Lent 34-35: when not belonging feels good

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I’m writing this in a coffee shop in London between appointments with old friends and new work partners.

What a strange thing it is: life.  What strange stories people tell themselves about it.  What strange explanations we have for pain or for fear or for success or for joy.  Always telling ourselves and one another stories, always trying to make sense of our experiences drawing on all the possible explanations we have been handed in our lives and finding the one that fits best.

I love the space found in traveling – relieved of any cultural pressure – relieved of any expectation to belong or to fit in and the freedom to accept the feeling of being an outsider without fear that it will lead to isolation or loss or rejection.  It is the same feeling I have so often in my normal life, but paired with an explanation that makes it feel so different: you feel like an outsider because you don’t live here.  Somehow, that explanation, the story – changes the experience.  Normally I hate feeling like I don’t belong, but here – when it’s an expectation – I love it.

What a release, what a rest.  Maybe this is why I love planes and love travel and love doing both things alone.  Because I get a break from the pressure to connect.

Sometimes I think this is the third culture kid pressure to fit in thing, but then I look around this coffee shop and everyone seems to be doing it – working so hard to be belong, to be acceptable, to fit in.  There is a girl sitting with a friend across the room.  She is doing the dance from Grease, but her friend hasn’t noticed because she’s looking at her phone so the girl keeps going, because she’s waiting for her friend to look, so her friend can laugh and reflect to her that she’s funny, not crazy or foolish.

There’s a writer to my left who has been talking about her latest novel with her (maybe) boyfriend.  He is encouraging her to just check her emails if they’re stressing her out so much, but she is insisting she cannot until it’s done – until her novel is finished – because it’s too distracting to the creative process.  And she isn’t being weird or attention seeking about it, but her explanation is still seeking validation in some way.  Not unhealthy maybe; she wants him to understand the stress she’s under. She’s choosing her words to help her be known, to be heard, to be understood.

And here I sit, knowing no one, needing no one to understand.  I don’t care if these people notice me or ignore me. I don’t care if I connect or if I don’t.  I am free here, from the normal healthy pressure to belong.

Which is maybe what I am loving most about the current phase of my relationship with God – the complete lack of ‘work’ involved.  The lack of explaining or checking for understanding.  The lack of having to navigate language to be heard or to be seen or to be understood or to be loved or to be affirmed.  He does all the relational work.

It sort of maybe makes me sad for all those years spent working so hard to be and to become the version of Jesus’ disciple that I thought I was supposed to be.  The pressure of all those eyes seeking to form me in the image of the God they believed in.  The constant adjustments  – small tiny tweaks – I had to make to fit in better in His world, instead of the relaxing – pressure off – falling into His hands and willingness to let Him work it out; let Him shape me, change me.

Less fear and trembling about fighting and overcoming and persevering, and more fear and trembling of HIM, that actually feels like the delight of knowing and loving the God of the Universe and believing that He is who He says and that He’s better and bigger than all these mere mortals; less working to fix and more just giving it all over to Him to fix.

Lent questions for you today:

  • Do you feel like you belong?  Why or why not?
  • Do you feel like you have to work to belong with God?  To explain yourself or be understood or to fit in in His culture?  How so?  
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