4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. (Psalms 80:4-6 ESV)
“What will people think?”
It was the question my mother asked every time I did — or wanted to do — something that might not look right. Something that would make me stand out in all the wrong ways, and reflect badly upon her as my mother.
There was always a little fear in her voice when she asked me that question. And no wonder — she grew up in a tiny community, the daughter of a fairly wealthy and respect (and feared, and resented) farm family, the object of gossip. Anything she did got home before she did, and reflected for good or ill on her family.
Me? I’ve never cared what people think. I mean I do, but not like this. I want to be loved and accepted and to belong and be valued. But I don’t know how, and whenever someone even so much as suggests “what will people think?” of something I have said or done, I don’t quite know how to react or think straight.
I just don’t. I never have, and I never will.
And at this point in my life, I don’t know how to. I am misfit and an outcast, and that is all I will ever be.
I don’t like it. I don’t like being an object of concern, a thing people puzzle over and worry about, a problem to be managed. Someone robbed of agency because who I am and what I do seems to always frighten or anger someone and something “must be done” about me. And I have shed enough tears over it, anguish and despair, sunk into deep places and wondered — still wondering — when will I have finished my full measure.
Not yet, apparently. And maybe not ever.
Is it me? It must be. I know it is. I know who and what I am not. But no one tells or teaches or patiently tries to say, “this is who you must be to be one of us” or “this is who we must be to allow him and accept him and form him.” Just an expectation, and impatience, an awkward intolerance. And not even a “no thank you” but a rough “please go away now” followed by silence and an angry turning away.
And still … I have not drunk my full measure.
I don’t often ask God what it is I have done to deserve this life, to be this alone, and this cast off, but sometimes I wonder — what is this sin I’ve done that got me to this place? That has left me so cold, and alone, and unwanted? In which the neighbors whisper and gossip and wonder but never say hello, never actually speak to me, never actually ask me, “who are you?” Much less invite me into their lives, and ask me to participate, to become part of them.
I do not know. And so … I weep. I suspect I shall always have tears to drink, tears in my bread. A full measure.
And then some.