When I was eight years old and in the third grade, our family moved from one small town to an even smaller town just a little over an hour away. Up to that point in my life, I’d always had friends and felt loved. I loved school, I loved life, and I loved who I was! I remember being invited to birthday and slumber parties, and always having friends on the playground. Then when we moved and that all changed.
I remember vividly my first day of third grade in the new school. I remember how the school smelled different, the games the kids played on the playground were different, and the milk at lunch came in cartons instead of bags. Okay, maybe my old school was the weird school when it came to drinking milk from a bag! My old school might have had some weird quirks, but at least I felt welcome there. I didn’t feel that in my new school.
On the first day of school at my new school, they did an assembly and all of the “new kids” were called to the front so that everyone could see who we were and supposedly get to know us. Only nobody wanted to get to know me. I was different than everyone else and the kids at school knew it. And just as quickly as they noticed the differences, they pointed them out. I talked funny, I wore different clothes, and I didn’t look like the rest of the kids. They made fun of my hair and my freckles, calling me “Freckle Face.” And although I remember the smells and the differences between the two schools, what I remember most is how I was treated. I didn’t fit in and not one kid wanted me for a friend.
I hated school, I hated the playground, I hated riding the bus because nobody wanted to sit next to me, and I hated that we moved. I remember being in tears every morning when I had to go to school. One day I had this thought that if I missed the bus, I wouldn’t have to go to school because my mom worked in the next town over in the opposite direction and she wouldn’t have time to take me. That was my thought — only it didn’t work. Two of the lunch ladies who worked for the school lived in the same town as us, so my mom would call one of these ladies and ask if I could catch a ride to school with her. And if one of them wasn’t working, the other one was! Although I enjoyed having someone to talk to on my way to school, I quickly learned that riding to school with the lunch ladies wasn’t very cool and it just gave the kids more sticks and stones to cast on the playground.
I missed my old school. I missed my friends. And I missed being happy. I wanted more than anything to have friends again, to feel accepted and loved. Until that point in my life, I had never felt so inadequate and out of place. I felt absolutely worthless and I hated life. My mom would tell me that the kids just needed time to get to know me. I held on to the hope that they’d eventually get to know me and that I’d have friends in my class. But that never really happened. However, one thing did happen that completely changed how I viewed the other kids at school.
I remember clearly one day while doing math, the teacher stepped out to go talk to the other third grade teacher about an activity that we’d be doing. While he was gone, the kids started teasing and poking fun at me, making fun of anything that they could possibly find to make fun of. I sat at my desk with my head bowed down, staring at my math assignment through blurry eyes wet with tears. The hot tears eventually began to drop down my flushed face, red with embarrassment. I had a lump in my throat that closed off my voice box, leaving me unable to speak. And even if I could speak to tell the kids to stop, I knew that nobody would listen.
As I sat at my desk with tears flooding my paper, ruining my math assignment, one girl approached my desk. My heart began to beat rapidly. I wasn’t sure what she was going to say or do. She was one of the popular girls; someone that everyone liked. I remember looking at her out of the corner of my tear-soaked eyes as she knelt beside my desk and placed her hand on my back. This girl asked me if I was okay, then told the other kids to stop. It was her kindness that gave me the strength that I needed to press forward each day.
All it took was one person to change the outlook on my childhood and grade school experience. And although I was never invited by this girl or her friends to play on the playground, I knew that not everyone hated me. So many times in our lives, we face challenges where sticks and stones are thrown in our direction. We may oftentimes feel inadequate, out of place, or completely alone. We may think we don’t matter and that nobody knows what we’re going through. And although we might feel like we’re not worth someone else’s time, there is always someone who is willing to listen, someone who does care, and someone who knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end when sticks and stones are thrown. This person is our Savior Jesus Christ. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave this assurance:
“Though you may feel that no one can understand the depth of your despair, our Savior, Jesus Christ understands.”
Before Jesus was crucified, He prayed. He prayed for me and He prayed for you. In His time of need and in His trial, He prayed for us. Our Savior experienced the harshest treatment at the hands of others. He was oftentimes on the receiving end of verbal lashings as He wore a robe of mockery. Jesus Christ carried the weight of the world on His shoulders while carrying His own cross to Calvary where He was crucified. And as our Savior was left to die on the cross, He uttered these words: “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Often when people are casting sticks and stones in our direction, they don’t realize the pain that they are causing. I don’t think any of the kids who treated me poorly realized the pain that they caused, and I honestly don’t think that they intentionally tried to make me hurt or feel completely alone. And if they did cast a stone in my direction in hopes of hurting me, chances are that they were hurting too and walked their own path of loneliness. And although my trial of wanting and trying to find acceptance among my peers felt lonely, I never walked that path alone. Elder Jeffery R. Holland said:
“Because Jesus walked such a long lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so.”
Like Elder Holland said, our Savior walked a lonely path so that we wouldn’t have to. Sticks and stones were cast in His direction so that He would understand the pain that we’d feel as we face our own trials. He understands our feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and pain regardless of whether we’re on the receiving end of sticks and stones or the person who is casting them.
Regardless of our trials and the hardships we face, our Savior is always there and will always help us find light in our darkest hour. Every day I went to school during my third grade year, after I found a seat on the bus, I’d pray that God would simply help me get through the day. And while our Father in Heaven was well aware of my pain, He couldn’t take away the actions of others — but what He could do was provide opportunities for me to feel our Savior’s love. It was because of one of the two lunch ladies that I was able to make friends with some girls in town who were a year older than I was. I was the only kid in town my age, so it didn’t help with having friends in my class at school, but I no longer sat alone on the bus. I also felt our Savior’s love when the girl in my class told the other kids to stop making fun of me. And although the mocking didn’t completely stop, I knew that someone in my class cared about me and I wasn’t completely alone.
At times our trials will seem unbearable and at times it might seem like we walk a lonely path, but I assure you that we don’t. The mocking that I faced while growing up didn’t stop. However, every time I prayed, our Father in Heaven provided an opportunity for me to feel the pure love of Christ, the love that our Savior has for me — and it’s the same love that He has for you. Sticks and stones will be cast from time to time. And the majority of us, or at least the ones who are willing to admit it, will feel inadequate from time to time, as it’s part of our mortal experience on this earth. However, regardless of the sticks and stones that are cast in our direction, and regardless of how inadequate we may feel, we will never be worthless in the eyes of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Marie Yvonne is a motivational and devotional speaker for teens and young adults. In her devotionals, she shares her personal testimony and journey of learning to accept herself as God created her. Her journey can also be found on social media and her personal blog and website, TheConfidenceToShine.com.