Always a Step Behind
Sometimes I feel like I was born into a world with a set of rules that I don’t know. I feel this endless need to figure out what everybody else already seems to know. I always feel a step behind.
The youngest of three girls, I felt like I was always trying to catch up. My earliest memory of this was when I was 4 and my sisters told me that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart. They of course had already made this decision and I didn’t want to be left out. After all, my sisters were the most important people in my life (besides my parents!) and I wanted to be just like them.
Fast forward three years and we are riding bikes in our neighborhood. My little legs are pumping as fast as they can go, but I can’t quite keep up with my sisters and our friend. I try harder, but I’m still behind. I fly down a hill and the next thing I know, the back wheel doesn’t respond the way that it is supposed to and suddenly I am flung to the earth. I experience a searing pain as my legs scrape across the pavement. The taste of blood and tears and dirt are forever embedded in my memory.
Around this same time, we met a family who also had three girls, the oldest the same age as my oldest sister and the twins born the year in between my middle sister and myself. In my young mind, I thought that this might possibly be the best thing ever! But it wasn’t. Turns out that the twins didn’t want to play with me, because I was too little. This memory is still painful for me. I remember asking my mom why they didn’t like me. She didn’t have an answer for me and it was the first time that I felt the pull to be someone different than who I was in order for others to like me.
First grade was rough, because I didn’t feel like my teacher liked me (are you sensing a theme? You would be right!). I remember being scared of her and by the end of the year, my parents decided to move us to a Christian school on the other side of the city. And for the third time in my young life, I was the new kid. Everyone else knew each other. They talked about Kindergarten and seemed to know what to do when we went out for recess. And so I tried to fit in. I excelled at learning the catechism. I sat up straight with my hands folded perfectly on the desk. But I couldn’t quite force myself to play with the other girls when there was a soccer game going on! And so, I played with the boys in my uniform jumper with the knee high socks.
I was different than my sisters, yet my heart longed to love the same things that they loved. I wanted to be included in the conversations. I wanted to enjoy reading, because they looked like they were having so much fun sitting under their blankets engrossed by words that were beyond my grasp. But even though I tried, I was still a step behind. I was thrilled when I got a fishing rod for my birthday. I spent hours by myself hopping from rug to rug in our basement trying to avoid the alligators that were anxious to get at my feet! I was different.
And then we moved and I was the new girl for the fourth time. If things were difficult in second grade, they were compounded in fourth. Our new home was in a tightly knit country town. Everybody knew everybody and I didn’t know anybody. I could feel the curious eyes looking at me. Me in my skirts and dresses, always a bit of an oddball all the while screaming inside, I’m fun! I’m likable! Like me! Like me! But I was two steps behind.
Over time, I caught up in some areas. I fell in love with reading. I made friendships that have lasted into adulthood. Eventually, my Daddy loosened up a bit and understood that his tomboy daughter would continue to play football with the boys, so wearing dresses was probably not the best idea. But I always seemed to stay that step behind, getting closer, but never quite catching up.
I began to gravitate towards friendships with others who would understand me. I spent a lot of time in my high school years with my Daddy, because he didn’t expect me to be anything more than who I was and he loved me for me. I felt the pressures elsewhere. It wasn’t that anyone put those on me, as much as I put expectations on myself. Of course, there was the one Christmas when I received a potato peeler as a stocking stuffer. I’ll be honest with you. I cried. I was in college, but I had no interest in cooking and once again, I felt behind. I was supposed to like this stuff apparently, yet I didn’t. At all.
As I look back on my life now, I can see that my personality combined with my life experience lent itself to this endless questioning of self. Why am I different? Why do I always feel a step behind? Why do these things feel like such a struggle for me when everyone else seems to naturally know what to do? The result of these questions has been attempts throughout my life to catch up to others who I feel are a few steps ahead of me or to please others so that I will feel like they are happy with me.
A few years ago, I was singing the song “Amazing Grace” which I have probably sung a thousand times in my life, but this particular time, I stopped to consider what really is so amazing about grace? It struck me that for all of my knowledge of scripture, all of my pursuit of Christ, all of my service, I didn’t really have a firm grasp on what grace was. And so, I began a personal quest to discover why grace really is amazing. (Even with this, I feel like I am behind everyone else. I’m a pastor’s kid and a pastor’s wife. I should understand grace, right?!!).
What I am beginning to discover is that the more I understand God’s strength, the more I understand my own weakness. And the more I recognize sin in my own life, the more I understand why I need grace. The more I allow grace to be poured into my life, the more amazing it becomes.
The more I understand grace, the less pressure I feel to catch up with others. I am beginning to allow Christ to pull my fingers off of my tight grasp of pleasing all the people and truly understand that He is my audience. I’m realizing something else on this journey. There might be times when I feel off kilter because I don’t know the unspoken rules, but it is when I feel this way that I depend on Jesus the most. So as hard as those times are and as much as I would prefer to be in control and just know what others seem to know intrinsically, I am learning to embrace those times as an opportunity to grow and hopefully to be changed.
It has been a slow process for me, but I am beginning to accept that there are people who don’t like me. And there will always be people who will be further down the road than me. This is okay. Because I am not supposed to be winning the approval of the masses or even the individuals whom I long to please. Give me Jesus! And I’m not supposed to be in step with every person in my life (how silly of me to even think that was possible!). Only Jesus!
I might always and forever be a step behind others, but I am learning contentment in this place where God has placed me. Perhaps you are able to identify with me because I am not so far ahead that I feel inaccessible. Or maybe you see me a few steps behind you and you are filled with compassion and a desire to spur me on. But mostly, I hope that wherever you are at on your journey, we can link arms together and encourage one another to keep pressing on.
I might always be a step behind, but the important thing is that I am on the right path!