I always hated being the new kid. I never liked that vulnerable and exposed feeling of standing there in front of a new class, book bag in hand and eyes on the floor, knowing the other kids were sizing me up and judging me. Then later (and worse,) came the inevitable moment of truth in the cafeteria… There I’d be, a trembling little 2nd or 4th or 5th grader, with my tater tots bouncing around like Mexican jumping beans on my tray because I was shaking so badly. I’d scan the cafeteria and pray for a friendly face, hoping that someone would accept me and allow me to sit at their table.
Growing up that way – heck, growing up in general – can often feel like a series of tests where we try to find our worth and find our place. And I don’t know about you, but for me, it was always so scary trying to find somewhere to sit and somewhere to fit. In some schools and towns, I made friends right away and it wasn’t so bad (sometimes being the new kid could even turn out to be fun because there was an air of mystique that went with it that I certainly would not have otherwise carried.) But there were also times when there were no friendly faces in the crowd and I would not be invited to sit with anyone. I would end up by myself at the far corner of the “rejects’” table (or worse yet- the teachers’ table,) with my tater tots growing cold and misery swimming around inside of my belly, knowing they don’t like me, I don’t fit in.
Eventually, I had moved around enough to know what people liked and what they didn’t. So after a while, I learned that if I showed up at the next school having changed the parts of me that folks didn’t care for in the last place, I could fit in a little better, then a little better again. I learned how to perform instead of how to be myself.
And it worked. By the time I got to high school, I had the “real me” so caged up inside and my performance down so pat, that I got a seat at the popular table on the very first day. You’d think that would have made me very happy. But the truth is, the only thing more lonely than sitting by yourself at the rejects’ table because no one really likes you, is sitting surrounded by people at the popular table because no one really knows you.
Right now I feel like the new kid again and I am struggling with it.
So many things are new in my life right now and it is truly a wonderful season, for certain. The new house is almost finished, and we really can’t wait for that. But I am a little worried my design skills are not as honed as they ought to be. Plus, I just started another workout class and am loving it, but I am more than a little embarrassed that I always seem to come in last. And we are also completely in love with our new church, but leaving our old one was an excruciating decision and meant leaving behind a community of people that have been our family for the last 8 years. Add to that the fact that I’m about to start a new bible study there and also just got involved in a new ministry, and quite frankly, my tater tots are bouncing.
I have gone from knowing everyone in the group and feeling like I might even have something to contribute, to being the pimply-faced new kid with too-frizzy hair and a retainer, hoping that they won’t think I am stupid. Or weird. Or ugly. This whole thing has awakened that inner-fear that still camps out inside my little 5th grade Girl Scout heart. Will they like me; will I fit in?
As you might guess (and to compound all of this,) my absolute biggest fear just happens to be not being accepted or liked, so you can imagine the scars moving around and always trying to fit in have left. If there is anything being the NKOB so much has taught me, it is that it can come with a lot of rejection and a lot of hurt. There are times that you just don’t quite fit in and people are pleased to let you know it. So what happens when something new pops up in my life (even now as a supposedly well-adjusted adult,) is that I go all scaredy-cat inside. I still really struggle with wanting to start performing again, and not even dare to be myself.
The problem with that is that it is seemingly in direct opposition of what God wants for me. I think I have shared this with you before, but ever since I began my relationship with him, He has been constantly loving on me and refining me in this area. He has been patiently teaching me that I have his unconditional acceptance, not because of who I am, but because of whose I am. And like any good teacher, He knows that the best lessons are learned through personal application and by trial and error.
There’s still a lot of error.
Every time I click the “publish” button on this blog, my stomach churns up inside of me and I wonder “What if I’m a terrible writer and no one wants to tell me? What if I am like those poor souls those first few weeks on American Idol that stand in line for days because someone told them they had some talent, only to be humiliated and have the judges (as well as the collective world) laugh at them?” And yet, God (and some other more seasoned writers) tell me to keep writing and keep hitting that stupid button, even on the weeks I know that particular piece is rather disjointed or weak, and that people might misunderstand or even judge me.
Likewise, I worry that I might not fit in at this new church – it is very different from the last in terms of size and demographics. What if the people in my bible study think I am stupid? Or what if the super talented people in this new ministry laugh at me or roll their eyes every time I try to contribute? What if the people in my workout class wish I would just break my leg and stop coming so I won’t slow them down anymore? What if people think my new house is ugly? What if they don’t like me and I don’t fit in?
I can wear myself out with these things. I can cue up that old silly childhood song, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms” on that jukebox in my head in no time. So in finding myself back in this place again, I have tried to break it down and figure out the underlying issue. And for me, it seems to come down to the fact that I have just never been comfortable in my own skin. I’ve never felt like anybody really “gets me,” if you know what I mean… Like I’m a puzzle piece that has a kooky little angle to it; that people have to cock their heads to even try to see me straight, only to shake them in disappointment when I don’t quite fit. I have always felt like the real me wasn’t quite good enough to sit at the table.
I am sorry, dear reader. I don’t mean to barf out all my feelings on you like this. This is supposed to be an encouraging blog, where I share happy things and encourage others. But I try to be a truth-teller when I write, and the truth is that I am often still afraid of what people think (or even of what I feel, as it might upset what people think.) And after all my big talk of loving adventure and trusting God in the newness of life, I am still a bit of a scaredy-cat.
I know, of course, that God loves me. I know He accepts me for who I am and even created me just the way I am. And I know I should care a lot more about that than about what everyone else thinks. But part of me still hates being vulnerable and dreads being new. And I sometimes STILL feel like that little kid, standing there with my tray and my tater tots and my bad hair and my stupid clothes with nowhere to sit in the lunch room.
Then yesterday, I was sitting around feeling pretty sorry for myself and whining to my husband about it when he said something very touching and very wise. He told me that next time I felt like the new kid in the cafeteria, I should just picture Jesus sitting at a table, patting the seat beside him and inviting me to sit there. He reminded me that Jesus is always willing to be my friend.
How simple and sweet a picture for my heart! And then later that morning, when I was having my quiet time and just kinda talking to God about it all, He reminded me of a few things too.
First, He reminded me that if anyone ever knew what it was like to be vulnerable and exposed and misunderstood and judged, it was Jesus. Somehow knowing that God understands how I feel (a billion-trillion times over) brings me a tremendous amount of comfort. And then He also said something else – something rather convicting, something that is so beginning to alter my perspective… He said, “Stop worrying about whether others will accept you or allow you to sit at their table. Instead, Daughter, come and sit beside me, and let us welcome them at ours.”
♥ ♥ ♥
Do you struggle with what others think, too? Have you ever felt misunderstood, judged, or like you just don’t fit in? Does it help to know that Jesus understands completely and even calls you his friend? And did you know that He not only wants us to sit at his table, but that He suffered and died so that we could?
Jesus loved to befriend people the religious leaders considered misfits and rejects, even saying to his disciples in Luke22, “29 And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right 30 to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom…”
One of my favorite songs is The More I Seek You, by Kari Jobe. In it, she says,
“I wanna sit at your feet, drink from the cup in your hand. Lay back against you and breathe, feel your heart beat. This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand. I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming…
I sometimes include links to songs I like so that you can listen if you like. In searching online, I found this YouTube video of the song, also featuring scenes clips from The History Channel’s mini-series, The Bible. I will warn you, these particular scenes are excruciating to watch, but a humbling reminder that Jesus suffered for the sake of giving us a seat at his table. If possible, find a quiet moment to watch this video, or if that is too hard, just get somewhere where you can be alone with God and listen to the words. Melt in his peace. It is indeed overwhelming.