It was time to make another attempt to de-clutter and streamline. So, there I sat, teetering on the brink between reason and sentiment, browsing through my portfolio. The one that I – and every other education major – painstakingly assembled to document my preparation for the teaching profession. Ideas, lesson plans, notes, reflections, philosophy. Not that any of the administrators took much time to look at it – I mean, it’s a good two inches thick. And I’ll most likely never use it again. But, good golly, Miss Molly, the hours.
I spent some time in a special little section: Letters of Recommendation. As I read each one, I basked in the sweetness of affirmation and encouragement. Good golly, Miss Molly.
Well, maybe some interviewers did read those letters, because I landed a job or two … out in the big world of everybody and their mouth. Out there where I heard my share of nasty jabs and back-stabbing. Now, some momentary lapses of civility can be attributed to lost sales, a parent/teacher conference gone south, embarrassment, no coffee, or even leaving the house without a hug. In other words, sometimes we just get our panties in a knot. All of us.
But some of it is downright mean. People can be audacious. They make a casual – but calculated – comment that questions your intelligence, your integrity, or your loyalty to the company. It may be as petty as challenging your fashion sense or as personal as casting aspersions on your family. Oh, sure, these intentional barbs are thinly veiled by “in my opinion” or “don’t take this personally” or “with all due respect.” Or the weak but popular after-thought “I was just kidding.” But every one of those comments is designed to cut to the quick.
Face it. There are bullies everywhere, at every age. And, at every age, we can feel the sting.
I know several people who can hear the lie, and even feel the sting, but are really good at separating the wheat from the chaff. They ward off the crippling effect of cruel words and focus on what is true about their value. They identify with the words of the Psalmist: “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13
But some of us struggle to remember the truth. We wallow in the dark, reliving the pain over and over, asking ourselves, how will I respond? how can I just let this go? should I? We mentally write and rewrite the script: Oh, that’s a good one! But, wait, that’s really just fighting fire with fire. No, I need to be clever but appear to be kind. I must prove that I’m better. On and on through idle minutes and sleepless nights. Ugh.
As you may have guessed, I have experienced the sharp end.
I’ll use the name Pat (with a nod to Saturday Night Live). It was after only a very few days and a some awkward and uncomfortable interactions. Pat didn’t criticize my skill or ability. Pat didn’t make fun of my mannerisms or habits. Or my family or my lunchbox. Pat made a harsh and judgmental statement about my spirit. My soul. The very core of me. Unfortunately, what made the wound all the more painful was that Pat is a partner in faith. Like I said, there are bullies everywhere.
But, there are three powerful antidotes to this particular brand of poison. And I’m claiming them all.
First, I have a Father who made me, loves me, and knows me. Remember Psalm 139:13… I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Second, I have a local tribe of supporters, advocates, and cheerleaders. Those sweet voices — aaahhhhhh.
Third, and, here’s the surprise, I have written proof that I matter, in living black and white: those letters. The very words of those people placed in my life by a loving Father who knew I would need a lift now and then. He knew that I would cherish words of affirmation when wounded by a thoughtless acquaintance. He gave me those words to rebuild my strength and remind me that I am accepted and loved. Words that will do the heavy soul lifting when I can’t do it on my own.
Think of Moses in Exodus 17. As long as he held up his staff, the Israelites prevailed. When he lowered his staff, Amalek took the upper hand. So, Aaron and Hur came up along side Moses. They helped him when his hands were heavy. When he was weary and discouraged.
And I can’t imagine that their support was limited to the physical. I have a strong sense that, although not memorialized in the Bible, Aaron and Hur weren’t silent during those long hours of battle. They wouldn’t stand next to a tiring Moses, supporting his hands, without offering words of encouragement. Can’t you just hear it? “Don’t worry, Moses. We’re right here. This is hard, but we know you can do it. Let us know when you need help and we’ll come running. You are doing great.” Even Moses, the mighty leader, the man who faced Pharaoh, needed the assistance of those closest to him when things got tough.
So, I’ll keep those Letters of Recommendation. I’ll cherish the friendships I have nurtured over the years. And, I’ll gladly listen to the voice of God speaking through those who know me best. Because, the poisonous words of one careless or mean-spirited person can not diminish my value or worth – or yours.