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The Bright Side of Not Fitting In

Mallory Smyth

I spent last weekend speaking to an incredible group of women in the deep south. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is home to the University of Alabama, the SEC school that everyone loves to hate—including me—however, no longer living in the south, my ire has waned in recent years. The women who welcomed me were so charming, despite their university loyalties, that I could not help but fall in love with them. 

As I was visiting with one woman, she confided in me that she didn't feel like she fit in with the other women at the retreat. I told her that I often feel that way but could especially relate to her because the retreat center was next to fraternity row. All weekend we could hear music booming from several house parties, and during the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass, the tune "I Love Rock and Roll" blessed our ears and entered our hearts (the perfect song for a post-communion meditation). The sights and sounds flooded me with memories of my own experience in a sorority at LSU, and the feeling I remember most from those days was often feeling like I didn't fit in.

More than I'd like to admit, I felt like a fish out of water when I was around a large group of women. This was not something that one could have seen from the outside. I had friends, participated in a ton of social activities, and was involved in campus life. Yet, much of the time, I felt different from everyone else. I left functions with groups of women feeling like my dress wasn't quite right, and I didn't say the right things, think the right things, or act the right way. If they knew what I was really like, I felt that I would lose my friends and be left alone.

Have you ever felt this way? At the risk of being wrong, let me assume your answer: Yes, you have felt this way. My working theory is that all women—no matter how put together or popular they seem to be—feel like they don't fit in at some point. Feeling insecure and isolated in a group is a universal experience for us, no matter our age. It is as true for the young girl in middle school as for the college student, new mom, working woman, or retiree. Even the woman you think has it all together has felt as insecure as you have. You are not alone if you feel this way, and I am here to tell you that this feeling does not have to be a bad thing. It can be an invitation to remember who you are and why you were created. 

First, when you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, remember that you don't feel at home in this world because you were created for another one. C.S. Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”[1] 

You were made for something greater than this passing earth and this wavering culture. God created you for Himself. He is the only one who can fully know you. He is the only one who can completely enter your heart, soul, and experience. When you feel like you don't fit in, let it lead you into God's presence. He is your shelter and your stronghold. He is your hope and your home, and it is only with Him in eternity that your earthly longing to be fully known and entirely accepted will be fulfilled.  

Second, recognize that you may feel out of place because God has set you apart for His purposes. Throughout history, God has consistently called those He loves to stand out. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and commanded that they live differently from the rest of the world.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20: 2–5)

At the time, there was no such thing as a monotheistic religion. By commanding that the Israelites worship Him and Him alone, God set them apart from everyone else. He set them up to become holy in a world that was anything but holy. Those Ten Commandments eventually led the leaders of the Jewish people to set up 613 rules for the people to follow. The way they lived looked different because they were different. They belonged to the one true God.

Thousands of years later, in the New Testament, St. Paul echoed God's call to be set apart: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:25—29).

Following God means that our lives are supposed to be different so we will feel that difference. We are not supposed to fit in. We are supposed to be holy. 

Reflecting on my own experience, I am so grateful for the times I've felt different from the crowd. Why? Because, many times, that feeling of alienation saved me from making decisions that I would have deeply regretted. It is that feeling that propelled me to seek God, and it is the same feeling that reminds me that I am aiming for an eternity in heaven. 

If you often feel like you just don't fit, reject the lie that you are, in some way, not enough. Instead, let it drive you to seek the presence of the God, who created you for His unique purpose. Let it remind you that your hope is in heaven. Then, setting your eyes on Jesus, stand confident in the fact that He is setting you apart to be His hands and feet in a world that desperately needs to see someone who is different.

[1] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity. (United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2001), p 136,137.

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