It’s gotta be tough being a kid in middle school. You want to be uniquely you, yet you don’t want be different and excluded. I see middle schoolers walking the tightrope of expressing themselves (pursuing their particular interests and talents) while simultaneously wanting to conform (looking more or less like everyone else).
The apostle Paul tells middle schoolers and adults, little kids and senior citizens: “Do not conform” – at least not to the pattern of this world. This quote from Romans 12 is part of the class verse the 8th graders at Rock Valley Christian School chose for their graduation. When I had the privilege to give the graduation address last week, I reminded everyone of the definition of the word conform: to behave in accordance with socially accepted standards.
Sometimes socially accepted standards stink.
Yes, there are many beautiful things and places and ideas throughout our culture, and I seek them out and recognize God’s grace in them. But there is also darkness and rebellion in the world. It comes in many forms: lipping off at your parents or yelling at your kids, cheating on a test or making a substandard product at work, being judgmental of someone, uttering a racist slur, violent computer games, filthy language, pornography, gossip, even gambling (with new opportunities to do so in the news lately). Don’t conform to this kind of garbage, Paul urges.
Instead of conforming, Paul invites me to be transformed. And this is critical for me to hear: Paul is not telling me that I have to transform myself; he is inviting me to be transformed –something Jesus does for and in me and you.
Author Marva Dawn in one of her books describes a little boy trying to pry open flower buds. With blossom after blossom falling apart in his hands, he asks his mom, “Why does the bud fall apart when I try to open it, but when God opens it the flower is beautiful?” His mom wisely answers: “When God opens it, he opens it from the inside.”
Through his Holy Spirit, God is working within me, changing me, making me a new creation in Christ. Yes, I can resist it. I can choose to conform more to the dark and rebellious patterns of the world than allow the holy and gracious God to transform me. I can insist on having my way. Or I can let God have his way in me which will be far more meaningful and filled with vitality.
The invitation is for you, too: God wants to transform all of us into the beautiful creatures God created us to be. We’ll discover that’s the best kind of unique anyone can be.