Roughly two months ago from the time of this posting, something happened in my life. The very foundation of who I have thought I am for the past twelve years or more was shaken and destroyed.
Maybe I should back up and explain who I thought I was.
I'm a preacher's kid. Grew up in church. Accepted Christ when I was five. All my life I've been in church in some form or another. When I was 18, I graduated high school and a week later started as the summer youth director at a small church. Practically every summer since then I've been doing youth ministry. So for 29 years of my life I've identified myself as a Christian, and for a total of almost 12 years, I've been doing some type of ministry.
The thing about growing up as a Christian and growing up in the church is that you learn how to play all the games. You learn what to say and when to say it. Unfortunately, one of the things the church hasn't taught us how to do very well is be weak. If you have a weakness, please don't let it show. If you're carrying a burden, don't let it weigh you down too much or you may become a burden on the rest of the people around you. Not to mention, if something comes up that you can't handle then obviously you're not walking with God the way you're supposed to.
Well, there's that little diatribe...digression is my curse.
Anywho, I think one of my greatest weaknesses became apparent to me on the playground in first grade. I would never say that I was overly sheltered as a kid. My parents did a great job of letting us be exposed to the real world in an effort to teach us how to live in the real world. (Us being the rest of my brothers and sisters.) The one thing I wasn't prepared for, though, was the fact that the kids who didn't know me from church would find something about me to make themselves feel better. It's been said that kids are cruel. I disagree. I think kids are just unfiltered. I don't think a child means to be mean until they realize that being mean gives them some kind of power or control in a situation over another child who may not be quite as mean. So it was that I learned in first grade that I have a bit of a weight problem. Some would say I'm fat...but that's not really PC now is it? The kids in first grade called me "Fatback." I didn't really know what fatback was at the time, but I knew that they were informing me that I was a bit chunkier than the rest of them. It hurt my feelings, but that was kind of a new experience to me. Most people I knew loved me to death (except the occasional babysitter - I was a bit of a handful as a kid.). My friends at church treated me like one of the gang. They never let me know I was fat. (In retrospect it would have been nice for one of my older friends to pull me over to the side and say, "Hey, heads up...you're fat...and people are going to pick on that...be prepared.) So I was never prepared for the revelation that I was a little fatty and that people apparently liked to have fun at the expense of the fat kid.
It went on into the next year when my second grade teacher (who I maintain to this day didn't like me very much) read us the book BLUBBER by the very talented Judy Blume. In said story, the author felt it necessary to define the word "blubber" for the reader. As my teacher read the definition aloud - "whale fat"- every eye in my class turned to me and the mouths below the eyes formed sadistic smiles. Recess was going to be a beast that day.
Now, I'm not trying to play the victim. I've got a lot of mileage in my adult years out fat jokes. The hard truth is that those early years, I began to let the people around me influence the way I saw myself. While I had friends and was readily accepted - even with the rather unpleasant nicknames - I began to see myself as the outcast. I looked at myself and said, "People see me this way, I have to change that...I have to make them like me."
As the fat kid, you have two choices. You can choose to be bitter and awkward for the rest of your time in school or you can develop a personality. I chose the latter. I was the class clown. I was the guy who always had something funny to say, and I learned that if I beat everyone else to the fat joke punch, nobody will try to make the fat jokes.
I carried this self image through the awkwardness of middle school and on in to high school. I became the guy that everyone liked, but the truth is I wasn't too crazy about myself. That was my weakness that I never let anyone see. That was the truth that I hid. Because if I didn't like myself then Jesus wouldn't be happy with me because He likes me.
I was a good kid in high school. I didn't party, I didn't cause any real trouble. I was always a bit mischievous and mouthy, but I was never a bad kid. You'd never hear of Steve Glosson getting drunk. You'd never hear that Steve was somewhere he wasn't supposed to be. In fact, I was the guy that everyone knew to be a Christian. I was the guy leading See You At The Pole prayer events, speaking in churches in the area, (I preached for the first time when I was 12.) inviting people to youth events, and being active in all the Christian events in the community. Yep. I was a good guy.
The truth is though, I still longed to know that I was accepted and liked. I tried to be liked by everyone. I never had a girlfriend. "You're just too nice." Guys would tell me. "You're not a guy, you're Steve." Girls would say.
I honestly didn't think very highly of myself. Well, I didn't think I did. I only saw my flaws. I only saw how much I didn't fit in. I really didn't like myself very much at all.
So it was, somewhere in the middle of my high school career, I began to build some wall s around my life. I didn't really open up to people very much unless it was about my faith. (I had to do that...all good Christians do that.) When I thought I could open up, things would always come out wrong and I would feel stupid or afraid I would be made fun of, so I just chose to keep myself to myself. I was the perfect wingman for my guy friends. I was the perfect listening ear for my girl friends. All the while I was falling apart inside because I thought that no one really liked me...they just all pitied me because I'm the fat loser who can crack a funny joke every now and then.
Here's the crazy thing though. I had put so much stock in my identity as the "Christian kid," and as I began to discover my talents of standing in front of an audience and engage the listener, I began to puff myself up in my head. I began to think that I deserved more than I was getting from people. I would never had admitted that, but that's kind of how I began to feel.
Then, I went to college. My mom and dad dropped me off 500 miles from home with no car and knowing absolutely nobody. It was my choice. I chose the college I went to and didn't think about the fact that it was far from home and I had no friends there. So there I was, a stranger in a strange place where everyone seemed to find a place to fit right in. Eventually, so did I. I found my spot. I had a great group of friends. I'd lucked into an awesome situation in my dorm with a roommate that I genuinely got along with. Then, Big Honkin' Steve was born.
You see, I went to a Christian college where, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, we had mandatory chapel. (They call in "Convocation," but it's chapel.) The worship leader taught us a fun little kids' song one day.
The Word of God is like little bitty seeds
Scattered all around
The Word of God is like little bitty seeds
Scattered all around
Some in the row
Some in the weeds
But everywhere you look
Little bitty seeds. (Said in a high pitched voice)
The Word of God is like little bitty seeds
Scattered all around
Well, the worship leader went on to talk about how we have a word in the south for big - honkin. And we sang a second verse, laughing through it, "The Word of God is like Big Honkin' seeds."
Well, that day after convocation I was in line at the cafeteria with my friends and someone said, "Big honkin seeds sounds like Big Honkin' Steve." And thus, the nickname was given. From there, I met the worship leader and told him the funny story. The next time we did that song he called me up in front of the few thousand who were in convo - as we called it - and I did my own little verse all about me. People laughed...people cheered...and people thought I was cool because I was on stage.
I would go on stage several times to sing my little song and accept the laughter from the masses, and around campus people would begin to see me and say , "Hey Big Honkin' Steve." Couple that with my loud obnoxious voice and people would begin to say, "Hey, say something loud and funny." I would oblige them of course because I finally found a place where people loved and accepted me. (yeah right.)
In the quiet moments though, I still didn't like myself. I was still that hurt little fat kid. I thought my closest friends only pitied me. I guess you could say I was a closet emo.
Then, it happened. I found myself in a relationship with an actual girl.
I should stop right there and say this. A low self esteem is a really tricky form of pride. When you suffer from a super low self esteem, all of your attention is on you. If that's not pride I don't know what is.
So couple my low self esteem, with what seemed like a contrary state of pride, and you have the recipe for a disastrous relationship.
I didn't know how to be in a real relationship. I didn't know how to be as open as I needed to be. I didn't know that the person I was dating was supposed to actually be more than just someone who walked next to me when I went places. (This is actually a lesson I didn't learn for a long time.) All I was concerned with was that the masses thought I was a great guy and she needed to accept me as readily as everyone else did. The problem with that is that I had these walls in place, and if someone got past them then that person would find out just how weak I really was. They would discover a truth I had hidden behind this masterful performance for the masses. I couldn't let that happen. So I pushed. I pushed away someone who cared about me.
At this point, I need to make the point that she wasn't perfect either, but rather than help someone out with their struggles and weaknesses, I held those things against the person and said to myself, "I deserve better."
As that relationship ended...and ended again...and ended again...I found myself becoming more and more bitter toward the whole idea of being in a relationship. I found myself embracing the idea of just keeping up appearances for the masses. That's what I did. I played the game.
The problem with playing the game is that sometimes the game catches up with you. There were several times in my life where more people than I realized began to see the cracks in my armor. As people began to see my imperfections, instead of confessing my weaknesses and the areas in which I needed help, I would push people away, get out of a situation, paint myself as the victim, and maintain to everyone else who applauded and lauded my great personality and talents that I had just been in some rough situations, never truly taking the responsibility for things that I should have taken responsibility for. Instead, I would take just enough responsibility to make me appear to be humble.
All the while my struggles with who I was and what I thought of myself and the ways I would try to fill those empty places grew more and more and more. My walls became bigger and thicker and more impenetrable.
I became arrogant, because there were so many people who thought I was great...and quite frankly, I began to believe my own hype. I had taken steps to "fix" what was wrong in me. I had done all the churchy things that you're supposed to do and even did some things that seemed radical in some church circles as I actually confessed to past weaknesses and failures. Thinking that this somehow made me a better minister and Christian.
Truthfully, it just made me more and more of a performer.
For the past three or four years, I have felt the pull of the Holy Spirit in my life saying "Just be humble before me." Knowing scripture, I knew the promise from James 4:10, that when we humble ourselves in God's presence, He will lift us up. Even so, I was scared to death of what it meant to be humble. People might see me cry. (Silly now considering how much I now don't care if people see me cry.) People will find out how weak I am. People will know that I'm not perfect. People will know my flaws. So for the past three or four years I resisted the call of the Holy Spirit to truly be humble.
Oh, the love of God that calls to the resistant for so long.
Finally, my life became so consumed with the fact that people all over the world knew me through podcasts and blogs and they all enjoyed me, that I thought I was doing good. I was doing youth ministry, and people seemed to be ok with that. I had people who wanted to hang out with me, and I was being told on a regular basis what a great guy I was. Still, I longed for more. More popularity. More acceptance. More (dare I say) fame. That was what I wanted everyone to think of me. The people closest to me...only saw walls. They saw their friend continuously push them away. They saw a person they genuinely cared about sit in apparent solitude never wanting anything to do with them unless it would suit his wants.
Then it happened. The person closest to me...I hurt the most.
In a few days time, God began to shake me from my place of shelter. He began to rattle the walls I'd so carefully built.
I lost someone special only to be left with just me and what? A Star Wars room? A few podcasts about things that really don't matter? A name that people knew?
Then God began to speak to my heart and say, "I love you too much to let you continue this road."
Oh, the love of God that would deal with me for years and finally step in and do what I was unwilling to do. He humbled me.
Roughly two months ago, God broke me. He showed me what I was doing, who I was trying to be, and what it was doing to those closest to me, and what it would do to me, and He tore down my walls. For the first time in a long, long time, I was exposed to the world for what I truly was. A scared, insecure, weak man who was holding on to the hope that his talent would be enough to please everyone.
As my walls fell though, God also opened my eyes to see who I am to Him. I am the "righteousness of God in Christ Jesus" according to 2 Corinthians 5:21. I am fearfully and wonderfully made according to Psalm 139. I am called chosen and faithful according to Revelation 17:14 even though I've not always been faithful...He still calls me faithful, not because of what I've done, but because of who I am in Him.
Then I began to see what really matters in this life...people. People are what matters. The people around us. The people in our lives. It doesn't matter if everyone in the world knows your name, if you aren't pouring into the people closest to you, you are missing what really matters.
So it was God said, "It's time to lay it all down and set your priorities straight." The podcasts? Gone. The radio show? Finish it. The Star Wars room? An idol...let it go. Big Honkin' Steve? A nickname? Really? Yes...a nickname that represents all of my self glorification and pride and desire for popularity. It's time to let it go.
Has this all hurt? Yes. It hurt badly. It hurts because of some things I lost that seemingly can't be restored. So, I lost my smile, because it seemed like God had taken so much from me. My very identity was gone. My heart was broken by my own hand.
The glorious truth in all this is that in the midst of my torn down walls, and my shattered ideas of who I was, there was a foundation that was firm. You see, as I said, I accepted Christ when I was five years old. I remember the prayer I prayed with childlike faith. I remember the journey in the months that followed as I struggled with the idea of letting our congregation know and finally being baptized. God knew then what I didn't know - that foundation would be what I would one day cling to desperately as everything else seemed to fall away.
The other thing that God is teaching me is that for everything He's asked me to lay down, He gives back in ways greater than I ever dreamed. My friendships are already more real than they've ever been. I've had the opportunity to talk to so many other Believers and be encouraged by their prayers for me and found the joy in praying for them. I've had the chance to lead people into a relationship with Jesus.
I finally like who I am with no pride or arrogance. I like that I can be honest with my friends. I like that I can be real. I like not being tired from the constant performances for everyone. It's an amazing thing to feel so free for the first time in so long.
So my encouragement to you is that even though to be broken sounds like a scary thing, even though humility feels like it can't possibly be a good thing, the glorious truth is that God truly does lift us up when we humble ourselves before Him.
If you're holding on to everything you don't like about you, if you're holding on to your fears of people knowing you're weak, if you've lost your smile because you've been scared to be what God has created you to be, I can tell you that you won't find your smile again until you let God's grace and love do its work in your life. God absolutely loves you. God absolutely LIKES you. Flaws and all. When I realized that and began to embrace it, I found myself on the path to finding my smile.