One of my biggest struggles is the feeling that I am on the outside looking in.
Imagine a little child standing on the very tips of her toes, trying to make herself tall enough to see into a window whose pane is just beyond her reach. On the other side of that window pane is a delightful animated holiday display or perhaps rows and rows of scrumptious chocolate candies. As hard as she tries, her best efforts to add to her stature fall short. (No pun intended) Even balancing on the very tips of her toes does not add enough height to satisfy the desire to see what others around her, taller than she, can easily view. Some of those around her, trying to be helpful, describe the scene to her: “Santa is holding his list in his hands…you know, the list of good boys and girls who will be getting toys for Christmas! The elves are circled around him. Oh Susie! You should see the elves! They are SO cute! They have stripes on their hats and red pointy-toed shoes and they all look so happy! And Santa is smiling and—Oh my gosh! Susie, your name is on his list! So is mine! It says Susie and Chrissy right in the middle of it! Mrs. Claus is in the back part. It looks like she is helping some other elves wrap presents. There are so many bows! There are red, green, blue, striped, pink—pink is your favorite color, Susie! Some are small and some are really big! I wonder if Santa uses the big bows for big presents—like a bike or a big playhouse…” As nice as Chrissy is trying to be to her little sister, the words just do not satisfy Susie’s desire to see the whole scene with her own eyes. If she could only see it for herself then she could share in the excitement that Chrissy has.
Most of the time, I play the part of Susie. I see and hear others around me talk excitedly about some thing or some experience, yet no matter how much effort I extend to see or experience that thing, it is never quite enough. The fact that I am unable to reach it makes me sure that I am missing out on something wonderful. In my world, though, it isn’t my name on Santa’s list or a pile of bright, pink bows waiting to be put on a present just for me. No, in my world, I find myself looking through the windows of my eyes and seeing things in others that I desperately desire to be in me as well. I look out my eyes’ windows and see joy around me, yet I am unable to grasp it. I look out and see tremendous levels of faith, yet faith seems just out of my reach. I look out and see acceptance, yet am unable to feel accepted. I look out and see friendships—genuine friendships—yet so often I can only reach loneliness. I see gifts, talents, health, service, and other desired qualities, but they are just out of my reach. Sometimes, well-meaning people will try to help by describing what my life would be like should I finally succeed in grasping them. “If only you could grasp that faith you see in others,” they say, “then you would feel so much better.” “If you just found the joy of the Lord, then you would have the strength to face the difficulties life throws your way.”
Seriously? Just like Chrissy’s description only fed Susie’s desire and possibly made her even more saddened at the fact that she couldn’t see it, those kinds of statements are not always helpful.
I am currently participating in a book study. The title of the book is Let’s all be Brave by Annie Downs. Before you think something along the lines of “How can you be lonely when you are part of a book club,” let me mention that this study is an online book study. There is a reading schedule to follow, questions for thought and discussion sent to my e-mail every few days, and a Facebook group to post thoughts and questions. Today I was reading the assigned chapter and came across the following lines:
“I think that’s what I need most to be brave—a place where I belong…No one is brave alone. Every superhero has someone they come home to; every Bible character has someone they depend on. Jesus had his disciples. Batman had Robin. Paul had Barnabas. Ruth had Naomi. The Incredibles had each other. Moses has Aaron, Hur and Miriam. We see, even in the Bible, the truth that the bravest among us do not stand alone.”
At the core of every human being is the need to have a place of belonging. I personally think it is one of the reasons God designed families. After He created Adam, God said that it was not good for man to be alone. Adam had a big job to do—naming all the animals that God had created, but as Adam carried out his task, he noticed that none of the animals resembled him. None could talk with God as he did. Surrounded by the perfect environment, Adam was lonely. Even if a person is living in the nicest house money can build, has everything he or she could ever want and all the money desired within easy reach, if there is no like companionship, no other person or persons to fellowship with, life will not seem complete. We tend to enjoy the company of those who are somewhat like ourselves. Football enthusiasts tend to enjoy conversing with other football enthusiasts. Monday mornings may find them all gathered around the coffee pot at the office debating if the Vikings should have started THAT quarterback or brainstorming ways the group could score tickets to a game at Lambeau field. An employee who has never watched a football game in his life would most likely have a difficult time fitting into that group, but probably has some other type of people he enjoys being with. Perhaps they talk about computers or car engines or the latest medical research…regardless, it is important to feel part of a group.
For the majority of my life, I have been the one looking for a group. I was very much a tomboy growing up. I could throw a football better than most boys I knew, put a hockey puck past the best goalie in the neighborhood, and feared nothing. (Except spiders and bees. I definitely feared spiders and bees.) The problem with that was, most boys didn’t appreciate being shown up by a girl. That meant most of the time I wasn’t allowed to join in the game. The girls in the neighborhood didn’t understand why I didn’t enjoy things like Barbies, hairstyles, and other girly things. I certainly didn’t fit in with them, nor did I want to. That meant, for me, many days in the elementary school years were spent alone. I became accustomed to enjoying my own company and being my own entertainer. In junior high I met my best friend—a kindred soul. I still consider her my best friend even though we live hundreds of miles apart. As an adult, it has been difficult for me to fit in—in the community, in church, or any other place, I usually feel like an outsider surrounded by insiders. Perhaps this is why social media has such a powerful grip on me, for on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, I don’t have to conform to a preconceived image. I don’t have to worry about not knowing something or not feeling like my contribution is worthy (one of the biggest stumbling blocks I have in Bible studies). Online friendships are wonderful for those reasons and I am quite appreciative of those who have willingly accepted me as an online friend.
Online friendships can’t always be as deep and intimate as real life friendships. Sometimes when the pain in my heart is great, it would be nice to have a real human sitting next to me, helping me be brave through the trial. Plus, some things just aren’t meant to be put out in the unknown technology called cyberspace. My husband is an IT auditor and has warned all of our kids about the fact that nothing is private once you put it anywhere on the internet. A difficult trial, then, isn’t something I’m always willing to spell out in an e-mail or Facebook message.
The verse from Ecclesiastes at the top of this entry is what came to mind as I was reading my book chapters today. Of course, I know my husband is always there for me—he supports me and listens (in a man’s way of listening) to me. Sometimes, though, a woman needs another woman to encourage. I know that I love to encourage young moms, especially homeschooling moms. Having gone through 20+ years of raising kids and struggling through difficult years of homeschooling, I know not only how immensely draining those days can be but also how quickly they go by. I imagine the same principle holds true for men. There are some things that a man just needs another man to walk him through. Our small group breaks up into two groups—men and women separate—for prayer time for that very reason. I will share more with just women present than I would if men were there as well. Plus, men don’t get tears. At least my husband doesn’t always get them. He wants to fix them, but sometimes it isn’t “fixing” that I need; I just need someone to listen, encourage and be there.
I truly hope that someday I will not feel as though I am standing on the very tips of my toes, trying to see something that is just beyond my reach. As I continue to open up via words on a screen, I pray that I would begin to open up to real people, to allow them in when my heart screams to lock them out.
Maybe then, when that happens, I will not feel like I am always outside looking in.