by Emily Heitzman
It is really hard to be a preteen or teenager today. I unfortunately know this because as a pastor who works with youth, I have seen this firsthand. I’m not saying that it wasn’t difficult to be that age. I received my fair share of unrealistic and unhealthy messages about society’s definition of beauty and who was worthy and who was not. All I had to do was watch a few VH1 videos, stop at the magazine rack at a convenience store, or listen to my middle school classmates who bullied me during lunch to know that I did not fit into society’s most-valued list.
However, it is much more difficult today to shut out the negative messages about who is deemed worthy in the eyes of society and one’s peers. With the ever-growing presence of social media, the act of bullying is now taken to another level, and a youth cannot just avoid these negative messages by sitting at a different lunch table at school, cancelling cable and skipping her trip to the convenience store magazine rack. The voices that are determining who is valued and who is not–who is in and who is out– have gotten louder and much more difficult to ignore.
It is not easy for a young person to maintain a sense of self-worth when so many loud, unavoidable voices are proclaiming that one’s value is based on clothing or body shape, academic achievements or household income, ethnicity or country of origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also not easy to maintain a sense of self-worth as an adult.
Yet, when the negative voices around us are so loud, we can look to 1 John 3:1-2 to remember who we are and whose we are. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
When the voices around us and often within us are saying we are not valued or good enough, we must remember that we are–in fact –children of God and that we are now, always and forever ἀγαπητός (ag-ap-ay-tos’): beloved. I love this word ἀγαπητός. Not only does it mean “one who is loved,” but it can also be translated: “esteemed,” “dear” and my favorite: “worthy of love.”
This is so counter to what we hear every day. No, our looks, social status, personal and professional achievements, Twitter retweets and Facebook likes do not determine our value. Our mistakes, failures and struggles do not deem us undeserving of love. As children of God, claimed and chosen, we are beloved and worthy of God’s unconditional love! In Genesis we are reminded that God created us good and in God’s imagine, and in Psalm 139, we see that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are good. We are worthy. We are wonderful. We are beautiful just the way we are. We are beloved children of God. And no kid at the lunch table, colleague at work, magazine article, music video, politician, popular religious leader can take that away from us.
A few weeks ago at youth group, I told my youth to write down on a notecard one negative word or phrase that someone has called them or said about them or that they believe about themselves. Then after reading and discussing Psalm 139, I showed the youth the music video “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray and told them to listen carefully to the words.
At the end of the song, I told my youth to cross out the word they had written and to write over it: “Beloved.” I said: “Whenever you hear negative messages about you from others (or from within), remind yourselves of who you are and whose you are: fearfully and wonderfully made, beloved children of God, who are beautiful just the way you are, and who are worthy of God’s unconditional love.”
This is a message our preteens and teenagers need to hear and be reminded of over and over again. But it is also a message we need to hear and remind ourselves.
During the season of Lent, we are called to simplify our lives so that we can make more space for God and experience God in new ways. Many of us choose to give up or let go of something or take on a new spiritual practice for Lent.
This Lenten season, let’s choose to do both. Let’s choose to give up and let go of the negative messages that we hear from others (and often tell ourselves) and let’s take on the practice of continuously reminding ourselves that God loves us, that we are God’s beloved children who are wonderfully made, and that we are worthy of that love.
So beloved, this Lent, let us all make the decision to BE LOVED.
1. Who is being deemed as unworthy or of less value in our society today?
2. What is a negative message about yourself that you have heard from others or from within? Have you been able to let go of that negative message and cover it with God’s message that you are beloved? Why/why not? How have you or how will you let go of this negative message?
3. How can you practice giving up/letting go of the negative messages and taking on the practice of being loved this Lenten season?
God of abundant grace, we praise you, for you created us good and in your image, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your love for us is more than we can comprehend or understand. In times when the negative messages around us are so difficult to avoid, remind us of who we are and whose we are: beloved children of God, worthy of your love. And may that be enough. Amen.
The Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian celergy serving as the shared pastor with youth and households for three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago. You can read more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry lessons at her blog: http://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com.
This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of Boldcafe.org.