Most of my childhood was a battle to fit in. Maybe yours was too.
My situation however, while not unique, certainly wasn't typical. You see, I grew up as a white minority in a remote Indigenous community in Far North Australia. The first ten years of my life were spent trying to fit into a culture I didn't belong to. Though I was largely accepted and had numerous friends and people that counted me as family—I was different. Pulling out old photos to show to friends never provokes the question, "Where are you in the photo?". In a sea of black faces, I was the only pale kid with freckles.
In 1985 my parents decided to move away from the only place that made sense to me, back into mainstream western dominated culture of the East Coast of Australia. I hated them for it. For years I felt that I was stuck between two worlds, never quite fitting into either. I developed an ability to be present, but not really a part of, social interaction. If you had asked me for one defining statement about my life, it would have been, "I don't fit in".
Now before you feel that you've just received an invitation to my own personal pity-party, let me set a few things straight:
I love my parents. I am grateful to God for how he shaped my development as a child. I wouldn't change a thing if I could do it all again.
When I started this blog, I vowed to not make this about me—hence the title, wordfocused—I haven't forgotten that. Our past however, informs our present more than we sometimes realise.
I suspect that my personal journey as a child had something to do with the resonance I experienced as I read through Jesus' High Priestly prayer in John 17.
John 17:14–17 (ESV) — 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Notice the logic of Jesus' observations about his followers.
In recent decades, the local church has seemed desperate to 'break-down the barriers'. Now I realise that often this has been with good intent; we don't want anything to hinder those that hear the gospel. Yet I can't help but feel that this has shaped much in our present church that looks little like 'Gospel Intentionality', and much more like what my Pop used to warn me about—being 'Worldly'.
The church doesn't fit in. In fact, I don't think she was meant to.
The church has been entrusted with the words of God. More than that, the church doesn't belong in the world. Our groom, who is now preparing our eternal home, didn't belong in this world either. The world hated Him, why should we expect anything different? We will never 'fit in' until we are brought home.
I didn't fit in during my childhood because I was living in a culture I didn't belong to. The church will never fit in because we are living somewhere we don't belong.
Now the danger comes when we respond in the extreme to this; I'm not talking about reclusive churches and mystic communities. Jesus guards against this in his prayer when he states his desire for us not to be taken out of the world, but instead kept from the evil one.
We need to get used to it—we're here until Jesus either calls us home in person, or through death. So much energy has gone into books and conferences and church-growth strategies, dealing with identifying and articulating how we are different. This has mostly been done in the negative context. Instead, we ought to be carefully praying through how should we be different. Because brothers, we very much ought to be!
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
How I love these words.
The truth sets us apart. God's Word is truth.
We are set apart by the Word of God.
Essentially, that's what sanctification is—the slow, methodical, setting apart work of the Word in our lives in order to make us more accurately and more gloriously represent the home we were made for rather than the location we were saved in.
So if you feel like you don't fit in—praise God. Stay in the Word. Let it do its Spirit appointed work. Then one day, one earth shattering day, we'll finally breath the air that smells like home and hear the words we have longed to hear, "Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your eternal rest".
Only on that day will we finally fit.