NOTE TO READER: Much of this was written in late July 2017, yet I updated it. I hope somehow you feel encouraged.
This may not come as a shock to some, but I wasn’t good at keeping my cool as a child towards particular people. I was in second grade when I realized there was someone in my grade school that didn’t like me, and he thought he could intimidate me and bully me. Strange because I was the tallest and biggest kid, but I was the one getting bullied. He would make fun of me for no apparent reason, and he made fun of me for being chunky. It was subtle jabs. Eventually one day, I told my pops about it. I was pretty upset because I didn’t know what to do. All I knew is that I wanted to cream him, maybe give him a black eye or two. I knew though I couldn’t do it.
As I told my dad everything, he looked at me and shook his head at me. He chuckled, actually! He brought me close as I was sitting in his office, put me on his lap, and told me something that has stuck with me since then. “Philip, my dear boy, you’re the biggest and tallest. Sometimes, other people will have a problem with you. They will do whatever it takes to rile you up. Force you to say and do things you’ll regret. People don’t like it that you’re okay with you…” I interjected as my dad did his typical hand movements when he starts to make a point. I believe I had a few tears in my eyes and I said, “DAD! What am I suppose to do? All I want to do is make him shut up.”
Sighing as every dad does. My dad got quiet and let me into something that has rung in my ears since those days. “Son, you’re a Worrall. You’re going to have to get broader shoulders. You’ll have to keep getting bigger ones as you grow up. Then, you gotta find a way to let it roll off your back.”
Broader shoulders? Let it roll off my back?? I was confused. As my dad explained what it meant, I realized that it could be my superpower. I was a pretty imaginative kid, but you’d rarely see it. Somehow, I’d use this superpower to take on other people’s burdens and figure ways to lighten their load. I’d meet with other superheroes and save the world. Silly, but we all have done it!
Fast forward to today. I’m twenty-six and second grade was a long time ago that kid is gone. (He and I never became friends, and I eventually got the last laugh. No, I didn’t do anything cruel, hurtful, or destructive.) Still, I hear my father’s words: “Broader shoulders, son.” But, I don’t know if I can have broader shoulders. I’m beat up, and I feel my fragility. I can be so much more; I can be better, stronger, smarter, etc. Nevertheless, all I feel is despondent.
A song by Penny and Sparrow called the “The Literal Heart,” has some lines that echo that feeling within me.
“I could be so much stronger than I am right now
With broader shoulders and a sturdy frame
But that would cost me time and change
That I might not be willing to make
It’s gonna take every drop of young blood I’ve got
So hold on and stop and settle down
I want to sit still and empty
I want to learn the hollow route
A lonely piece of mountain
I want to sit and shut my mouth
But I’ll be damned, I’d rather sleep…”
Now, before I go any farther, quit with your gripping and statements, “Phil, you’re being melodramatic.” Well, your cheeky comments show how little you know me. I detest all forms of weakness and vulnerability in my life. Stoicism has served me well in life, but it does some damage if you’re not careful, which I haven’t been careful when drinking that hemlock.
But, I need to make a point. It is difficult for me to admit that I don’t have broad enough shoulders for everything life throws at me. Why? It is because I want to be rock, not needing anything… or anyone. That seems pretty anti-Gospel because I unquestionably need God at every point in my life.
This point has come clear within some deep emotions and feelings that have surfaced which have kinda uncovered how genuinely vulnerable I am. There are only two people who I think know me to that point that can call me out without me becoming defensive. By calling out, I mean this fact that I carry too much on myself and have the biggest and broadest shoulders with nothing phasing me. No, they aren’t my parents. They know who they are.
What’s my point in this? Well, I take this whole Gospel and Jesus being God thing seriously. And, I too often still associate my life with God through faith as one that is a steady increase in holiness and true purity. In reality, it is sometimes like spelunking. So, my point is that my shoulders aren’t as broad as I want them to be. Within the Christian life, the moments of spelunking can look a bit antithetical to everything we have been taught that we are to progress into holiness. More often than not, we find that we are taking steps backward, and we forget to realize that God came for all of us and God understands the complex nature of life with Him and neighbor. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean we are taking steps backward; it could be the catalyst moment for growth and deepening of our faith.
Anyway, I know I’ll continue to try and have the broadest shoulders. Additionally, I hope in a God that gets why I try to do that. I believe God meets us in the midst of the spelunking so that God’s Gospel found in Jesus Christ looks even more captivating and beautiful. Following God and living out the Gospel isn’t a punctiliar moment, even though we want it to be. It takes a lifetime, and God knew that when He sent His Son.