I Believed All the Putdowns

I prayed God would change the way I looked.
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"Hey, Chubby," Dan* said as he strutted by my desk. "What's up?"

My stomach flip–flopped. Not again, I thought. I looked down, pretending to do homework.

Every day of my first year of junior high was the same. It was impossible to escape Dan's putdowns. Others sometimes teased me, but Dan's comments were the worst. They were constant reminders of something I didn't like about myself: I was overweight. I was also awkward and often the last one picked during gym.

Even though Dan was mean to me, I secretly wanted to be more like him and his friends. They were the athletes and the popular crowd. Although I wasn't real religious, I prayed God would change the way I looked. If that would happen, I was sure I'd be happier. But God didn't seem to be listening.

Then one day a guy named Tim came up to me. Although he went to the same church my family attended, I didn't really know him. He was a year older than I was, and we'd rarely talked to each other.

"Do you want to come to youth group?" he asked. "We're hoping more guys from your class will join this year."

I hesitated. I'd never gone to youth group. I figured I had nothing in common with anybody there. I also was worried about running into someone like Dan. But Tim wouldn't let up.

"Come on," Tim said. "It'll be fun."

Although I had my doubts, I gave it a try. As I walked into the youth room one Sunday night, the youth pastor greeted me with, "Hey, I'm Jason! And I'm really glad you're here." I soon spotted Tim, and he introduced me to his friends. Everybody was real nice and friendly. After that night, I attended every Sunday. And while I didn't understand Jason's messages real well, I enjoyed the singing. I also liked talking to Jason.

This one time, he and I were talking about school stuff. Before long, sports came up. Somewhere in the conversation I just blurted out, "I wish I could play basketball." By then, Jason knew me well enough to know how I felt about my size and awkwardness.

He smiled gently and said, "Being on the basketball team won't make you happier. It has to be about God, not the way you look or what sport you play."

I don't remember where the conversation went from there. But I couldn't stop thinking about Jason's comment. I wondered, Could I find real happiness with God?

I got my answer during an all–guy sleepover at Jason's house. We laughed and joked around most of the night. Jason and I also had a long, serious talk. He tried to explain what it was like to experience a close relationship with God. I was confused by some of what he said. God had always felt so far away. I'd gone to church all my life, but it hadn't meant much to me.

"Being a Christian means more than just going to church," Jason explained. "It means having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It means depending on him for everything."

We talked until two o'clock in the morning. Before the sun came up, I'd asked Christ to forgive my sins and change my life.

My life did change after that. And while Dan didn't stop saying mean things, his words didn't hurt quite as much as they had before. And the more I grew in my relationship with Jesus, the more my self–confidence grew. Eventually, I wasn't the guy always standing in the corner alone. It got easier to talk with others and make friends.

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