It was the last day of sixth grade, one of the few grades when I actually liked my teacher. I was too old by now to be made fun of openly on the playground (mostly because we didn’t do much there anymore except stand around and gossip), but it was still done with whispers by a couple of bully girls in the class and some of the gawky adolescent boys.
We had a half-day, one of those, “Why are we here except to goof around?” end-of-the-school-year days. Bored, a group of kids got together and decided to ask the teacher if we could move the desks and play spin-the-bottle on the classroom floor.
This was a long time ago. Spin-the-bottle was a game played secretly at girls’ slumber parties when the boys sneaked in, not in the middle of the day in an elementary school classroom. But hey, what was there to lose in asking, right? And it worked, because the teacher said yes.
But then the boys said, “We won’t play if Clare plays.” Clare, the only girl who is a little chubby, wears glasses, and doesn’t have long, lustrous hair. And the teacher shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s your game.”
So they played. And I did not.
I didn’t even get to ask the question, “Can I come?”
Can I play? Can I be like all the other girls? Can I be OK? Can all of you be OK with me?
The answer was no before I could even ask.
No one protested – not my girlfriends and not the teacher, a man I had viewed all school year as kind and good. Even I didn’t protest, because I was used to rejection. Looking back at this story, trying to ascertain the size of this arrow at the time it was shot at my heart, I don’t even recall much emotion that day other than resignation. I sat on a low bookcase that lined one wall of the classroom and watched, silent and accepting, until the bell rang to signify the official start of summer.
The answer was also a no from my dad when my mom got pregnant with me. He stuck around, he’s still around, but he never opened his arms and heart when my unformed self, my little girl heart, my shaky teenager being cried out, “Can I come? Can I be loved by you?”
There were years of other men, too; men who said no…even after saying yes.
But there’s been One who always says, “Yes. Yes, you can come!” No matter how often I ask.
I missed many years of asking until I was well into adulthood and all the arrows carrying “no”s were buried deep in my spirit. But once I did, and He answered, I learned that what He actually says is, “You don’t have to ask. Just come. You are always welcome.”
I, like many women, have suffered much rejection. Not just the “you can’t play spin the bottle” kind of stumbling blocks to my self-worth but the deep and aching self-doubt-creating rejection and outright abuse from other humans I have placed my hope in.
Jesus experienced that kind of rejection. From his mother and brothers, his neighbors and friends, and the men who taught him as a little boy.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…
When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” (Luke 4:16-18, 28-29).
They wanted to throw him off a cliff.
The synagogue was a place Jesus went regularly, was welcomed and belonged, from the time he was a toddler until he began his three-year journey to the cross. From the launch of his ministry to preach the Gospel until he was resurrected, Jesus was mocked, attacked, rejected, and ultimately abandoned.
But he never gave up, and he never stopped being who he was created to be. He never doubted who he was, because he looked to only one source, his Heavenly Father – my Heavenly Father – for his worth and his purpose.
It’s too hard for me to do that on a consistent basis. I am not sinless and perfectly whole like Jesus. I am frail and weak, and the deep wounds dug into my heart and mind as a very tiny child have purposed to be permanent and life draining.
It’s possible that last day of sixth grade was one on which I felt my peers were emotionally throwing me off a cliff. I’ve had subsequent experiences that felt that way, as a teenager and certainly as an adult. That has made it hard to ask anyone with childlike abandon, “Can I come?” But Jesus will always say yes, no matter how many others say no, and he will say it even before I ask.
“Can I come?” is a superficial question in my life now, aimed at my daughter when she’s running errands or friends when they’re plotting a movie night. Instead, I try to live the best I can from the standing invitation of my Savior, which is simply and always, “Come!”
Clare Marlow is a former Arizona journalist who now lives on the Florida Gulf Coast, chasing waves and ideas and restoration for her heart and the hearts of others. She is wife to Kevin and mother to Amanda, a missionary in Haiti alongside her husband and Clare’s new grandson, Josiah. She is a founding member and contributor to The Grit and Grace Project, encouraging women through her words to live out of the inner beauty and strength bestowed on them by Jesus.