It was 1990-something and I was at a dance conference, quietly sitting in a corner in the back of the room, long after roll call when we were broken up into groups. When I didn’t hear my name called, I raised my hand and asked where I belonged. The teacher blinked at me and said, “Wow! I forgot you were even here.”
Emotionally, I was pretty broken by that statement. I didn’t make enough of an impression on this teacher for her to even realize I was in the room. This wasn’t my first identity crisis, but it was a big one. While I grew up as a tough-skinned, rebellious Gen X-er and confidently wore black lipstick and pipe jeans, inwardly I believed for many years that I didn’t fit in anywhere. I thought of myself as the ultimate black sheep. Not as pretty as my sister, not as smart as my friends and while athletic enough to be a cheerleader, I knew it was only a façade that didn’t go beyond skin deep.
I was young. I had no foundation in faith, so my whole life was built on the skills I had or the skills I could fake, and I was running short on both ends. On the other side of this ride of life I can see this same pain and turmoil all throughout the United States. In an effort to belong and to be known, we continue to break off into identity factions and on top of that, we pit our factions into “us-against-them”. From our race or gender to our political ideology, or even our taste in music we search for a place to be comfortable in our own skin, to be desired and to be loved– which also leads us too often to hate those who don’t match us. In all this pain, how can we turn to or believe in a perfect God who has strict rules that I can’t possibly follow?
Would you be surprised to know that Jesus was a black sheep too? He was born in a manger to relatively poor parents in a small town. When He began to preach to His own people, some of the first ones to mock Him were His own brothers. The people in His town tried to kill Him when He wouldn’t perform miracles and eventually His own tribe sent Him to the cross to die by crucifixion. He didn’t fit in. He didn’t follow their rules. He even put together a motley crew of men that most didn’t accept. This is our Savior, the One Who died to give us eternal life. How can He understand us? He IS one of us. Will He accept me with all that is going on under the surface? In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus is speaking directly to His people and He says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (NASB). While we spend time and energy trying to fit into the world we live in, we forget that there is a Father Who knows exactly where we belong–not in the comfort of our identity group but in the peace of our Savior’s hands.