Fitting in. Belonging. Acceptance. God placed those desires in our hearts. He created us to live in community. And yet, when you throw a bunch of broken people together, God’s ideal plans often don’t play out the way he intended.
Announcements about my upcoming high school reunion got me thinking about wanting to fit in but never quite belonging. I wasn’t cool, popular, super smart, or dangerous. The popular kids at school were either mean to me or didn’t know I existed. The bullies picked on me both verbally and physically. My small stature and quiet demeanor made me an easy target.
I learned how to cope and wore different masks to help me survive. After losing a student council race to a popular kid in elementary school, I never ran again. I figured there was no reason to submit myself to more rejection and failure. Since my introverted self got picked on, I learned to be loud and demonstrative to fight back. I was insecure and highly sensitive to criticism, so I also learned to protect myself by only doing things I knew I could do well.
I adopted these coping mechanisms out of necessity. I had to in order to survive. But looking back, I can see how they hindered my growth as a person and child of God. I know what I have accepted as my life is but a small, limited existence compared to all that God wants for me. God wants me to be filled with him, to be in relationship with others, and to receive his grace and lavish blessings. It’s hard for me to trust people and ask for help. Relinquishing perceived control and trusting in God’s provisions does not come easily, and I am a creature of habit, avoiding the unknown and sticking to what I know.
I see that many of my choices have been rooted in fear. I am afraid of rejection. I am afraid of failure. I am afraid I won’t fit in or be accepted. God reminds me that I have nothing to fear. God’s word is filled with truth and promises, but before I can cling to those promises, I have to actually believe God. I have to believe he is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he can do.
God has been gracious and patient as he shows me that I can rely on him; he is trustworthy and faithful. God has been trying to show me that I don’t have to act a certain way to earn his love. I don’t have to strive, achieve, or do anything to be loved and accepted by God. God loves me as I am. I don’t have to pretend I’m someone else to be worthy of God’s acceptance.
So when the announcements about my thirtieth high school reunion started showing up, thoughts started bouncing around my head like a pinball machine:
- Will the bullies be there?
- Will it matter if I go or not?
- What if people are mean to me?
- I wonder if the people I want to see will be there?
- Will I know anyone there?
- Will anyone talk to me?
- Should I go even though I don’t have anything impressive to show?
- Should I bring someone with me so I’ll have someone to talk to?
All these thoughts touched on my fears about not fitting in, belonging, or being accepted. God reminded me that attending my reunion could be an opportunity to stretch myself, do something uncomfortable, trust him, and just be present to whatever he had planned.
So I went. And I went by myself with no safety net. I told myself I didn’t have to try and impress anyone. I reminded myself that my worth and value come from God—that regardless of how others treated me that night, I am still seen, accepted, and loved by God.
The reunion was better than I expected. My flashbacks of being picked on and rejected didn’t get replayed in real life. I got to catch up with the people I wanted to see, including my three best friends from high school. Some people even went out of their way to say hello to me. I didn’t pretend to be something I’m not. I didn’t try to fit in by doing things that aren’t my thing, and I actually had the opportunity to share what God has been doing in my life with a few people. I’d say it was a success.
Did my attendance erase all of those negative memories from my past? No. Did I get embraced by those popular kids and asked to be part of their lives? Ha ha, no. But I was able to add another example of God’s faithfulness to my memory bank. I stepped out in faith and God was with me. He spoke his truths to me, I did something uncomfortable, and I survived. Hopefully the next time God asks me to trust him, to try something new, or step out in faith, it’ll be even easier for me to say yes.
Lorianne Lee’s whole identity was being a teacher (or so she thought). Now she’s trying to figure out who she is without being “Miss Lee.” Lorianne enjoys being an auntie to her nieces, nephew, and friends’ kids who call her “Auntie Lorianne.” She loves food but can’t afford to go out anymore. Some call her a prayer warrior, but Lorianne doesn’t feel worthy of that label. Lorianne wants to find her identity in Christ. She’s trying to be open to whatever God has for her, but she’ll tell you she’d much rather God just tell her what to do, whom to hang out with, and how to spend her time.