A few weeks ago my husband and I watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” a documentary about Fred Rogers, and the making of the TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” As we got started we confessed to each other that as kids, we really hadn’t been that excited about the show. It was better than the news or soap operas, but not as fun as Sesame Street or The Electric Company. The show’s slow, calm pacing had felt off to us. Later, parenting young kids, I appreciated the aesthetics of the show a lot more, especially when I compared it to Teletubbies or Barney. I sort of grew into Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.
It was so interesting to look through the lens of the documentary as it showed what was going on in the world and in the television industry during our early childhood years. Watching children interact with Fred Rogers at special events, and seeing how fascinated they were with him reminded me of a story I’d read about a boy in an abusive home who watched the show, and clung to Mr. Rogers’ words, “You are enough. I like you just the way you are,” like a lifeline. That message WAS his lifeline. And now I think that as a little kid, the reason I didn’t connect with the show was that I didn’t need that message. I didn’t need the world to slow down. I had that already, that cup was full.
While leading a middle school youth group about a year ago, I was emphasizing how Jesus came to help “the least, the lost and the left out,” or as I once heard Danielle Strickland say, “Jesus is Lord of the awkward and uncool.” A student asked, “But, what about the popular and cool kids?” The question caught me off-guard because never in my life have I identified myself as one of the cool kids, and I had never thought about it from that perspective. (Kudos to the kid who asked the question.) My answer was, sure, them too, but the cool and popular (or the rich and the powerful) don’t necessarily feel the NEED for what Jesus offers the way people who are really struggling in these areas do. If your life is good the way it is, if you feel satisfaction with your relationships, your place in the world and with your self, then Jesus may be no more than an inspirational leader to you. Your cup is pretty full. I guess that is okay, but I can’t relate very well to this.
I came to Jesus with an empty cup. By my middle school years, I was a lonely kid who felt misunderstood and like I couldn’t get anything right. People made fun of me or ignored me and I thought it was because there was something wrong with me. I was moody and suffered so much from storms of sadness and anger. When I went to church camp, I turned it all over to Jesus, saying “This is my life. I don’t know what I am doing, but I trust that you can fix it and make something wonderful.” I found healing. Jesus calmed my storms. I did not become perfect nor did I become cool. I did find new life, where before I had felt like I was dying. Jesus gave me a lifeline. Jesus was, and is my lifeline.
Today I put on a cardigan in honor of Mr. Rogers and his work to help children know that they are seen and valued just as they are. Every day, I try to take in and “put on” Jesus’ message of God’s love and redemption. No matter whether you feel you are part of the lame and left out crowd, or on top of the world, or somewhere in between, Christ has something better in store for you. If you want something deeper, more meaningful, more beautiful than you can imagine, empty your cup and reach for Jesus.