One of the things that has been the hardest about shifting faith is moving from being an “insider” to an “outsider.” I have always been one of those people who looks like an insider, like someone who fits in. The truth is that underneath a lot of that has been a prevailing feeling that somehow, I just really don’t.
The more I’ve talked to people of the years, the more clear I am that we can be lonely in a group or as part of the crowd. We can look like we are more confident and connected than we really are. We can pull of a sense of being part of something without actually ever feeling like we truly “belong.”
And belonging is a really strong and important need for most of us.
I know it is for me. To feel like we have a place. To feel like we are part of something important. To have meaningful relationships that connect us to a bigger story.
And sometimes we equate belonging to feeling like an insider.
In the early stages of my faith, one of the biggest draws for me was becoming part of a family, a group, a place to belong. There was something about Christian connection that I loved. The homogeneity, the similar passion and focus in the same direction, the clear set of here’s-what-you-listen-to-read-believe-and-do. I loved the certainty, the conformity, the affiliation.
At the same time, I’ll admit that as much as I tried to be an insider, I always sort of felt like an outsider.
Like I somehow didn’t know the Bible as well as everyone else. That I didn’t sound quite as spiritual as everyone else. That I missed certain memos about what I needed to say or do as a good Christian woman.
But I certainly tried. Oh, how I tried! I worked incredibly hard not to feel like an outsider, to find a place, to find a way to truly belong.
I’d come close here and there, but that feeling of being totally “in” only came in one small wave during the two years I worked on a mega-church staff. There was something about being part of that team, that mission, that energy, that swept me away and I finally felt a feeling that had eluded me until then.
The hardest part is that it was just a feeling, not fact.
I let myself believe something that wasn’t true but that I deeply wanted to be.
The reality was that as soon as I started rocking the boat, I immediately became an outsider. And not just pushed to the fringe, but all the way out. Systems can be that way. They are powerful structures that shape human behavior and can be used for good or for not-so-good (and sometimes even evil).
One of the trickiest parts of my faith shift is that I didn’t just become an outsider of that particular church, but I became an outsider in the strain of faith that I had tried so hard to be part of for so long.
And being an outsider is tough.
I am one of those people that no longer fits into one particular world. I am a post-evangelical-mutt and while I’m grateful for it, it is hard to never all the way fit in anywhere.
And I’ll admit–it still can be lonely & weird & confusing sometimes.
I just don’t fit into any group anymore.
I can’t align with anything all-the-way like I used to.
I can’t compromise my integrity in order to be part.
I can’t be something I’m not.
But here’s what I also know–most all of us feel like outsiders in all kinds of different ways, too.
We are in good company.
And that’s why I love the weird & wild & doesn’t-make-sense Christmas Story so much. The upside-down ways of Jesus remind us that trying to align with the world’s power, a group’s power, a religion’s power, will not help us. It will try to draw us in and allure us. It will try to tempt us to strive and try and do-things-we-really-aren’t-that-in-to in order to belong. It will try to make us work to feel important.
A few weeks ago I stumbled on the above David Hayward Christmas cartoon (and bought one, too!)
The important people weren’t there. The insiders weren’t there.
The outsiders were.
I’m not saying insiders miss God. I can’t evaluate that. But I’m saying that so often when we’re trying to “get inside” or “maintain our position inside” that we miss so much good right in front of us.
And we stay insecure, always striving to be this-or-that or believe-this-or-that or do-this-or-that in order to be part (no matter what that part is–church systems, non-faith-based groups, jobs, and more).
I have a feeling there are a lot of us who feel like outsiders this Christmas. Some embrace it with ease and feel comfortable with it. Others struggle with the feeling and long to feel “inside” of something again.
There are no easy answers, but I have come to believe this: “inside” and “important” are overrated and never seem to lead to true and lasting life.
Peace to you this Christmas week. I know some will relish every day this week while others are counting the days until it’s over. My kids are all home and so we will be seeing a lot of movies & taking some much-needed time off. Back sometime next week with the annual end-of-year wrap. It’s definitely been a wild one!
peace and hope, kathy