Have you ever felt like you were on the outside of a group looking in? Whether you were just on the sidelines of a party or trying hard to integrate with a new group of friends, it’s easy to feel like everyone else shares a secret that you don’t know. Or like they speak a language you don’t understand.
That’s the way I felt frequently throughout my growing up years. A little shy, a little uncertain, I didn’t fit in with the louder, funnier girls with their fashionable Gap jeans and pristine white Keds. I couldn’t keep up with their jokes and their knowledge of pop culture. I didn’t know who JTT was, I didn’t watch Friends, and I didn’t listen to No Doubt – unless I snuck in some secret CD time at a friend’s house. It was hard to fit in with the “in” crowd.
While I wasn’t often the center of attention, and I didn’t have an expansive circle of friends, I had a few very good ones. And to be honest, that suited me then and still suits me now. But as an impressionable, vulnerable girl, the fear of being left on the outside shaped me.
I learned to “armor up” and earn affection by making myself who I thought people wanted me to be – the good girl that my parents would praise, the perfect student that teachers loved, the Sunday school kid with all the right answers.
That “good girl” image sustained me through high school. I built my life upon it. I found my identity in it. It helped me feel like I fit in somewhere. But I soon found a more powerful draw than being admired for being good – the thrill of guys’ attention.
My college years were colored by my pursuit of guys’ affection. I discovered that they didn’t care if I was good – in fact, they wanted me to be a little bit bad. No longer did I have to painstakingly maintain my good girl image; instead, I learned to craft a slightly coy, slightly tempting persona.
Each new guy’s attention fueled me – like an addict, I was hooked. I finally felt like I was “in.” But just as I had felt on the outskirts of certain friend groups throughout my life, I soon realized I wasn’t the center of guys’ affections either. So, I learned to not stick around long enough to let them hurt me. I’d move from guy to guy – or go back to the undying affection my high school sweetheart, whose poor heart I broke more times than I care to count.
I don’t share any of this out of pride. I simply want to be honest about my mistakes. Because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s gone through these experiences. And I know the life-sucking pursuit of attention isn’t limited to straight-A students or affection-starved twentysomethings.
We all feel on the outside at times. Whether we got passed over for a job or simply weren’t invited to the party that everyone else seems to be at, being left behind can feel unbearable. Because we all crave connection.
“The yearning to be with other people is powerful. That emotion is the foundation of what makes us human.” – Interstellar
Like a powerful gravitational pull, the desire for connection with other humans can’t be ignored. It shouts at us to “do something about it!” It won’t go quietly.
The Pull of Loneliness
So, we have a choice in how we’ll respond to our loneliness: We can reach out for another hit of attention – climbing the corporate ladder, entering into yet another relationship, seeking praise for our accomplishments, giving up everything for our ambitions, undercutting anyone who we fear has the potential to make us feel like we’re on the outside again…
Or, we can accept the invitation to life on the inside. The invitation that’s existed all along. The invitation to connect with the God who loves us.
A Better Invitation
God is radically inclusive. He extends an invitation to life on the inside. Life in him. All we have to do is say yes.
I never realized this when I was younger. I thought God wanted to maintain separation from me because I wasn’t good enough yet. Even though I claimed believe in Christ – belief that he saved me, and that I couldn’t save myself by being good – I still thought his holiness meant he wanted to keep me at arm’s length until I got my act together.
And that’s what it was, an act.
These days, the makeup is off, the costumes are put away, and the curtain is nowhere in sight. While I’m not always 100% vulnerable with other people – that would just be foolish – I’m finally at the point in my life where I’m comfortable being totally transparent with God. Like a bride before her groom, I realize there’s nothing I can hide, and I don’t want to.
Life on the Inside
So, I’m accepting Jesus’ invitation to make my home in him. To set up camp at his feet, listen to his words, and let those life-giving words take root in me and inspire me as I live in the world.
My hope and prayer is that others would witness God’s love at work in my life and be draw into relationship with him. I’m in his inner circle – I’m in his family – not because I’ve got things figured out. I’m in with him because he’s totally in love with me, and I’m totally in love with him. He’s the perfect husband, the only object of my affection that will never change. I’m safe in him.
Even when life makes me feel like I’m on the outskirts of the party, I’m trying every day to remember that God has prepared a place for me at his table. And I’m at home in him. For the first time in my life, I finally feel like I’m on the inside. I finally feel known because I’ve found the One who knows me and loves me – and you – like no other.
I’m writing a book on what I’ve learned while recovering from a life of performance and perfectionism. Subscribe here for sneak peeks and insider updates I only share over email.