Until I was set free by Jesus, I was under the belief there were two kinds of people. People who are owed happiness, and people who owe their happiness. I fell into the category of the latter.
The first time I was assigned to category number two – people who owe their happiness – was in kindergarten. At reading time, sitting cross legged on the floor, a boy sat behind me and put his hands down my pants. My face raged a hot pink and my skin felt warm, and I was too scared to turn around. Childish giggling erupted in whispered voices. When it ended, I ran to the teacher, lamenting my grievances. “The boys probably just think you’re pretty. You should feel lucky,” she assuaged. When I told my mother that evening, she repeated a similar sentiment. “OH, is he your boyfriend now?” she asked in a sing-song voice. Although I’m angry about it now, I wasn’t then. I was just being taught what was good and bad, the same way I was taught the correct way to brush my teeth. It was good to get attention from a boy, and it was bad not to feel grateful for it, even if it cost me my happiness.
It wasn’t just situations I was in that molded this belief, although there are too many to count; it was also the world around me. A child of a single mother, I witnessed an endless parade of men through our home. They came, they took, they left, leaving my mother with just a little bit less each time. My mother was a powerful, put-together, professional woman by day, and an ingratiating, insecure, and irresolute girl by night. Although I’m sad for her now, I wasn’t then. I was just witnessing gender roles; men take what they want, and women give what they have, even if all they have is their happiness.
Eventually I grew and became a woman of my own, and the cycle of happiness exchange continued. At 17, a man a decade my senior (and also my boss), asked me to be his wife. Sick to my stomach, I reluctantly agreed because what he was really asking is, “Can I have your happiness?” A request, I knew, I could not deny. When I married again at 24, my husband asked for my happiness when he arranged a paid meeting for me with another man. Despaired and detached, I relented, because now it wasn’t just one man asking for my happiness, it was two – I had twice the obligation. When the second husband left and I had nowhere to go, a man offered me a place to stay in exchange for my happiness. It was then that I learned I could put a price on my happiness, and from that day on, I charged every single man who asked for it.
Fortunately, I recount these memories from outside of either category. After spending my life as an item for sale, Jesus touched my soul and peeled off my price tag. As I was submerged under water on my baptism day, my worth was reappraised, and I emerged a sparkling gemstone far too valuable for a price. It has been nearly three years since I’ve sold my happiness, and everything I’ve given away has been replaced by Jesus. Now I only fall into one category: a child of God.
You don’t have to have sold yourself on the street corner to know what I’m talking about. Maybe someone touched you inappropriately and nobody did anything about it. Maybe you open your home night after night – to the same man, or to many – thinking this time will be different, but it never is. Maybe you said “yes” or “I will” or “I do” when you really meant “no” because you thought it would make someone happy. If you’re like me, I want you to know, you are not for sale. You are a child of God.