Others' thoughts of me have always held power.
My first memories of feeling insecure come as early as when I was three years old. Our next-door neighbor had an older son who I wanted so deeply to impress and be like. But when he was invited to a fourth-grade-only party, and I (a three-year-old) was not, I felt disappointment flood my chest. I wasn't cool enough to hang out with the boys.
In first grade, I was asked by my teacher to stand at the front of the line because I was the shortest kid in the class. My friends snickered at me as I made my way to the front so that I could be seen better by my teacher.
In second grade, my teacher labeled me the troublemaker. Every report card had a bountiful list of things for me to work on with little to celebrate. I embraced that label early on, and soon became the class clown seeking the laughs of my friends.
In third grade, I was sent to speech therapy class every Wednesday because I had a difficult time speaking certain syllables. I was the only one who left class every Wednesday at 10:00 am while the rest of my friends did story time. Seeing the looks of judgment on their faces as I left the classroom left me feeling discouraged.
In fifth grade, I ran down the hallway with my friends screaming "The British are Coming, the British are coming!" We got in trouble, and our teacher pulled all 100 students out of their classroom later that day to reprimand us in front of the entire fifth-grade class. I sat there in utter embarrassment as my girlfriend at the time held her head down, ashamed of her boyfriend. Needless to say, our relationship didn't survive.
In middle school, I had a different girlfriend every single week because the thought of being in a relationship validated my worth.
In high school, I was constantly seeking the validation of my friends. Every time I was the laughing stock of their jokes or bullying, I brushed it off and continued seeking their approval.
In college, I tried to act like I had my entire life figured out. I remember growing eerily jealous of my Christian Ministry peers who were better communicators and far wiser than I was. I was envious of their praise from our professors and sought the same validation that they were gifted. I continued time and time again to impress the very people I believed would fill me.
Eighteen months ago I was depressed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic so I dyed my hair orange. I wanted to be happy when I looked in the mirror every morning and saw my favorite color. I started being called gay and faggot as insults and so I dyed my hair back to its natural color.
Four months ago my wife asked me if I would try to grow out my facial hair. Some people at church made fun of how I looked so I went home after service and shaved it all off.
Little did I know that a lifelong journey of being insecure and seeking others' affirmation had started when I was just three years old and still tempts me twenty-three years later.
I spent some time reading Isaiah 1 this morning, and verse twenty-nine stuck out to me and challenged me to contemplate my years growing up.
"Surely you will be ashamed of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be embarrassed by the gardens that you have chosen." Isaiah 1:29, BSB
I read this passage and asked myself these two questions:
1) What is my sacred oak that I am ashamed of?
2) What type of garden am I allowing to be cultivated through me because of this oak?
I then began praying King David's "Search me" prayer found in Psalm 139. I asked God to expose in me that which was ugly and not of Him. Within a few moments, God brought me back to my time as three-year-old when I began craving others' attention and validation.
One thing led to the next and I started to realize how my Sacred Oak—others' approval—has been poisoning my ability to listen to God's voice. In my heart I am seeking God's garden. But through my mind, actions, and my sacred oak I have been choosing different gardens to be cultivated in me.
Friend, what is your sacred oak? What is something you have been idolizing that has been poisoning your ability to have God's garden cultivated in you?
I invite you to process that question throughout your day and ask God to search your heart in doing so. But fair warning: You might be brought back in time to your three-year-old self in an ugly way.