tray separating the six of us with 5 and ½ foot walls on three sides, a desk big enough to hold a computer, two drawers and a shelf big enough to hold next to nothing. As the month was coming to the end and my goal not yet being met, stress was starting to set in. This is all very forgettable, but the conversation that took place on this day will never be forgotten in my mind.
I worked with a friend who was very successful and well educated. My friend was an African American man who was married to a white woman. He started discussing the challenges that he faced not only in society but also in the family of his wife because of his marriage. The person sitting directly to his left, who was the boss at that time, responded that growing up with Cuban heritage in a suburban setting also brought about many unwarranted stereotypes and uncomfortable moments.
The man sitting directly across from the first gentleman mentioned that being gay has caused many hardships in his life, with the toughest being that his very own father will not speak to him. I thought to myself that in this conversation about persecution and unfortunately about one upping the last person who spoke, that this would be the end. Being disowned by a parent was pretty harsh. I was wrong, the conversation continued.
I then thought to myself, how can I help end what by now had become a very dark conversation and get the peace and quiet that I need to get my job done. I stood up and said these words: I am sorry to hear of your pain and struggles as they are completely unfair, but none of you will ever feel the persecution that I have felt in this world.
You do not know the struggle of being a 5’4 white guy and stepping on to a basketball court anywhere in the city. Not only am I always the last to be picked for a team, but I very rarely get the ball passed to me and no matter how long I have been at the same park playing basketball with the same people, no one ever remembers my name.
I normally just get called the name of a white NBA player such as John Stockton or Steve Kerr. And if I, by some fortunate chance, I make a shot during the game, not only will my guy start to cover me but he brings at least three friends with him. This ruins the game for me. And not one of you will ever know what it is like to walk in my shoes.
My plan worked. After a few funny comments at my expense were made and a paper ball being thrown over the wall at me “to practice my shot”, the conversation ended and I was able to get back to work. I want to be perfectly clear, that by no means was I trying to discount the suffering and hurt that they felt. I believe they were each sincere in their hurt and genuine with the stories. My strategy was simply levity with brevity. My heart truly breaks for each and every one in that group.
I still pray for each of them when they come to mind. I even repented to the Lord that while my focus was on work, I missed out on a wonderful opportunity to minister to a group of individuals who each had a need for comforting and the word of God.
As I reflect on this conversation now, I have realized that the concern that each individual had was with how the world viewed, treated and accepted them. My own experiences have brought me to the conclusion that in this world today, we will all feel mistreated at some point in time for any reason the world feels is valid. May it be that we are too short or too tall, too skinny or too round, too young or too old, too black or too white, too rich or too poor, too different or too basic, too Christian or too worldly, the world will find a reason.
As a Christian I know in my heart that I do not need to be accepted by the world. I know that I only need to be acceptable to God. I know that I do not need to carry the weight of the world’s judgment nor can I let it define me, or control me. I cannot let it dictate how I see this world or let this be how this world sees me. Although it hurts to be mistreated, I will not allow it to steal my joy nor allow it to diminish my witness for Christ.
For as much as it pains me to see any one suffer in this manner, my heart breaks that much more for anyone who is suffering because they do not know Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is only in Christ that we will find true peace, significance, comfort, mercy and grace. It is only in Christ that we will be acceptable to God our Father. It is only when we are in Christ that we stop concerning ourselves with what the world thinks of us because being in Christ allows us only to focus on what God wants for our lives.
I still occasionally play basketball, but I am a good bit older now, much slower and just as short as ever. I thank the Lord that He is not going to judge my jump shot like the world does, but He will judge my heart so my focus must remain on Him, His word, His will and plan for my life. This leaves no time for consideration of what the world thinks of me.
(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)