I was bullied as a kid.
When this happened, I usually created a fictional version of myself that could stand up to the bullies. A version of myself who was more athletic, extroverted, and better looking. What I found as I grew up is that I never let go of that fictional version of myself.
The character I create in my mind is someone else. They are someone who shares my name but nothing else. He doesn't look like me, he doesn't talk like me, and he doesn't act like me. He doesn't make self-deprecating comments like I make self-deprecating comments, or doubt that he will ever amount to anything significant. He has darker skin, whiter teeth, and bluer eyes. This Payton has confidence when he talks to people, he never repeats conversations in his head over and over again afterwards wondering where he could have been less awkward. This Payton is brilliant, creative, and can play the guitar.
The character I have created in my mind in not the Payton you know, but the one I secretly want to be. The person worth telling stories about; the one whose success is limitless and who can change the world. If my life were a playwright and I was writing myself into the story, this is the person who I would be most proud seeing on that stage, not the person I really am.
When I create this character in my mind, I feel like God creating something amazing. I don’t make the mistakes that God seemingly made, though. I believe most people believe God made mistakes while making them. That comes off unnatural for a minister to say, but if you ask almost anyone they will say they wish they were different. They wish their teeth were not crooked, their stutter were more controllable, or their anxiety while in social gatherings would diminish. If we could all live out the characters we have built in our minds, then life would be perfect and we could finally be happy.
I didn’t have control in the way I turned out, but God did. Why did God make me this way, the way you know me to be? That is a difficult question and one that I struggle with. I am often swallowed by waves of self-doubt that surfaces this question in my mind: “If God is perfect, why did he make me imperfect?”
God did not make a mistake with me; God did not make a mistake with you. That is not an easy reality for me to accept. I think of being bullied as a kid for my long neck, knocked around in football because I was no good, and think, “surely God didn’t get joy out of that, right?”
God loves me. I was not made perfect, but I was made to be perfect. When I create this fictional Payton in my mind, I am seeking perfection in myself. A perfection that will never be truly found and embodied. Excellence, purity, perfection can only be found in Jesus. It is in Jesus that I find acceptance, meaning, and significance. This might sound like a call to the altar, but this is so much more than that. This is freedom from the imprisonment of insecurity. Jesus loosens the shackles of self-doubt and helps me live in the body and mind that I actually have.
I still struggle. That’s a reality of living in a broken world. I still sometimes look in the mirror and wish I were different, that I were better. But I walk a little taller now. Not because I don’t get knocked down, but because I have a reason to get back up. God has written me into His story and wants to use me. I lose sight of my significance from time to time, but no longer my purpose. I love God, I love others, and I am learning, slowly, to love myself.