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Get off of the Grey Line

I have worked in public schools for more than twenty-five years with children from the ages of three all the way to students with disabilities that stayed in school until age 21. I truly enjoy children and at least one of them makes me smile every single day for some reason or another. Kids are just “cool.” At the elementary school I currently work in, the building designer had thick grey lines painted on the floor around the perimeter of the hallways. I’m not certain those lines were specifically painted to help with orderly hallway behavior, but they have served us well for ten years as children are taught each year from day one to “walk on the grey line” as they move about the building. Just like the flow of traffic on a major highway, this helps maintain a safe experience for everyone as it keeps classes from colliding with one another, children from running through the hallways, and encourages curious children to keep their hands and feet off of the walls. By the end of the first nine weeks, you will observe every class doing this with little to no instruction. I’ve even been corrected by a student or two over the years when I fail to follow the “walk on the grey line” expectation as I move about the hallways.

I have the fortune of my office being located on the kindergarten hallway, so I get to watch and hear them coming and going frequently throughout my day. There is nothing like the beginning of a new school year when kindergartners arrive in their brand new school clothes, tiny tennis shoes, and hair bows often larger than their heads. These children are so full of personality that just being in their presence is joyful. Before I go on, let me give a shout out to Kindergarten teachers. To be a Kindergarten teacher is a calling that should be revered among the highest. Their first month of school is literally a challenge that can only be compared to herding wild cats for seven hours a day and they do it (most of the time) with a smile on their faces and kindness in their voices.

I enjoy stepping out of my office frequently during the first few weeks to observe the “grey line” behavior of these tiny five-year-olds. As they are learning the expectations of the school, the first few days you may see two or three of them actually staying on the grey line, but for the most part, they resemble puppies let loose to play in the backyard. After a week or so, most students will have progressed to remaining on the grey line, but they are typically dancing, singing, looking at their feet or the things on the walls and there are huge gaps in the line as one child may be in his own world oblivious to others around him. They swing their lunch boxes over their heads, they talk loudly to their friends in line with them, or wave excitedly to their friends in other classes. The only way to describe it is that they just really move with joy and abandonment within the parameters they’ve been given and they are just too much fun to watch. After several weeks though, with one or two minor exceptions, these same children will walk orderly in single file lines, eyes facing forward, with little to no talking as they meet the expectations the adults have given them. It is a necessary progression in order to create an environment conducive to learning, but one that also makes my heart a little sad if I’m being honest.

I recently heard CJ Casciotta, author of Get Weird, on a podcast speaking to the subject of why so many of us are afraid to let our “weird” be seen by the world. He made a statement that was so profound it stuck with me for days. He said, “most of us get the weird kicked out of us at an early age.” I couldn’t help but think of the sweet kindergartners that come to us each year full of “weird” but end that year being taught to conform to our rules of what’s normal and acceptable in a school setting. As I’ve already stated, I know we cannot function in a school or in a world full of chaos. I am not being critical of the process. It just serves as a wonderful illustration to ask the questions God is placing in my heart these days.

“How many of us as adults are so conformed to the expectations of others that we no longer live with joy and abandonment in our own uniqueness? Does the fear of judgment and being corrected that helps our sweet little friends walk on the grey line creep into our lives in places and opportunities where a little bit of dancing and swinging of a lunch box might serve us much better than bottling up the person God created us to be?”

Scripture tells us in Romans, “Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” I must confess that I have spent way too much of my life striving to please others and downplaying the things about myself that I feared would bring judgment or disapproval. I have missed many opportunities that God has clearly created because I didn’t think I had enough talent, experience, wisdom, money, desirability, uniqueness, spirituality, or whatever the missing component was in my mind for that particular situation. By always comparing to others rather than celebrating the ME that God made me to be, I have a lengthy list of regrets and poor decisions. I am far too guilty of asking “why have you made me like this?” when I’m feeling especially critical of myself or if I feel I’ve disappointed someone in some way.

I challenge you, like I’m challenging myself, to spend some time reflecting on the “weird” that God gave you and its purpose. What have you been afraid to let the world see for fear of rejection or judgment that God is clearly telling you to share with others? What light are you hiding under a bushel because the enemy has you convinced no one will be accepting of that part of you? We are all created in His image and were knit together in the womb of our mothers by our creator for a purpose, so what is your “special?” What is your purpose?

Finally, can we agree to lose the critical spirit we have towards everyone, including ourselves? Can we agree to celebrate differences and realize that when someone else gets a win in life that doesn’t mean that we get a loss? Find someone this week who has some “weird” that you absolutely love and tell them what it is and why you love it. Let’s be the catalyst for change and begin championing uniqueness rather than dismissing or ridiculing it. And always remember, the “you” you were created to be is way more interesting than the “you” you’re trying to be or think the world needs you to be.


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