It was the same experience year after year. My elementary class would line up in order of height for the annual school photo. I was always at the end of the line, the smallest guy in my class. I got used to my peers literally looking down on me.
Sadly, this became a metaphor for me socially in high school. I became accustomed to having my peers look down on me, not only for my physical height, but my social insecurities. I started to fear for my safety when bullies regularly hid and waited to attack me and my cousin on our way home from school.
The tough guys in my physical education class took advantage of my short, skinny, and quiet self. When the teacher wasn’t present during gymnastics class, they threw me off the top of the box horse and onto the high jump mat, as if I was a crash test dummy. I said nothing of my dislike for it.
I endured strangle holds and inappropriate demonstrations of physical power and social domination over me. I was just thankful when they finally let me go, but never said a word or stood up to them.
My fears intensified when my family moved and I was put in a small rural high school of 20 students. My new peers were tough guys and they intimidated me. Unlike my circle of friends back home, they were into heavy metal music, getting drunk on weekends, bragging of their sexual conquests, and bringing their teachers to tears with their cutting words.
I was often physically assaulted under the guise of lunchtime sports because they knew they could get away with it. A peer of my own namesake outright expressed “I hate you” while repeatedly slashing me with his hockey stick during floor hockey. I only remember hearing my peers laugh it off. One of the biggest guys in the school full out body checked me into the gymnasium cement wall.
But it was the verbal put downs that hurt the longest. In a lull in my English class the ringleader of the group looked back at me and said, “He’s so stoned” as my peers laughed. I froze and didn’t know what to say. Two girls in my class would purposely embarrass me to see my face turn red. I was incessantly teased that I had romantic aspirations for the least liked girl in the school.
I allowed the intimidation of my peers to have power over me. I never stood up for myself. Instead, I shrunk back and started to believe that I was indeed lower than them, that there was something fundamentally wrong with me because I was the target of so much demeaning. I couldn’t fit in.
I was desperate to prove that my peers were wrong about me, but I eventually gave up trying. I knew that if I ever hoped to get the approval of my peers I would have to go against my conscience. It didn’t seem worth it, nor was their approval guaranteed.
In God’s mercy, he removed me from that environment in my final year of high school. It wasn’t until university that I truly grew in my social confidence, thanks to new found friends who valued me even when they saw my weaknesses. Their friendships and empathy helped me to overcome intimidation. I started to entrust myself to God and my friends who supported me.
The biblical story of David from 1 Samuel 17 shows me how God’s spirit can reorient my reaction to succumb to those who look down on me. David was a nobody like me, a mere shephard minding his father’s sheep. He was the youngest of 8 brothers. When the prophet Samuel was told to go and anoint one of Jesse’s sons, no one even bothered calling David. He was an afterthought; the least expected to be king.
Even after David was chosen to be the future king, he went back to looking after his father’s sheep, remaining a a nobody for some time.
Despite his family’s low regard for him, a servant of King Saul suggested David come and play his music for Saul to bring him comfort. The servant recommended David as brave, a warrior, well spoken, fine looking, and the Lord was with him. Saul brought David into his court and was pleased with him.
How did this servant see David’s potential? Why did he take a risk on him and bring him to the palace? Why did he give him such a good recommendation? That servant saw what his family couldn’t. He saw the potential in David’s character, skill, and walk with God. That servant provided David opportunity.
David split his time serving Saul as a musician and his father as a shepherd. But one day his status would change forever when his father asked him to deliver food for his brothers on the front lines of battle with the Philistines. David obeys his father and runs to the front lines to greet his brothers.
As David greeted his brothers, the Philistine giant Goliath came out to give his usual taunt, challenging a man of Israel to fight him. David started to inquire about the fight from men around him. His oldest brother obviously didn’t like what David was doing.
Burning with anger his older brother Eliab stepped in, “Why are you here? With whom did you leave the sheep? This is no place for you. You are just here because you are excited to watch the battle. I can see your evil intent and conceited heart.”
Eliab belittled David and tried to shut him up. David could have let his older brother intimidate and bully him into submission. He could have walked back home in humiliation and shame for his curiosity and desire to fight. If David would have given into his brother’s rant, he would have been prevented from fighting one of the greatest victories in history.
David dismissed his brother with two questions, “Now what have I done? Can’t I even speak?” Then he chose to ignore him. David instead turned to other men who didn’t look down on him. He pleaded his case with those who would offer him opportunity. Word eventually reached Saul that David was showing a keen interest in fighting the giant.
David was brought before Saul and displayed astounding courage, even comforting the king: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” But Saul couldn’t see beyond his youth, “You are only a boy. Goliath is a fighting man from his youth.” Saul almost prevents David from fighting Goliath.
In true poise, David told Saul of the times when he defended his father’s sheep from a lion and a bear and killed them both. David said the Philistine’s fate would be no different. Saul must have observed the bold and tenacious spirit within David, because he eventually did let him fight the giant.
David won a great victory that day over Goliath, one epic bully. And yet he was nearly dismissed twice by two men who looked down on him. They both saw him as a mismatch for the contest. What they didn’t know was that God was with David. David never backed down, he only asserted himself all the more at the right time and with the right person.
I am who I am today because of people who took a risk on me and gave me opportunity to take steps of faith. I am indebted to many people who mentored me, encouraged me, prayed for me, studied God’s word with me, offered me wisdom, and supported me financially.
Even when some people look down on me, I don’t need to let intimidation hold me back from taking steps of faith. Sometimes I do need to stand up and plead my case. I can have confidence that God can work in and through my character and skill as I walk with God.
Even when other people belittle you, or think less of you, it doesn’t mean you have to stop taking steps forward. Don’t allow the intimidation of others to stop you from taking steps of faith and trusting God. God doesn’t discriminate or disqualify you from being used by him because you are weaker or smaller.
Instead, surround yourself with people you can trust. Seek out people who are willing to give you opportunities to grow and take risks. Pay attention to the people who see your potential and are willing to invest their energies to help you become the person that God has intended you to become.
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