by Christy Whitaker
I want to open up about a hurt I don’t talk about very often. It’s a pain I want to lock down tight because I am embarrassed. I minimize. I tell myself that in comparison to other heartache I have gone through, it shouldn’t even be a thing. But it is a thing, and if you have ever felt the pain of rejection, being unwelcome, and not fitting in then you know how deep the pain of feeling like an outsider can cut.
My senior year of high school was a rough one. I was never a social butterfly, but that year the few friends I did have decided they no longer wanted anything to do with me. To be fair, I understand. I was not a good friend. Roughly a year before, I had gone through trauma that I didn’t tell anyone about. I was depressed and angry. I was cynical. I held everyone at an arm’s length and, surely, to my friends, it felt like a rejection of them. Then a few months before the start of my senior year, I decided to become a Christian. I was no longer interested in pursuing a life of drinking, smoking, and sex and that became the last straw for those friends. They told me they did not want me around.
I remember the feeling of walking into the crowded cafeteria and scanning the tables to find anywhere that I could go sit, and maybe even make a new friend. I hoped that someone would see me looking around and wave me over. Or maybe just offer a small smile that would make it easier to approach them. Or maybe just look at me at all. I felt this sense of loneliness and social anxiety that left scratches all over my heart. A few times, I sat down at a table with someone who I was friendly with, though not really friends, hoping for the best. I talked with her and her friends, and successfully shoved down my insecurities for a while. As the table became more and more crowded and someone was left without a seat, it became painfully obvious that my spot was meant for someone else. Though everyone was too nice to point that out, it was incredibly awkward because we all knew. I quickly gave up on that approach. Instead, I started to look for other people who were sitting alone, but my presence was more tolerated than wanted. Once I thought I would try the television-inspired tactic and eat in the bathroom, but I couldn’t bear the thought of someone finding out that I was hiding. These kinds of lunchroom situations happened until graduation, and you better believe I could not have run out of that place fast enough.
That was one of the most humiliating seasons of my life. I so badly wanted to be brought in and accepted, but I was consistently cast aside and forgotten. Rejected. Alone. The feeling that there is something wrong with me and that I would not belong was reinforced every day, and the wounds sliced deeper and deeper. I began to hate myself for this longing to want to be known, but no matter how angry I felt, the longing never went away. I didn’t realize until later that the feeling would never go away because God created me to be known and loved by Himself and by His people. That love that can act like a healing balm over the deep wounds of the outsider.
Jesus was a healer. We see it time and time again in the gospels. He healed all kinds of physical ailments while also healing the heart. The story that has been most on my mind while writing down these memories is the story of the sick, bleeding woman in Mark 5:21-34. I want to give you some insight into what this woman’s life must have been like prior to this passage. She had been bleeding for twelve entire years. In her culture at this time, that would have given her the label of “unclean” and this meant a couple things that I know. Having the status of unclean often meant living outside of the community until a priest could proclaim you clean again. In this case, because her ailment was bleeding, she would have been separated from her husband during this time, that is if she had been married at all. If she was not married, then her status would have made finding a husband extremely difficult if not impossible. We also know from verse 26 that she tried to get better. She saw all the doctors she could until her money ran out, and yet no one could do anything for her. How hopeless she must have felt. She spent twelve long years on the outside desperate to get in. Then one day, she heard that Jesus, who had healed countless others, was close by. She thought that if she could push through the crowd and get near enough just to touch his clothes that it would be enough to heal her. She did. She was healed, and Jesus noticed her. He stopped walking, turned around, and said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you” (verse 34). Wow. Her physical suffering was over, but did you catch the other thing? He called her daughter. Jesus, who the Bible says all creation was made through and for (Colossians 1:16), noticed this person who was separated and cast aside by everyone else and called her his. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” Luke 13:34b. God longs to bring us into his family.
Knowing God’s love for us is a huge step in healing the wounds of the past, so is embracing the love of the church. John 13: 34-35 says:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
If we are believers, and call ourselves Christians, then we belong in the church. We are God’s family and are meant to be “little Christs” to one another in the way we love. It can be difficult for those of us who have been hurt to allow ourselves to be loved and harder still to love others. I know how hard it was for me to deconstruct the walls I built around my heart, and it’s a daily choice. For some people it happens slowly. But as we put in the effort to connect and to care for each other, we find healing for our hearts.
I want to end with another story that means a lot to me. I cry every time I tell it, and if I didn’t adequately explain my previous story then I leave people feeling very confused as to why. Here it is: I was a freshman in college and walking into the cafeteria after getting my lunch. Before I could even start scanning the tables, I heard someone excitedly yell in a sing song voice across the entire room, “Christyyyyyy!!!” It was one of the girls from the campus ministry at my church that I had become friends with. My face immediately turned scarlet, but I smiled with tears in my eyes. I had a place I belonged; I was wanted. That moment washed over my heart like a healing balm, and I knew for certain God’s family is where I was meant to be.