I’ve carried this ache with me as long as I can remember. It’s one that’s kept me up at night and has left me feeling desolate and alone more times than I can name.
It’s the feeling of being “outside.”
I felt this in elementary school- I preferred the company of those older than me to that of my peers.
I felt this in middle school- I wasn’t thin enough or athletic enough like the other girls.
I felt this in high school- I viewed the world through a much different lens, and constantly felt like I was on the outside looking in on my peer group, desperately wanting to be inside but not knowing how to get there.
And I feel this way even now.
It’s not anything that’s been said or done to me that causes me to feel this, rather it’s an assessment I make and then disqualify myself.
And I have truly thought I’m alone in this.
That’s when I woke up- when I heard a voice telling me “you’re the only one.”
That was my frog in boiling water moment.
Because the enemy loves nothing more than to get us isolated and alone. Lone sheep make easy prey.
So, I did what any good 21st century woman would do. I polled Facebook with this simple, but loaded question:
“Do you feel like you are "inside" or "outside" a social circle you operate in? This can include church body, moms' group, co-workers, etc. If the answer is "outside", what disqualifies you?”
The responses were staggering, both in their content and in their authors. Those I was sure were “in” felt very much like outsiders. And most bewildering of all, their reasons were all different.
“Everyone seems to have a much better spiritual life than me. I don’t say prayers as eloquently as them.”
“Everyone around me is married and has kids, and I’m not.”
“I feel like having kids keeps me from being as active or engaged as everyone else.”
“I'm an introvert and kind of hate meeting new people and especially shut down in a large group. Making new friends has never been my strong suit.”
“I’m an extrovert, and people assume that because I’m friendly and talkative, I have friends. But I really don’t.”
“I feel outside because I work outside the home.”
“I feel outside because I stay at home and feel isolated.”
“Everyone seems to have all this extra money to go and do things, and we’re barely scraping by.”
“I feel too grown up for those my age, but I’m so much younger than my peer group.”
“Everyone belongs to the same fitness club and seems to always be doing things together.”
“Everyone else has known each other for so long that it’s hard to break in.”
“My ideology is so different.”
“I feel self-conscious about my appearance.”
“I have trauma in my story, and I’m afraid people won’t know what to do with it.”
Wanna know the saddest part of all of this? Ninety percent of the responses were about church. Let me rephrase that: the majority of God’s people in our culture disqualify themselves or feel disqualified from true fellowship in the body of Christ.”
Dear sisters, may it never be so. Allow me to let you in on a little secret: everyone feels on the outside.
Wanna hear something even more mind boggling? THERE IS NO CIRCLE.
Hear that? There is no.such.thing. as an inner circle.
We’ve bit the bait and are drowning on our own hooks. And sadly, the things that we feel disqualified by, we become either defensive about or we shame ourselves over.
Sweet sister, you have been bought by the blood of Jesus. You are inside.
Yes, you. All of you. Your doubt, your insecurities, your discrepancies. Your excess and your lack. Your words and your silence. You are fully bought, redeemed, and welcomed.
Sadly, it is our very efforts to try to fit “in” that make other feel “out.” We latch on to our commonalities and parade them, not minding that someone else is looking on feeling further and further away with each “me too!”
What if, instead of trying to fit into small man-made pseudo circles, we focused on building His. What if, instead of asserting our belonging, we grabbed the other sheep around us and pulled them into the fold? What if we rested in the fact that we are his, therefore we are loved, and spread that love to those around us? What if we stopped looking inside and started looking around?
It would change the church. And it would change the world.
What if in the halls of the church, we acknowledged each other’s character instead of characteristics?
Characteristics are the work of our hands or things that are unchangeable about us.
Character is evidence of God’s work in your life.
Instead of “Look at you! You look amazing! How much weight have you lost?” let’s say “I saw how you handled that conflict with your kids and I was really impressed by your gentleness.”
Rather than “Those are the cutest jeans, where did you get them?” let’s ask “What has happened in your week that has been encouraging?”
Forgo the typical “Oh my goodness, my kids go to that school too, let’s get together!” and try “I’m so thrilled that our kids get to learn from the same amazing teacher! How can we work together to love and pray for her this year?”
Now there is nothing wrong with noticing and mentioning the surface things in our lives, but let’s not stop there. Shallow waters don’t fit many swimmers. Let’s move into the deeps where there’s room for everyone.
Let’s call out and recognize what brings us all into the same circle: the love and work of God in our lives.
And remember that NOTHING- “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” disqualifies us from the love God gives his children.
Dear ones, we are family, not because of what we are, but whose we are. And that circle? It won’t change or fade. The lines aren’t nebulous or arbitrary.
This is the circle of eternity, and you are in.