At the age of seven, I had the first taste of what it felt like to not belong, and it was a bitter pill to swallow. Because my biological dad had left when I was a year old, I prayed nightly for a dad, hoping my mom would meet someone wonderful to fill the role. Finally, it happened. My mom re-married, and I belonged in a new way. For the first time in my life, I had a dad. And he was wonderful.
But having a dad meant moving in the middle of the school year. It meant that my mom, my sister, and I relocated to a new home with three new brothers. It meant living in someone else’s house, going to someone else’s school, sleeping in someone else’s bedroom.
Having a dad meant facing a classroom of second graders, and being “the new girl,” with some really mean “old” girls. They were brutally unkind. For the first time in my life, I was called fat. “Too bad you aren’t a skinny-minny like us,” they would jeer. They were frenemies in the worst sense of the word. Pretending to be my friends, only to turn on me, as if for sport.
For some reason our second grade teacher would leave the room from time to time, and then appoint various students to serve as “room monitors.” No seven-year-old should be afforded such power.
The “room monitor” would observe the class, recording on the chalkboard the names of those who talked. Being a perfectionist, even at the age of seven, I remained utterly silent. But they put my name on the board anyway. Time after time, they put my name on the board.
Not only did I not belong, I was actively disliked. For the first time in my life, I felt self-conscious, insecure. Seeds of doubt about me had been planted. My prayers for a dad were answered, but a small bit of my innocence was lost. Desperate to fit in, I worked for people to like me. I was no longer the self-assured girl in the plaid coat and patchwork pants. I was something different.
I’m aware that stories like mine are all too familiar. I’d guess that we all have a similar story, many far more extreme than mine. We each hold an innate desire to belong, and yet we’ve all tasted the bitter pill of not belonging. We long to fit in, and yet we’ve all felt left out.
We’ve been rejected. We’ve been overlooked or cast aside. We’ve been lonely. We’ve longed to belong. Only to have our longings unmet.
So, what are we to do when we stand in the gap, innately longing to belong, and yet finding that we don’t fit? Because times of loneliness will keep coming as sure as the seasons of life change. And what started for me as a seven-year-old, has revisited me, as I’m sure it has you.
So what holds us in the in-between places?
I’m not entirely sure, but one thing I know. I’m held by a Savior who’s intimately acquainted with what it means to not belong, who swallowed a pill incomparably more bitter than mine.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:3)
When I stand in the gap between longing and belonging, I’m held by the knowledge that He understands. And so in my lonely times, I draw near to the rejected One, near to the despised One, near to the suffering One, and find a bit of comfort, knowing He gets it.
And not only does he get it, He promises me this. Though I may be rejected, He’ll never reject me. As the beloved Brennan Manning has so powerfully proclaimed, “God loves you as you are, not as you should be.” As so I believe…
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. (Psalm 27:10)
With Jesus, I always, always belong. You always, always belong.
And in my lonely places, I’m held by one thing more. Jesus grew comfortable with lonely places. He even sought them out.
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)
Jesus befriended lonely places because there He drew close to the Father. And though I hate the not belonging, it’s in those gap places, where my longings are yet unmet, that I often come closer to my God. Because I feel my need for Him. And He finds me there. Right in the middle of my need. He becomes my belonging.
I still hate not belonging. And second grade was definitely not one of my finer years, at least in school. But it was still good–good because I belonged to a new family, with a new dad, and a new set of brothers, all hilarious and fun.
But most of all, swallowing that bitter pill taught me something. Tasting not belonging made me something of a monitor myself. It made me more keenly aware of the outcast, the outsider. Not belonging taught me to look for the one who’s left out, alone. Like Jesus did.
Jesus befriended the outcast, and gave grace to the sinner. And as we know Him more, drawing near to Him for our belonging, we long to be more like Him. We become the friend to the outcast and a conduit of His grace to those who don’t belong.
What made us feel left out causes us to include others. What made us feel rejected helps us to accept others. So that, though we still long to belong, we long for something more. We long to make others belong. We long to leave a sweet taste in their mouth, when they’ve tasted only bitter. Just like Jesus did for us.
Suddenly we’re less worried about belonging and more worried about making others belong. Because we already belong with this Jesus, and He holds all our longings. And with Him, we feel a bit more like ourselves again.
You’re a bit more like you. I’m a bit more like me. Seasons of loneliness still come, but I’m a bit more like the girl in the plaid coat and patchwork pants. Self-assured and settled, because I’m settled in Him. Longing to belong, yet always belonging. Because I belong in Him.
What about you?
Have you gone through seasons of feeling like you don’t belong?
What comforts you when you stand in the gap between longing and belonging?
I am doing a blog roll with some very talented writers and photographers. To read more about belonging, start with http://sarahdsstories.livejournal.com and roll through the circle from there!