When you feel like you don’t belong
If you’re invited, you belong. If you’ve asked to be invited and have been welcomed, you belong.
Stepping out of my comfort zone
Two years ago I went to my first writers conference. It was a small, regional one and I had two friends going so I knew I could stick with them if I felt uncomfortable. Although I generally do fine in social settings (I’m an extraverted introvert), at times I have to make myself “turn it on” when I’d rather just slink into the background. Many of my friends would be surprised by that admission considering I’m often described as confident and bold and I do a fair bit of public speaking so am comfortable with an audience. (I just don’t particularly enjoy small talk.) But I promise you, I have my awkward moments too, even if they are mostly internal.
My husband, kids, and I had flown in from Australia and pulled into my parents’ driveway in my hometown of Bend, Oregon. It was the beginning of a much-needed sabbatical after fifteen years in full time ministry and our only plans for the remainder of the year were to have no plans other than Ryan taking over the primary care of the children while I spent some time exploring writing more intentionally. We knew more about what we wouldn’t do than what we would. (We’d decline anything resembling speaking invitations, leadership roles, things that required regular meetings or time commitments, etc.)
After our sleepy but excited 2:00am arrival the night before, I was in the car headed over the mountains to the conference the next afternoon. That night after the first session I stood (somewhat uncomfortably) in a small group of women trying to keep my eyes open and wondering how I would make it through the weekend. I was tired and felt disconnected and insecure, keenly aware that I knew little about the writing and publishing industry.
Everyone seemed friendly enough—I gave myself an internal pep talk—I’d be fine.
Then Jenni said hello. She said she knew me and we were friends on facebook. I didn’t have a clue who she was, assuming she must have been a connection through one of my speaking gigs (I do a fair bit of circuit teaching through my work with YWAM and often get friend requests through those). I bluffed my way through the intro until she helped me make the connection that she knew my little brother from school and bible study and had been following our family’s ministry and work online.
When she left the conversation, my friend said: “That’s Jenni Burke. She’s a big deal literary agent in the Christian publishing industry.”
My response? “What’s a literary agent?”
I laugh about the exchange now because it was the beginning of a genuine friendship with Jenni (who also happens to now be my agent). I feel lucky that we became friends and professional colleagues at the same time—something I think is rare and beautiful.
What will “they” think?
Not long after the conference I noticed Jenni post on facebook about preparing for a writer’s retreat in Tuscany and, on a whim, shot her an email saying how awesome it is to see young women pursuing their dreams. (I work with young people and there’s almost nothing more inspiring than seeing them really go for it and chase their dreams. I especially love to see women leading out like she was.) I also asked what the retreat was and if there were any spots left, along with a line about joking, not joking.
After hitting send I felt like a complete idiot. I hardly knew her and now had the knowledge that she was a “big deal agent.” (I’ll forever think of that as her title thanks to my friend who shall remain nameless—I’m looking at you, A.) Immediately I realized my email should have been limited to just the encouragement; I didn’t’ want her to think I was buttering her up to then ask to come along. I genuinely wanted her to hear an “I’m proud of you!” message with no strings attached. And not only that, but if I had thought about it for more than a nanosecond I would’ve had the revelation that she’s a literary agent and so this trip would be for her clients—you know, real writers with real book deals. I certainly didn’t belong in that group. I hardly even knew what an agent was and I wouldn’t have a clue about what it takes to land a book deal.
In case you didn’t know, there’s no way to take back a facebook message once you’ve hit send.
Three minutes later I get a message back from Jenni: “Send me your phone number! Are you free to talk right now???!”
We spent the next twenty minutes on the phone. She told me all about the retreat and the vision, spent some time affirming me as a writer (I didn’t even know she had ever read a word I wrote), and told me she believed in my development and career as a writer as well as the ministry my husband and I do and wanted to somehow invest in all of it. (My eyeballs were nearly popping out by this point—so glad it was a phone call, not FaceTime.) She also told me she had been feeling like there was one person missing from the group and—without pressuring me to say yes—she wondered if (hoped?) I was that person.
I had been out at a cafe that day for a “writing day” but there would be no writing after a conversation like that. Breathless with excitement, I flew home to tell Ryan and see what he thought about the trip. (I already knew what he would say.) Without missing a beat he said OF COURSE YOU SHOULD GO. We knew immediately it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
The retreat was one month out and I didn’t have a dime toward the cost. For those who don’t know, my husband and I are full time volunteers with Youth With A Mission. (Some call us “missionaries” but I always feel that word has weird connotations so tend to avoid it when possible.) As missionaries, 100% of our income is the support (donations) we’re able to personally raise from friends, family, and churches. We’ve always managed to raise enough for our regular expenses, but dreamy trips to Tuscany to be inspired as a writer? It seemed like an insane ask.
After battling with the “what will our supporters think of this extravagance?” question, I dove in to the process of raising the funds needed. Over the next couple of weeks we raised all the money (I guess others believe in my writing, too) and I booked my ticket to Florence. That’s when the nerves started to sink in.
I recognized a few names from the group—people with books published (or to be published), people who had blogs and social media platforms far more influential than mine, several of whom I was fan of. I did have one personal friend in the group (Tsh) and was glad for that. But mostly? Mostly I felt out of my depth, like I didn’t belong.
Because he is good
When we arrived in Tuscany and opened the door to our villa, all six women (and perhaps a few of the men) in the group promptly burst into tears. No exaggeration there—the beauty and extravagance of what had been prepared for us was overwhelming. I had already been overwhelmed during the weeks leading up to this moment—grappling with my place in the group and all the insecurities that rose up with it and then the amazement as the donations began to pour in from people who wanted to invest in me as a writer—but this moment on the threshold of our villa is when I realized God was doing something special with each person in the group.
Each of us, in our own way and with our own baggage, needed to see that God had prepared a feast for us. Each of us needed to see that we belonged there, surrounded by all the beauty and extravagance and promise of rest. In this time, in this place, in this way—we needed to see it was for us. It wasn’t because we deserved it or earned it in some way. It wasn’t because we were somehow elite or ‘special.’ (Each one of God’s created are ‘special’ and worthy and deserving.) It was simply because he is good. (He enjoys seeing us enjoy life—imagine that!)
So here’s what I want to ask you, friend: How many times have you felt like you didn’t belong? If you’re anything like me, it’s a feeling that comes with regularity—sometimes with subtlety, other times with blaring obviousness. And how many times have you decided you don’t belong because of some internal framework you’ve set up to determine when you’re worthy or unworthy, qualified or not?
Here’s what I want to say to you: you belong.
If you were invited, you belong.
If you invited yourself and were then included, you belong.
If you invited yourself and were rejected, you still belong. Your belonging is found in him—Jesus.
Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong because we haven’t taken the risk to step into the territory of asking for what we desire.
You have permission
This year has been one where I’ve continually felt the refrain “You have permission” rattling around my brain. It’s a constant reminder that I need at this point in my life because, although I’m finally beginning to believe it, I obviously still need some help internalizing it (hence the need for a refrain).
Let’s be honest, shall we? We all want to be asked, included, invited, sought after. But what if there are times where we already have permission to initiate but we’ve been too afraid to do so? What if God wants to give us the desires of our hearts more than we want it ourselves?
When the disciples saw Jesus walking on water during the storm they were terrified until they realized who it was. Jesus asked Peter, “What do you want?” and Peter replied that he wanted to be called out to walk on the water, too.
You know what happened next, right? Peter walked on water.
Soften your heart toward possibility
Sometimes we’re waiting for the invitation—waiting for permission—but God is, in fact, waiting for us to approach him first. This doesn’t mean he’s our genie or Santa Clause; he’s not waiting around to grant us every selfish ambition or whim we entertain. But as you delight in him (Psalm 37:4) he gives you the desires of your heart. In other words, he plants them there.
The Hebrew word delight in this verse is ‘anog’ (a verb), meaning to be soft or pliable. The more you soften your heart toward God, the more your desires also begin to line up with his—he gives them to you. More and more you can trust those desires and when given the opportunity, you can act on them. Ask. Reach out. Initiate. Don’t wait for permission, but step out in faith. (Remember: faith isn’t required if you already know what the outcome will be!) You might get it wrong—we all make mistakes and run ahead of God sometimes—but when you do a humble response is all that’s needed for his grace to be released afresh in the situation. (See how good God is? I mean, seriously.)
What’s holding you back?
Friend, what are you waiting for permission for? What are you wishing you’d be invited into? What insecurities are holding you back from feeling like you belong in the place you desire to spread your wings in?
The biggest hindrance to feeling we belong is our own sense of insecurity. No matter how much we can encourage and include one another (and we should!) no one can remedy that for you. Insecurity must be confronted in the heart—the work of you and the Holy Spirit together to bring freedom where freedom longs to come.
The ancient Psalm says, “Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand… My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” (Psalm 73:23, 26)
You may feel frail or weak (or any number of things), but the truth is that you belong. You belong.
Over and over throughout my life I’ve seen that whatever the circumstances may look like, whatever I’ve done (or not done), whatever decisions I’ve made, passions I’ve pursued, opportunities I’ve seized or ignored, or successes or failures I’ve had. . . God has been there calling me his own, holding my hand. My whole identity centers around the fact that I still belong to him.
If you bear his name (call yourself a ‘Christian’) then you belong, too. And if you don’t, well you can—it’s an open invite. Permission’s already granted.
What are you waiting for?