What I Learned from Being the Liar on the Playground
My mom took my brother and I to a park in a neighboring town that was much bigger than our little burg. I remember how its decorative, marble-looking steps that led from the sidewalk up to the park area, right in the center of town, made it seem extra special. The playground was nestled under the canopy of trees. My mom walked part of the way to the playground area with us, stopping at a nearby park bench to read a book while we played. She could see us, but couldn’t hear us — perfect for what unfolded next.
As children do at parks, we played with the other children we found there. For some reason, perhaps because we were in a different town, I decided to pretend to be someone else that day. I think I used my real name, but I decided to be older and wiser and more mature that day — meaning I lied, saying I was older than I was. While I don’t remember the other things I said that day, I do remember being a mean girl. Maybe I tried on a different persona in the safety of being anonymous in the park that day. Maybe I was tired of whatever was happening in my friend group back in my own little town. Maybe I just wanted to know what it felt like to be in charge on the playground. Whatever it was, I remember being mean, and for a time, it was a little bit fun.
When my mom gathered us to head back home, she had no idea what happened, as her chosen park bench sat far enough away to keep my shenanigans squarely on the playground mulch. I was happy to leave it all behind me when we left, and though I’d sampled a bit of satisfaction, I also recall feeling guilty.
The next day, we tried a new church. I walked down the steps into the basement to find my Sunday school classroom. I can still see its metal folding chairs and green tile floor and drop ceiling with pocked tiles. I found a cold chair to fill, looked across the table, and when my eyes met those across from me, I immediately recognized her. The Girl From the Park. And she recognized me, The Mean Girl.
The shame crept up red in my neck.
I’d never been mean like that to anyone before, and now, the one person I tried it out on, was IN MY SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS. The memory of the playground and the sting of my behavior sat heavy in the air between us in that musty basement.
I didn’t know until that day on that playground what kind of ugly was inside of me — and I didn’t know until I stared at those flaking ceiling tiles what shame felt like. But my choices weren’t really who I was. The version of me that sat in that basement Sunday School classroom talking about how to love like Jesus, felt more like, well, me.
As I sat there, I didn’t quite know how to reconcile the playground with the church basement. I definitely didn’t become friends with the girl. I don’t even know if I apologized. But man, did I meet God in Sunday School that morning. He came for me in that cinder-block walled classroom because He was unwilling to leave me where I’d gone on that playground. He was fighting for me.
I’d love to say that was the only time He’s come for me, but I’d be lying again. It still happens. I still make messes. And every time I stray the wrong way, the lowly sheep that I am, my Good Shepherd still comes. He follows me onto the playgrounds where pride taunts me. He follows me into the dingy basements where I come face to face with what I’ve done.
He still comes.
Because He is the God of truth.
He is the God of second chances.
He is the God of redemption.
He is the God who saves.
Because He is the God who won’t leave me where I am.
He still comes.
“…The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice,” (John 10:3-4, ESV).