Be A Rebel: Be You!
Many of us, regardless of our age, think that what other people think about us is our business. Indeed, many of us define ourselves by how others think about us, what they say about us, and how they treat us. Do we really want to put our identity in the hands of others? Do we really want to let others' opinions define us? A teenager explains how important it is to rebel against superficial labels that would try to define us and to be the people God created us to be.
If you knew me, you'd probably say I walk to the beat of my own drum. But I've had problems figuring out who I am. At one point, I felt like no one liked me, that I was some sort of weird freak for thinking, acting, and feeling the way I wanted to. It took me a long time to realize that where I shopped, which movies I liked, what I looked like, and which "group" I was in at school had absolutely nothing to do with the individual, God-given me. I had to go on a long search to decide that what Melba Beale, a 20th Century rebel against racism, says is true: "What other people think of me is none of my business!"
As teenagers, we are confronted every day with the twisted rules of high school expectations. Everyone seems to brand people into certain categories -- athlete, emo, artsy, loner, beautiful cheerleader, rich, poor, smart. We might feel that in order to be liked and have friends, we have to fit into one of these categories and do what everyone else in that group does to be a part of it.
It can become very discouraging and can really hurt to have all these labels forced on you. Or, if you aren't trying to be what others want you to be, it can feel like you don't have any friends. It can seem that if you are yourself, you'll be an outcast. Sometimes you might feel you have to create a "whole new you" in order to be popular or to feel good about yourself.
But you don't need to. Changing who you are to fit a specific group's standards is almost never successful. People see you as a poser. More importantly, you don't feel like yourself at all. In the end, that can lead to a pit of depression with even fewer real friends.
Many stories in the Bible tell us about amazing people who stayed themselves, didn't worry about conforming to society's standards, and loved everyone. This attitude or outlook took them far. They made a tremendous impact on the world.
Paul is a prime example of someone who was willing to break the rules of his world to be a missionary for Christianity. His transformation from Saul to Paul caused him to dig deep within himself to discover fully who he was. Once he knew his purpose,1 Paul traveled all over from Antioch to Greece to modern-day Turkey and preached to the Gentiles, people most Jews looked down upon.
Paul was willing to defy what some of the more self-righteous Jewish Christians said, and he argued that it was not necessary to become a Jew and be circumcised before one could become a Christian. Paul let it be known that he saw Jesus' teachings as ideas available for everyone; the word of God should be spread to everyone, regardless of what social class (clique!) someone was in or to what religion someone had previously belonged. Paul knew that everyone deserved to be loved and to be the person he or she wanted to be.
In his preaching, Paul certainly wasn't afraid to speak his mind, and while it made him some enemies, it also gained him a much deeper spiritual understanding and a few close friends. Having a few close friends is always better than having a clique of multiple fake friends. These friends also helped to spread the word of God to everyone. Because Paul refused to conform, he laid the path for the Christian church.
But the most famous rebel against "the rules of the world," the man who was always himself, is Jesus. Jesus went against Jewish authorities to be himself; he trusted God completely. He healed people on the Sabbath, which was seen by the Pharisees as a sin. He called the Pharisees hypocrites and challenged their rules. He threw people out of the temple who were taking advantage of others by selling animals and changing money for their own profit. Jesus knew that the temple should only be used as a house of God!
Because of his new ideas and how different an individual he was, Jesus frustrated the Pharisees. They labeled him and wanted to get rid of him.2 But the only label Jesus accepted for himself, no matter what labels others tried to put on him, was as the "Son of God" or the "Son of man."
Jesus taught us that we are all God's children, so we have the courage to be who we are (God's child) and stick to our values, especially when the going gets tough. Even when everyone hated him so much that they wanted to kill him, even when most of his disciples left him at the cross, Jesus continued to stay true to himself and to his Father. The most important partnership or relationship for Jesus was his relationship with God.3
Others can label you all they want, but God still sees you as perfect and wonderful and loves you no matter what. And being you can only take you far!
1 On the way to Damascus to continue to persecute the Christians, Paul received a new purpose in life -- a purpose that was just the opposite of what he had planned out for his life: "I'm sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God" (The Message, Acts 26:17). Paul had always been an "insider" within the Jewish community. Now he was chosen to be a messenger to the "outsiders," to the Gentiles. Paul finally saw that the labels of "insider" and "outsider" really have no place in God's kingdom, in God's love. God loves us all. And Paul was glad to give this message to everyone, even though he faced hardship and persecution. God has wonderful plans in store for us, too. And God doesn't really care to which group we belong. It's God's view of us that matters -- not a limited human view of ourselves, tainted by the opinions of those around us. That's one of the things Paul was trying to tell us -- that we're all equal with God.
2 People had a lot of different ideas about Jesus. Some loved him; the poor and sick searched him out for healing; some hated him because he was not following their rules. The Pharisees called Jesus "a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners" (Luke 7:34) and said that he had "a devil" (John 8:52). Yet these labels didn't mean anything to Jesus. What did matter was that he knew, without a doubt, that God was his Father. And God is our Father, too, as Jesus taught us in his prayer.
3 Jesus knew that his relationship with God, not with others, defined him. Knowing and demonstrating this changed the world. Jesus rebelled against the thought that said he couldn't heal, couldn't forgive people their sins, couldn't be the Son of God. We, too, can rebel against the thought that we're separated from God. We can rebel against the labels others try to put on us. If we really want to be ourselves, than we can rejoice in our relationship with God -- as the beloved sons and daughters of God. That's who we're supposed to be; that's who we are!