The tough guys never bothered me in Junior High School; that is something you should understand right from the first. Yet even though they didn’t bother me, they bothered everyone else, unless you were one of my friends. I was what one of my teachers called “an early bloomer” which I took to be a reference to the fact that when I was 12 years old, I was six feet tall and under my mother’s strict orders to shave every day.
That particular year was the year that my classmates and I went from Elementary School to Junior High School, and we had been told by everyone that bad things happen in Junior High School. In Junior High School, you went from being the oldest in the school to the youngest, and the oldest in the school, the ninth-graders loved to pick on the seventh-graders. We would be bullied, badgered, thrown into trash cans and beat up periodically, and the girls would laugh at us. We would be required to take PE (physical education) and in PE everybody was required to shower together before you could leave. Oh yes, and all of the classes would be harder and move faster, and you might not be smart enough to make it through.
Yet these are the horror stories we heard from teachers; the ones we heard from older kids were truly terrifying. If the truth were to be told, I wasn’t all that concerned about the ninth-graders; I knew that I was bigger and stronger than most (all as it turned out) and that I was an excellent athlete, so I figured I could probably handle any eventuality in dealing with the tough guys. I wasn’t worried about the classes being harder; after all I was often teased for being a “brainiac”. Being laughed at by girls was something I was used to… except in dodgeball where they begged for mercy, which was almost always granted. The only thing that really concerned me about going to Junior High School was the showering part; that would be very awkward for me.
The funny thing about that is that I used to skinny dip with my friends quite often in our old neighborhood, but two years previously we had moved to a new neighborhood, to a house that had no pool, on a street that had no kids my age. This was a new development in that I was, at the time, isolated to a certain extent; I had to ride a bus to school, and I had no friends near my house, so no skinny dipping for over two years now. Yet the real problem was that everything about me had changed since then, and while I would never had admitted it at the time, I felt like something of a freak. I wondered if I was the only one. Some of my classmates’ voices were beginning to change, but I had finished with all of that over a year ago, and none of my friends were even thinking about shaving… was I going to have to beat people up in the showers for making smart remarks about… changes? Talk about awkward!
Let’s remember friends that these are the thoughts and insecurities of a 13-year-old…
As it turned out, when school started that September, I was right about some things, and wrong about others: I was right about the ninth-graders; not one of them ever gave me any trouble, and I actually became quite accepted in their midst. I was right about the classes; easy peasy. I was also right about the tough guys in general; no problems with them. In fact, they ended up being quite friendly. The girls still laughed, and since there was no dodgeball after Elementary School, I had no way to keep it under control, so I had to endure their peculiar form of torment and torture. My mother told that they did it because they liked me, and that’s when I knew that she had lost all semblance of rational thought.
The showering part however, I was completely wrong about. On the very first day, I noticed something very interesting: There were no tough guys in the showers. They might have been what toady is called “bullies” before the shower, and after the shower, but never in the shower, for in the shower they didn’t have their tough guy pants, and their tough guy boots and shirts; no, there they were just like everyone else. Oh yes, it turned out that I wasn’t that much of a freak after all, I was just the tallest. What had seemed so uncomfortable, so awkward, was not nearly as scary as I had thought it would be.
Junior High School was a cakewalk.
The more I think about it, the more I must conclude that nakedness is the most brilliant metaphor of all time, for it so richly illustrates what we go through in building relationships; with friends and co-workers, family, spouses and most of all with God Himself. More to the point, it illustrates the process of growing in community with other believers.
I fully realize that like moving on to Junior High School, this seems difficult, but also like Junior High School, it isn’t as difficult as we might expect. Oh, I know that there are church communities in which many are waiting for the chance to point fingers of accusation at others, as they hide behind their attractive masks of phony righteousness; I’ve had plenty of people tell me that they find themselves in such a location. Each time I hear such things I can’t help but wonder why they would remain there, if it is all that bad.
Of course, if we are in the habit of being naked before God, being naked before God in community really isn’t as much of a challenge as it might sound when you really think about it, for deep down, I think we all know that even though new things can be awkward, they really aren’t as tough as they might sound at first.
Next time, I’ll continue along this line of thinking; see you then!