How do you maintain individuality without being afraid of being judged or unpopular for not conforming?
With all the cliques, stereotypes, and drama of teenage life, it is often easy to lose sight of your own individuality and to feel constantly judged. It seems at times as if you have to conform to one clique or another, and so, you're not truly being yourself. But if you don't conform to society's ideals and beliefs, you risk being rejected and put down.
I've found that the Bible is a Christian's most helpful resource when dealing with issues of individuality and judgment. Jesus is a great example of individuality and nonconformity.
Although Jesus was sought after by the poor, the outcasts, and those in need of healing, he was not popular with those in authority. Jesus did things that greatly upset society. Not only were Jesus' actions not considered acceptable, but they were also illegal according to the tradition of Jewish law.
Nevertheless, Jesus did what he knew was right all the time; for instance, he healed people on the Sabbath when Jews were not supposed to work. One of those he healed was the man by the pool of Bethesda who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. He did not do what the traditional law said was right. He did what he knew was right in the eyes of God, and he was willing to take the consequences: "And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the Sabbath day" (John 5:16.)
If Jesus was able to put his own life in danger for the purpose of doing what is right and compassionate, should we not be able to do what is right whether it makes us popular or not?
Of course we should. But sometimes we feel hated or judged -- just like Jesus. Yet, Jesus didn't care. Jesus faced a lot of hate for what he did, and he knew it. He explained, "The world … hates me because I testify that what it does is evil" (John 7:7). He did not compromise his ideas so he could "fit in." He did not blindly believe that the authorities had it right, like so many others did. In fact, he fought the words of the authorities and the laws that they had in place. He did not fight the laws just to rebel, but he did it because he knew that the laws were wicked, without the spirit or word of the Lord. [See note below.]
So while Jesus judged laws and actions, he put a great deal of emphasis on not judging people, especially in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7). He knew that people have a tendency to judge one another, but no one truly has this right.
Jesus lived by example when the scribes and Pharisees tried to trick him into accusing a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. He refused to judge her, and he told them they didn't have a right to judge her either when he said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). One by one, they all left.
Everybody has made mistakes, and everyone is different, so we have no right to judge another's situation or individuality, or to call someone weird if he doesn't act as we act. And we really shouldn't condemn ourselves. When we're trying to be someone we're not just to fit in, we're judging ourselves as not good enough. But God always sees us as good enough. And it's God's view of us that matters.
When we're faced with feeling judged and as if we need to change to fit in, we can think of Jesus. He did what he believed was right, and he did not pretend to be someone he was not. He knew who he was -- God's son. We, too, can know who we are. We, too, are God's children.
Jesus was not trying to destroy the law. In fact, he affirmed, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matt 5:17 KJV). Over the couple thousand years since Moses, the simple Ten Commandments had been turned into more than a thousand little laws that the Jews were expected to keep in order to be Jewish. Only the Pharisees really kept them. There were simply too many rules that focused on ritual and completely missed the spirit of what it meat to obey and love God supremely and to love all the children God created. Jesus was trying to help his people get untangled from all the little details and instead feel God's immense love. And so, he healed people on the Sabbath. He loved people that much!