“I don’t want to be different.”
How often have we felt these words? Uttered these words? Or been struck by these words coming from the mouth of a child?
This week has been a particularly busy one. We are settling into the summer routine which, probably because of my personality type, is turning out to be just as busy as the school year. Because I am still working and school is out, summer began with my oldest son starting at a camp where he knows no one. The decision to send him to this particular camp was intentional, and as many parental decisions, despite the intentionality, there is no way of knowing if a different decision would have been a better one.
As we planned for this new encounter, I checked off a bunch of boxes – I emailed the camp director to make sure that we met about my son’s hearing loss, I went over to the camp with my son to explain the devices he uses and when he could and could not wear his aids, and I emailed a reminder after the meeting. I also made sure to explain some things to my son about what he would encounter and how he could advocate for himself. Most of all, however, I emphasized how fun it all would be.
In all this box checking, however, I forgot about the other children at the camp.
This led my son and I to a long discussion on the way to the third day of camp about everything that he was feeling and experiencing. The conversation started off with “I don’t need my hearing aids mom, I can hear just fine without them.” There was a middle part where he might have insinuated passionately that I should, in fact, be the one wearing aids. In the end, though, what I finally heard was “I don’t want to be different.”
After I dropped him off, I thought about this the whole way to work and my mind wandered from what can I show him to help him understand his hearing better… to whom I can have him meet to remember he’s not alone… to what I need to equip him with so he can feel more confident about who he is. But my last thought as I pulled into work was… when did I last stand in his shoes and think the same thing about myself?
Being a kid is both wonderful and difficult. At some point in everyone’s journey, whether we express it out loud or not, I think we all have this thought: “I don’t want to be different.” And some of us just handle it better than others. I sat in my car and thought about the time I got big, clunky retainers in the third grade (they probably felt more big and clunky than they actually were). And then when I added my big blue glasses to the mix in the fourth grade. And then when I finally got the retainers off three years later only to be replaced with braces right after. I remembered the fact that my hair was always halfway between straight and curly and never really laid the direction I wanted it to. And I remember feeling, particularly in high school, like I would never be as good an athlete, as good at math, as good at singing, as good at fill-in-the-blank as someone else.
And I remember even more clearly, feeling the same thought expressed by my son “I don’t want to be different. I just want to be like everybody else.”
But we are not made to be just like everyone else! We are made to be different, special, unique. Today’s celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, in fact, is about exactly that! (Stay with me here) The Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire upon the heads of the apostles giving them all the wisdom and understanding they would need to go out and preach the Gospel to everyone… ‘”[E]ach one heard them speaking in his own unique language [and] they were astounded.”(Acts 2:6) What did they hear? I imagine that the apostles were enabled to proclaim above all else that each person they met was loved by God. Not that they were loved by God only if they were the best singer or the most accomplished athlete or their ears worked. They were loved by God exactly as they were… through both successes and failures… special ears and big blue glasses…. in the whole, unique personhood that God gave them.
The second reading from 1st Corinthians emphasizes this uniqueness: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” (1 Cor 12:4-5). We essentially have one thing in common – we are all continual, loved creations of God. But we have so many more things that make us special and a necessary part of the one Body of Christ. Without each of us, the body would cease to function.
So perhaps it is human to feel like “I don’t want to be different” at some point in our lives. But it is critically important to be reminded, particularly on days like today, that being different is to be celebrated!
So grab your big blue glasses, let your half curly/half straight hair fly, and take the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate and LOVE the uniqueness of you as well as the uniqueness of all those who add color and joy and flavor to your life!