A sweet friend from church approached me last Wednesday night before prayer meeting. "I just need to tell you", she said. "Your Rylie has gotten so pretty and has grown up so much." She continued to compliment my youngest, bringing up a church presentation where Rylie showed her knowledge of scripture. I made a quick mental note. Don't forget to share with Rylie.
It's always a treat when people take time out to give compliments. Kids (and adults for that matter) seek encouragement.
Lucky for Rylie, she received two sweet doses of affirmation that Wednesday. Last week was Spring Break. It was also the Nederland Heritage Festival, a time when we throw our cash at vendors in exchange for burgers and funnel cakes and a pass for unlimited rides.
This year Rylie decided she needed to purchase a caricature of herself. I'm not sure why. Her brother and his girlfriend had one drawn at the festival the night before and we laughed our heads off at the absurdity of their large chins and nostrils the artist had sketched with bright colored chalk. Middle schoolers can be a caricature in and of themselves without having someone exaggerate their least favorite feature.
Rylie happened upon a different artist. I was relieved when she proudly exited the tent waving her drawing in the air. The artist had sketched she and her friend and they looked as cute as a button (well, maybe as cute as /two/ buttons.) She showed everybody with whom she even had the slightest acquaintance.
She was so happy with the light in which the artist had seen her that she spent another fifteen bucks the next night on another drawing; this time of her as a perky baker. And again she was proud, confirmed in her identity. I was happy for her. There had been a collective voice whispering her value.
This event plays into something I haven't seemed to be able to get out of my mind lately.
I don't think today's children are suffering from a lack of compliments and pep talks. As a teacher I remember having a list of brag words to use on student worksheets and tests. I was never without a stash of stickers and stamps. High fives, hugs and smiles were limitless. Still, all it usually took to crater a kid's self confidence was one ill word or a small rejection from their peers. Beyond suffering an unkindness, kids (and adults) often feel unloved or like a failure just by how they perceive others view them, sometimes even when their perception is wrong. A big and frequent dose of kindness won't battle feelings of inadequacy on its own.
With recent school shootings and multiple suicides amongst school age children I'm trying to wrap my head around the mindset of those who are deciding that their own life, or the life of another isn't valuable. Mental illness and depression surely factors in such sad thoughts and harrowing decisions being made. As has been suggested, I do believe a history of being bullied or rejected is often a part of such desperate action. Throw in broken families, the horrors of social media and violent video games. We have a host of ways to place blame for the dejection plague.
A common reaction I keep hearing when young lives are needlessly lost is "We need to be more kind." That's true. I think the world will always be in need of more kindness. But "more kindness" won't fill the void that pains so many hearts.
The suicide epidemic is rapidly getting closer to home. Having personal knowledge of a couple of individuals who have either ended or attempted to end their life recently, I can assure you that those people were loved on. Many whose lives have spun into darkness and loneliness have been showered with affection and encouragement.
Healthy homes, therapy and medication, affection, encouragement, less access to social media and displays of violence can be vital, but they aren't the cure to loneliness and hopelessness.
I believe we've lost sight (if we ever had it) of our value. We live in a world where a human life that already exists is only allowed to continue to exist if a pregnant mother so chooses.
Popular opinion dictates value. As much as we hate to admit it, outward beauty, athleticism, intelligence and the things we accumulate are the things we flippantly designate as significant. We're not much better than Hollywood.
We like rule followers and those for whom success comes easily. For those lacking...those who struggle...we can be guilty of tossing morsels of kindness without truly understanding value in those the world hasn't deemed worthy. We offer sympathy as a solution.
We flash a smile or type a quick positive comment on Facebook. We encourage our kids to sit with the kid who sits alone while still sometimes hoping our kid will be accepted by the important kids. We add kindness upon kindness sometimes wearing ourselves out in the process. We forget that the wound of unworthiness is deep and in need of a greater touch.
Last week at the festival I watched the second time Rylie had her sketch done. She already knew what she looked like, still she sat in eager anticipation. "I want to know again. How do you see me?"
We'll never see others (or be seen by others) in perfect light. That's why we need to go and sit before the artist who formed us. He's waiting to show us the beauty and value we have in him. Each of us were so important to Him that he willingly gave his own life out of his deep love for us.
We need to recognize others who desperately clutch their canvas. Rather than paying them a quick compliment to cover an ill-drawn representation or offering to sketch them ourselves, let's point them to The Artist. And then point them back again. Repeat.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.