“Nobody likes me.”
“We love you.”
“You’re my mom. Family doesn’t count.”
My daughter’s eleven-year-old adolescent angst echoed my own of so many years ago, as my response echoed my mom’s to me. It is a struggle as old as adolescence itself, the peculiar misery of wanting to be universally liked, and being indifferent to those who actually love you. What she really meant was that she felt alone, and equated her worth with being surrounded by others. Pointing out that she had several friends and would be going on a sleepover and to a movie later in the week eliminated the lament almost instantly. She just needed the reassurance — she was invited, she was wanted by more than just us.
Later that day, my high schooler got in the car and talked about how alone she felt, surrounded by people she liked, who didn’t share her faith or many of her values. She puzzled over why they liked her, given that on so many issues, they disagreed. Her struggle reflected a more mature version of the same problem — wanting to fit in, without sacrificing anything of the self in the process, and wanting others to accept you and wondering if they do. We talked about what it meant to be a friend and have a friend. Friends love you, friends want to spend time, to waste time with you, and friends tell you the truth and expect you to do the same. I pointed out these people she liked, they were true friends, because they had not demanded she change her beliefs, in fact, they liked her because she held to them with conviction. She just needed reassurance, the fortitude that family gives, to not let herself be swayed by the desire for popularity to be less than who she was.
We all need that boost on occasion to persist, and that reassurance we are loved. It can happen in an instant, when we find ourselves alone for lunch, or with the recognition, somehow, we weren’t or aren’t as connected to others as we thought. The gap left by feeling uncertain we are loveable manifests itself when we come to God in prayer and have sin we’ve held on to or refused to confess. The gap can become a Grand Canyon when we feel no one notices our loneliness. When it feels as if God doesn’t answer our prayers, all we can see is this world as a giant desert. We think we are alone, and that loneliness weighs in our souls against our own self worth.
Fortunately, God knows this agony, He knows His sheep are scattered and He intends to find and gather us. My children came to me because they felt lonely and needed reassurance, tangible and emotional. When we come to God, we are asking the same thing.
Like my adolescent, our first response to God’s gift of love which was and is given before we’ve ever opened our mouths, is “that doesn’t count.” We want special acknowledgement like the older son, that we are beloved. We want the ring on the finger, the robe on our shoulders and the fatted calf. We want that degree of a display of lavish love. Fortunately gain, God knows this, and He did that too; it’s just, like my children, we need reminders how much we are loved. By our baptism, He made us priest, prophets and kings. This is our first promise, and we and our families are bound by the vows taken then, as if our souls were encircled by a ring of gold. By our confirmation, He anointed us with chrism and we wore a stole indicating our rank as adults in the kingdom, commissioned to be part of the great evangelization, and to become saints. We are to put on the robe of Christ when we step out into the world. By His death, and by our taking of the Eucharist, we feast on His flesh every time we celebrate the Mass. We are given the great welcoming back into the Father’s house every time.