I’m Tom – Heather’s boyfriend: we’ve been locked in my parent’s house together for two months now, having only known each other for nine months when that happened (yes, really!). Heather told me very early on about the I Am Project; I read her book, which she sent me in the post before we even met, signed copy and everything! (Online dating really is a wonderful thing – for some of us anyway!).
I used to think that I didn’t have much to say about identity – but I also know that stories are powerful and I wonder if, for some of you, mine might help. It’s a story of rejection, suffering and self-loathing: I don’t claim to be the only person for whom life has been hard at times, but I know that when I was in those difficult times, hearing from other people who had also been through stuff was a massive help. Those stories meant that I wasn’t alone when I was walking through some of the hardest times of my life – and for most of that, I didn’t really know that I was clinging on to God and my faith until after it had passed by. So – I’ll try to keep this short, and maybe this will be helpful for you:
This Too Shall Pass.
Tom Hanks, the multi-Academy-Award-winning actor, shared these words in an interview about A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood in the middle of last year, when asked to help sooth those struggling through a dark time. “This too shall pass” A few months later, he and his wife came down with Covid19, they’re fine now, (and I’m sure we’re all thankful that we’ll get to see another Tom Hanks movie one day – or I certainly am!)
Tom Hanks and I share a name – and I also share his belief that this too shall pass.
There has been a huge amount of “productivity or else” shaming going on during lockdown which thankfully, I’ve managed to avoid getting sucked into too much – partly because I’ve got somebody beside me telling me that my productivity is great, but that I’m equally as wonderful when I’m playing Assassins Creed on the PS4.
I’ve been fairly productive, I’ve started Dungeon Master-ing an online DnD campaign (yes, one of those nerds). I’ve cycled over 200 miles in 2 months according to Strava. Also, I’ve been allowed to cook dinner one day a week in my mothers kitchen, which has been fab. But I have also played PS4, and slept, and watched a lot of Downton Abbey with my girlfriend – and that has been fantastic too.
For the first time in a long time, I feel better. But it’s been a long time coming: I’ve been through periods of life where I’ve hated myself – and I don’t mean that I’ve gotten upset at myself for forgetting somebody’s birthday or for getting a bad grade at school – it was a deep-seated self loathing of how much I over-spoke, how I could never get people to laugh, never could quite understand why they didn’t like me.
It started with the boy next door who abused me, and then came to my school. Worst day of my life – I passed the entrance exam, and then so did he. The abuse stopped when I was fourteen, but the bullying was for all seven long years of high school and sixth form. And the effect of both traumas tore my personality apart: I didn’t sleep because of night terrors that to this day still come and go (I began writing this after one of them); I developed a fairly epic comfort-eating issue for a few years post high school, which then spiralled into a weight gain in the years after university, and then loathing that about myself too. This too shall pass.
And in my mind, it all began with my own words. I was my own worst enemy – still am, sometimes. I talk – I talk when I’m nervous, when I’m excited, when I don’t know what to do. I have never sympathised more with a character in a movie than with Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: the muggle says to him “I’m sure people like you,” and Newt, his face falling not one inch, quickly replies “No, not really. I annoy people.”
He is so used to the idea that he is worthless. – so used to being abused, mocked and bullied – that to him, it’s so matter-of-fact that it barely bothers him anymore. It was an emotional gut-punch to me: not just that line, but the laughs that it got in the cinema. People were laughing at that line – because it seemed so unbelievable that it must be a joke.
The majority of people don’t see Newt Scamander in themselves. To identify with Newt, you had to be like him – like me – and to some of you reading this, like you. You had to know the feeling of wanting so badly to be liked, to feel cared about and to be relevant. And then realising that your efforts to show your engagement and care and excitement with a person, in your mind, made them leave or not like you or talk about you behing your back. This too shall pass.
If you are like me, if you’ve ever felt that gut-punch of rejection, or inability to get going because you worry that nobody will join in with you or read that thing that you wrote or love that thing that you do, then listen here. This too shall pass.
It did for me. I ended up doing a job that I really enjoyed. I have people around me: my DnD club, my church family – and they’ve never failed me. I’ve been uplifted and heartened at so many points in the last few years that I can’t fail to believe that this virus and this time of such utter sadness for many will pass. And here is the real why:
John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulations. But take heart; I have overcome the world”.
Overcome the world. Overcoming all of that, for us.
Tribulations makes it sound much grander – as if talking too much or not liking how our body looks couldn’t possibly be included in that word – but these are the synonyms for the word tribulation:
Distress, suffering, trouble, affliction, grief, sorrow, trial, misery, woe.
This too shall pass.
If you have ever felt any of this, because of the way that you look at yourself or how you think others might, remember: He overcame this. He overcame the world. And even if you aren’t a Christian and don’t want to read the Bible, if it’s not for you, then please let this resonate with you and with the darkest corners of your mind. Please remember: This too shall pass.
To those struggling with loneliness in lockdown: This too shall pass.
To those that never feel like they can join in on the joke: This too shall pass.
To the person at the party who feels like they don’t belong sometimes: This too shall pass.
To those who feel like there is no end to the panic of being turned away, or not invited, or worth less than the ‘popular kids’: This too shall pass.
And one last thought, for those who have read to the end, but haven’t ever felt any of these things. Help it to pass for us.
Because you are the one that people like me, on their lowest day, wish we could be – and you have the power to show those in suffering that God has overcome the world, for us.
Even the bits of ourselves that we might not like very much.