From the moment I set down my backpack each afternoon to the second I heard Mom’s whistle echo through the twilight, calling me home, there was one place you’d always find me: at the end of our street, hanging with the boys.
We were in middle school, and life together revolved around playing street versions of whatever sport was in season. If I wasn’t doing chores, eating, sleeping, or attending church, I was with these guys. Which is what made it especially troubling when I came under their scrutiny—not for missing a lay-up or dropping a pass (which happened more than I’d care to admit), but for my faith. Or more specifically, for the music they had heard my sister and me listening to one day in Dad’s parked Ford.
We were in my driveway a few days later, about to play basketball, when one of the guys stated in a way only boys can—with a certain tone and a peculiar look in his eyes—a perfectly obvious and otherwise benign fact: “We saw you rocking out to church music in your dad’s car!” They laughed. I didn’t.
Looking back now, it’s difficult to understand why this bothered me so much. But in the economy of boyhood, it made perfect sense. I knew exactly what it meant: however stupidly, they thought I was a loser.
Everybody knew church music wasn’t cool. It was, rather, something a guy felt compelled to apologize for owning on CD, just as he would feel some inner need to apologize for attending church at all—even if he really liked it. I tried to defend my sister and myself, but the guys were having none of it. I knew things would be different from that point.
Sure enough, things went south, and I found myself the brunt of jokes or worse. Some weeks later I wasn’t playing sports with the boys down the road anymore—no longer sitting with them on the bus or eating lunch together at school. I had lost my friends.
The pattern would repeat itself later during my senior year in high school. By then, I had a different group of close friends—guys I spent more time with than family. Over the summer, they had decided to no longer count me as one of their own. And for what? Because I had become more dedicated in my Christianity during the break between terms. That rejection hit harder in the first weeks of the school year as I pieced together what had changed.
Now, before you start feeling sorry for me, you should know I made peace with all this a long time ago. In hindsight, other children had it much worse than I did. I look back on these experiences as defining moments in my life, where I progressed in maturity, sense of self, and depth of faith, having lost something smaller only to gain what’s larger, a blessing I could not have guessed. What I gained was a reality check—one that had the effect of waking up from a muddled dream.
Was I persecuted for my faith? No, not really. Not in light of what persecution really means in the world today, where children along with their parents are brutally murdered for following Jesus. Where churches are burned down and innocent believers waste away in squalid prisons. Yes, it hurt to be on the losing side of friendship, but I remain grateful for even the low-impact object lessons these ordeals were—consummately minor representations of what Jesus promised would happen to those who love Him: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you . . . ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20 ESV).
It occurs to me now that to become a Christian is to also become a loser of sorts—not in the way a crew of boys would mean it, but in terms of genuine faith: that we lose our lives for the sake of One who loves us and gave Himself up for us. That we would be like John the Baptist, who decreased so Christ would increase. Or like Paul, who gave up everything for his Lord. Like the martyrs of the church, ancient and present, who loved God more than life itself.
That’s the kind of loser we should all hope to be.