I was a bully as a child. I wasn’t the kind who kicked other kids around at recess or who intimidated others with my size. My bullying was quieter, more subtle. I threatened to end a friendship with a girl I called my best friend if she didn’t give me the prize she’d received in class. I was mean to my table partner and drew a line down the middle of our shared desk that he didn’t dare cross. I was bossy, a tattletale, and I tried to make belonging happen through coercion instead of love.
If we met today, it would be hard for you to believe I was once like that. It’s even difficult for me to fathom it. Now, I am, to the best of my ability, gentle, attentive, and compassionate. I try to lead and live with kindness instead of commanding fear and expecting submission. I hold space for other people’s pain, their joy, their growth, and everything in between. It’s a wonder one can change so drastically in a lifetime.
But that’s what it took – a lifetime. It’s been decades since I was that elementary-aged bully, but the undoing of that behavior and working through my insecurity, my unhealthy need to people-please, my imbalanced approach to friendships required those years. I’ve hurt people, made mistakes, learned the same lessons again and again, and even now, as I begin my middle-aged years, there is more to uncover, shed, and understand for the first time or the millionth time.
As a new year has begun, I’ve been reflecting on my younger self and all the unpleasant, imperfect versions of myself I used to be. I’m prone to berating and shaming those old selves out of embarrassment, but they are still me. I couldn’t have become who I am now without having lived as I had. This process reminds me of a persimmon. The astringent varieties of persimmons need time for their hard, tannic flesh to become soft and sweet. Whether hanging on a tree or lying on the counter, the persimmon will only become enjoyable to the taste when it’s gone through the internal work of ripening, as intended, with the passing of time.
So I’m seeing the year ahead as another twelve months of ripening. I’m choosing to embrace who I’ve been and to show myself – and all my past selves – the grace I now so generously extend to others. From that place of love, I can approach whatever this year holds for me with openness and gentleness, with no hurry or rush. I don’t have to aim for radical transformation or massive success or even making the most of every possible opportunity set before me. Instead, I want the maturity that comes with the slow ripening of character and soul. I want wisdom and peace to mark my days. I want faithfulness to create a pleasing aroma from my life. I want to bring flourishing wherever I go, giving life to all the people I meet and the spaces I inhabit.
Somehow in those childhood days of bullying, God began His good work in me, and He’s still up to that work today. And if you look at your own life, with all the paths you’ve taken, the ups and downs, the twists and turns, I wonder if you can see how He had started a good work in you too. As you make your plans and write down your goals, I pray you know that, yes, He cares for where you’re headed this year, but He’s been patiently, lovingly tending to your growth all along. May this be a year of ripening for you too.
I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6 (CSB)