Last weekend on a beautiful, sunny, slightly humid Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of putting Ella, our 2-year-old granddaughter, in a stroller and walking a few blocks to the center of Delaware for the first Saturday of Main Street Delaware’s Farmer’s Market.
The farmer’s market is one of the things I enjoy most about the season of the year in which we are entering. There are the people, including certain people I see nearly every Saturday. There is the energy of a community that is vibrant, and of people who are happy. There is the produce and those who have grown the produce, varying through the spring, summer and fall according to the earth’s bounty at the time. On this first Saturday, I went home with beets, Tuscan kale, and beef for the grill.
And, oh yes, there are the t-shirts.
Last Saturday I noticed a shirt that said, simply, “Be yourself. They’ll adapt.”
Be yourself. They’ll adapt.
The message stuck with me. We live in a world where so many people, especially young people, feel pressured to conform to certain expectations. The pressure to conform can relate to clothing; it can relate to hairstyle; it can relate to physical appearance and even size; it can relate to preferences ranging from music to culinary to so much more; it can relate to political ideology.
The pressure to conform can come with the suggestion that not conforming might offend someone with different tastes or different expectations. It can come with the bias that some ways of being, or living, or appearing are of greater value or carry more worth.
The pressure to conform can be felt at home. It can be felt at school. It can be felt at work. And often, it can be felt most strongly in places of worship, in communities of faith.
How odd that communities of faith, particularly those rooted in the Biblical faith, might insist on a conformity that surrenders the individuality of a person created in the image of God. The psalmist wrote:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:1-6)
We are known by God, as we are. This is knowledge that the psalmist finds too wonderful. Perhaps it is too wonderful, indeed so high it cannot be attained, because the ways of God are so very different from the natural tendency of human beings. God does not insist on conformity. Indeed, God values us as we are, because God made us as we are. Full stop. No questions asked.
Which takes me back to a Saturday morning walk to the farmer’s market with my 2-year-old granddaughter and what I want for her life.
Be yourself, Ella. They’ll adapt.
More importantly, be yourself, Ella. It is the way you were made by God.
Rock Jones is president of Ohio Wesleyan University and ordained in the United Methodist Church.