Being an “outsider” is something I have identified with throughout my life. My mom was a bit of an emotional outsider, deeply lost and seeking affirmation as she poured her life into others hoping to rescue or protect them and thereby possibly find comfort for herself. My Dad was an outsider by choice. He wasn’t about to buy your load of… and didn’t need to be a part of your club.
As with most kids, I received some of each of their styles. Like my dad I’m skeptical and critical of movements and charismatic people (not the spiritually charismatic, the personality type). From mom I have a passion to include and care for those left out. I have channeled this into a career in education and ministry for 35-plus years.
But this reflection on being an “outsider” comes from a new perspective. In June I “voluntarily resigned” from my ministry job of almost fourteen years. It’s three-plus months since the official end and I am in a new, not altogether comfortable place, unemployed.
I learned to be a worker from my parents. Berry picking in the summer and delivering newspapers after school, I have been working since I was about 12. Until now. Until June 30, 2011. Oh, I have been looking at jobs and even started a business in an attempt to provide a new way forward. But there isn’t much happening. After almost 32 years of full time professional ministry, I’m not “that” any longer. So what do I do with this new identity? How do I start again? I’m older, in the midst of a larger economic crisis, over-qualified for many positions and with lifestyle expectation realities.
This season has a sense of personal death for me. Gone are the systems, schedule and relationships I lived in. My rhythm is off. I have a lot of flexible time, but it is hard to focus because I’m not sure what I am supposed to be doing. I hang around coffee shops meeting with people, working on my computer. Trying to get the next thing going.
But there is a whole world of friends and family in their routines. Working their jobs in an orb that I am not included in any longer. To be cliché, I am out of my comfort zone. That which I thrived on, my work, is gone. I’m left in this awkward space of transition. From the known to the unknown. From the desert to the (hoped for) Promised Land, maybe from death to life.
Not that all I left was bad — indeed, much of it was great. But it appears that time to move on arrived. Whether my transition was an act of divine providence or human bumbling is for others to debate. Moving on requires an acceptance of the death of what has been left behind.
So I will live this season as an outsider. And being an outsider is different from being left out. I have my family and friends. Some are walking alongside me. But there are lessons to be learned that are for me. The question is: will I make the most of this unplanned, unusual time and situation? I need to remember that without death there is no resurrection. Seems I have (the privilege of) some choice in the matter.
Being an outsider is a bit of a wake-up call. Jesus was for outsiders: “the least of these,” “the sick need a doctor.” It seems Jesus was more about outsiders than the rest of us. How can that be? Jesus showing favorites? It’s more scandalous than parent-child discrimination. But he seems to be able to manage it.
The writers of the epistles went along. “Orphans and widows,” “…God chose the foolish… God chose the weak… God chose the lowly….” In ways we may not understand God meets the outsider. Being an outsider has a sense of being stripped bare, down to essentials. It provides for assessment of values. As an outsider I may again lose myself to find myself in God alone. Increased need may provide increased clarity.
I’ve had my seasons as an outsider — outside my norm, outside my comfort zones, outside my expectations, outside others’ expectations. In all such times I have had the opportunity to open my eyes of faith and see reality, which has always been there, somehow more clearly. I need to acknowledge that though my times as an outsider have varied in intensity and length of season, so far, they have ended. I ache to understand and care for those who experience unending life as an outsider. If I learn anything along the way and I become any of what God has created me for and called me to, I better be putting it in action to care for them.
Although I may not say it in every situation or moment, and this one is still in process, I am thankful for the “outsider” seasons.
And, I have to admit. I’m thankful that they only last for a season.
May God have mercy on us all.