Trying to Fit Into Someone Else’s Clothes
You know that feeling, the burning desire to make it fit even though you know it won’t? You wiggle; you inhale, and you try just one more time.
Here I sit, a bundle of fur warming my side, basking in the warm glow of the Christmas tree—and it all looks picture-perfect. Yet, I’ve always felt like I inhabit the fringes of life.
Even as I round middle age, I feel like I fit awkwardly into this life I’ve worn for decades like a pair of hand-me-down jeans a little too long for my short legs and too tight around my wide hips.
This year I’ve spent a lot of time exploring who I really am, peeling away the layers of false selves I have worn over the years. We all put them on, that baggy coat to hide our flaws. That glamorous dress to divert their eyes from our insecurities.
Maybe it’s the don’t-care attitude I’ve heard we take on in our later years. Perhaps it’s the liminal space of being back in graduate school and wrestling with a twenty-year-old calling to ministry that has seen its share of detours, diversions, and dead-ends.
Either way, I’ve been throwing off the distortions and trying to find the right fit. And for the first time, I’ve realized I’m not the only fringe-dweller in the spaces I long to find a home.
Getting Naked In Front of Strangers
When I’m nervous and out of place, I ramble. I feel compelled to fill the awkward silence with a lumbering monologue instead. As anxious as I was, I spent a lot of time listening this year instead.
Forced to slow down and seek the wisdom of others as I entered the discernment process with my church, I found myself with others in the same uncomfortable limbo as myself. I was one of a dozen people who felt compelled to pursue a possible journey into ordained ministry. Thrown together in this vulnerable process, we stripped down to our barest selves in front of strangers.
We sat in Zoom rooms and conference rooms, the offices of our church leaders, and in intimidating interviews with Commission on Ministry members. We told our raw and unfiltered stories, with trembling and a few tears.
Trying Jesus on For Size
For me, it was a year of uncovering layers of my complicated history with the Body of Christ. I was a child who didn’t know who the Jesus figure that came out in manger scenes was. I knew there was something important about him and longed to know more. The youth group of my teens nurtured me and then discarded me like an ill-fitting pair of pants.
I was introduced to versions of Jesus who wanted me to do all the right things and ones who loved me like a best friend. There were ones who kept records of my sins in heavenly file cabinets, waiting to judge my failings—and ones who held no record of wrongs. I did my best to decipher who Jesus was when I wasn’t even sure who I was.
I thought I had it all figured out by the time I was on staff at the mega-church I’d spend a large portion of my life in. On the outside, I looked like a perfectly-polished Christian. Husband and two kids, the van, the Christian preschool, and obligatory Insta-worthy birthday parties. I looked just like everyone else so that meant I belonged, right?
Never mind the uneasiness that rattled around my soul, the lack of connection with the Jesus I longed to know intimately, and the theological issues I thought would go away if I ignored them.
It was a beautiful place; it was just not the place I belonged. And I knew it and pretended not to. It was easier that way—until it wasn’t. Until my desperate, dry, lonely soul cried out to move from the fringes to the place where the Spirit could live and move in me.
Shaking Off an Ill-Fitting Self
In the past three years, everything about my life has become unrecognizable from that young mom with the mini-van I used to be. After my family moved to South Asia and back, enduring the death of dreams, a pandemic, the long and slow death of a loved one, and the unnamable sorrows that accompanied us—we are changed. Forever.
My faith, too, is changed. It has been the sturdy shield I held tight when all the other layers were sloughed off. The armor that I wore when nothing else fit. When I found the Jesus who longed equally for me as I did for him, I refused to let go and settle for a sloppy imitation ever again. Do I feel like I belong to him and don’t need anyone else now? Not even close. I still wander the edges looking for an opening, a way in. As we all do.
Slipping Into a Fresh, White Robe
These days I feel more at peace with my outsider status, but it’s still not easy. I see old church friends out sometimes. They smile the distant smile of someone I once knew, but I know inside they think I’ve slid down the slippery slope to the worst place possible—the other side of the aisle. It stings; I won’t lie.
After a few years, I’m still fairly new to my chosen spiritual home: The Episcopal Church. I am learning the right words for the robe I slip on before helping serve communion (an alb) and the rope I tie at my waist (a cincture). I’ve preached in my home church, but when I did, I didn’t know to call it an ambo I preached from instead of a pulpit.
My new church still hangs a little loose around me like my alb that is a little wide for my petite body. Yet, I’m finding my way day by day with the loving guidance of a Priest who whispers directions when I turn the wrong way to head for the altar.
Finding Our Fit
After a year of looking for a place to belong in the ministry and struggling to claim my voice as a theologian and a preacher after a lifetime of being told it wasn’t my place as a woman—I’m slowly slipping into what was tailor-made just for me.
I was recently told by the Commission on Ministry to find more grounding in the Episcopal church before I take any more steps toward possible ordination, a decision that threatened to send me down the old familiar “I don’t belong anywhere” shame spiral.
I returned to the words of Brennan Manning that helped guide me to Jesus’ side when I was struggling to find my way:
“No human word is even remotely adequate to convey the mysterious and furious longing of Jesus for you and me to live in His smile and hang on His words. But union comes close, very close; it is a word pregnant with a reality that surpasses understanding, the only reality worth yearning for with love and patience, the only reality before which we should stay very quiet.”
No matter what anyone says, no matter what I even believe about myself—Jesus’s furious longing for me will not change. I haven’t quite found it yet—that custom-made place he created for me in the Body of Christ.
Maybe you haven’t either. Maybe you still feel like a kid playing dress up or like you’re still trying to squeeze into last winter’s jeans. Don’t give up. I promise, there’s a place for us that fits just right.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” -Matthew 11:28-30, The Message