Receiving Life's Fullness
-Deborah Jean Lee
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. - John 10:10
I grew up in a mostly white suburb of Chicago where all the “different” kids were relegated to the edges, sometimes tormented, but mostly just dismissed as insignificant. As a Chinese American kid, I interpreted this treatment as a measurement of my self worth. When a kid called me a racial slur and beat me up, I internalized his hatred; part of me began to believe that my ethnicity made me worthless.
It’s tempting to blame the kids in my school for this terrible conduct, but perhaps its more appropriate to look at the culture and institutions that shaped them. Most came from dominant white American Christian culture. Why was there such a huge gap between the gospel’s message of inclusion and the way they treated those who were different?
I attribute this gap in part to the fact that we are often more captive to culture than to the teachings of Jesus. Our society validates this idea that people who aren’t white, cis, straight, male, able bodied and attractive deserve less and can be treated as less.
It wasn’t until I began attending a youth group at a Chinese immigrant church that I began to recognize my worth. The gospel makes our value and equality abundantly clear, and the belonging I felt with my new community reinforced that truth. I began to see my life through a radically new lens. For the first time, I saw people who looked like me at the center of the narrative. At school, we were the Asian wallflowers, invisible to our peers, watching life happen to everyone else. But in youth group, we came alive. We were the cool kids. We were the funny kids. We got to show up, be ourselves and actually participate in our lives. It shouldn’t have been a revelation, but it was.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
This verse sets up a powerful juxtaposition between the thief who destroys and the divine who gives abundant life. In retrospect, it’s easy to point out the thieves in my childhood (the bullies, the snobs, the white-centric culture that shaped them) and the life givers (the haven that embraced me, a worldview that spurred love and equality).
Take a moment to think about your life. Consider the people, places and systems that might operate like thieves, stealing, killing and destroying your spirit. What can you do to put distance between yourself and these harmful spaces?
Now, consider all that gives you life. When do you see yourself coming alive? Who brings out the best in you? Where do you have space to lean into your identity, in all of its complexity and interconnectedness? Let your answers guide you toward more healthy, life affirming spaces.
I encourage you to find an affinity group that will embrace you and give you space to heal and love yourself. Some places to start: Find an online community or a local support group. Turn to a trusted friend or therapist. Lean on someone who will support your journey toward discovering your inherent value. The process of deprogramming from our culture’s warped metrics of worth takes time and can be painful, but the reward is our liberation.
About The Author
Deborah Jian Lee is an award-winning journalist, radio producer and author of the critically acclaimed book Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism.
Her book reporting has taken her to secret societies of LGBT Christians within conservative enclaves, social justice Christian communes and many other corners of the subculture, where she explores the intersection of evangelical faith with race, gender, sexuality and progressive politics.
She writes about a variety of subjects, including religion, international human rights, health, travel, personal finance and much more. Her stories have been published by Slate, Religion Dispatches, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, New York, Reuters, GOOD, SELF, WBEZ and WNYC, and many others. She was previously a staff reporter at The Associated Press.
Her series about migrant workers in China, written with reporting partner Sushma Subramanian, was a finalist for the 2012 Livingston Awards. The story, about the 58 million children left behind in China's countryside without their parents due to restrictive national policies, follows one mother's journey from the heart of China's industrial boom back to her village, as she tries to reunite her broken family. The pair also produced a radio documentary which explores the world of China's "bachelor villages," or areas overrun with aging bachelors whose bleak marriage prospects are a direct result of the country's gender imbalance. That documentary won the 2012 Newswomen’s Club of New York Front Page award for radio feature.
Deborah has taught news reporting and magazine writing as a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. She previously taught intro to journalism to undergraduate students at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY.