I felt a sharp twinge of pain as her words cut into me: “You’re such a goody-goody.”
I didn’t know how to respond.
It was the first day of eighth-grade yearbook class. It was also my first time back in public school since second grade – for most of my life, I had been home schooled.
The official class business was over, so we were all just sitting around and talking. A few of the other students grilled me: Had I ever kissed a boy? Had sex? Smoked a cigarette? Drank alcohol? Stolen?
My answer to everything was a solid “No.” I was only 13, for goodness’ sake! Sure, I dreamed of sharing a kiss with my own prince charming someday, but most of the things they asked about were things I’d never even thought about doing!
Finally, after all my “no’s,” one of the girls made the goody-goody comment.
I didn’t know why they had singled me out, and I wasn’t used to their condescending attitudes – none of my friends were that way, and my family certainly wasn’t.
It hurt. Those words cut deep.
After school, as I waited for my mom to pick me up, I saw one of my friends walking out of the building – what a relief it was to see her! We’d grown up doing church activities together, and I knew she would understand.
Angry, sad, and uncertain, I told her about the whole conversation.
I don’t remember her exact words, but I remember her overall message. She said I shouldn’t let those people get to me. And besides, wasn’t it actually a good thing to be a goody-goody? It was much better to have a reputation for living a wholesome life than to have a bad reputation for getting into trouble.
And the more I thought about it, she was right – I shouldn’t be ashamed of being “good.” Being good was, well, a good thing.
The teasing about my “goodness” continued. I even got a nickname: “Pleasantville.” But eventually, I stopped feeling offended – especially when I realized that the people in that group weren’t the kind of people I wanted for friends, anyway. These classmates didn’t understand me, but my true friends did, and they were the people who really mattered.
Fast forward to college. I went to a Christian university and was surrounded by encouraging friends with similar values. But it seems there was something about me that was just a little different.
I don’t remember who the first person was to say it, or what the situation was, but I remember being surprised to hear it: “You’re so innocent.”
I was “so innocent?” Now what was that supposed to mean?
Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t understand the dirty double-meanings some words had, or the fact that I never used swear words. I never did quite figure it out. But whatever it was, I grew used to hearing it a lot from my circle of friends.
People used to joke about trying to “corrupt” me – or, on the other hand, would remind each other, “Don’t corrupt Kellie!”
The people saying those things were my friends: We loved and respected each other deeply, and I knew they were just teasing. There was something kind of fun about being “Kellie the Innocent.”
But other times, it irritated me. The way people said it, “so innocent,” sometimes made me feel as if I were less of a person – as if I were completely clueless about life. But that wasn’t the case at all. I had my fair share of knowledge. I just chose to talk, act, and live a certain way, that was all. And as for “corrupting me,” I appreciated the thought, but I could take care of myself.
But looking back, I can see something else beneath those phrases: a hint of admiration, as if I had something precious.
Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. When I moved to a new state after college, guess what came with me: My reputation.
My younger sister has experienced the same thing. “So sweet,” “pure,” “innocent,” “wholesome” – between the two of us, we’ve gotten all of them, and more, almost everywhere we go.
I admit, at times, it can be frustrating, because it feels like people are saying, “You don’t quite fit in with the rest of us.”
But in those moments, we have to stop and ask ourselves: Just what are we trying to fit in with?
And really … why should it matter?
Perhaps you’ve felt this way. Maybe you’ve had people pressure you to do things you don’t want to do. Maybe you’ve had people make fun of you because you haven’t done certain things. Maybe you just feel a little different.
But who would you rather be: The girl who has to change herself in order to fit in, or the girl who is confident enough in herself to be who she wants to be? The girl who is just one of the crowd, or the girl who is respected because she clings to her values?
To everyone who’s been called a “goody goody,” or “innocent,” or anything else like that: It’s time to embrace who you are. Embrace your innocence. Hold on to it. Cling to it. And don’t ever let anyone talk you into letting go.
When you cling to who you are, people will be drawn to you not because you’re like them, but because you are you. You’ll find other people like you – other people who share your standards, your mindset. You’ll find people like my friend in eighth grade, who reminded me that really, being called out for being good is a good thing.
It’s good, because it’s the way God has called us to be, as His beloved children:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a good way to live to me. Won’t you join me?
P.S. In my yearbook, there’s a note from one of those girls in my yearbook class. “Hey Pleasantville! You’re sweet. Don’t ever change.”
Don’t worry, girl – I haven’t. And I won’t. And I’m glad.
If you’d like to learn more about this new blog project, you can find out more here. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you’ll come back next week!