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I have put off writing this post for awhile, because I was a little embarrassed to share it. It’s one of those lessons that I should have learned in high school–maybe even middle school–but I’m still struggling with it today. I was afraid that, in sharing it, I would seem immature or emotionally stunted, but I finally decided to bite the bullet. My guess is that, if I struggle with this, some of you do too.
My struggle is this:
Feeling left out.
I feel left out more often than I care to admit, and in two particular areas. Sometimes I feel left out in my professional life: Why wasn’t I selected to contribute to that book? Why wasn’t I asked to speak at that conference? Why wasn’t I invited to write for that blog site?
Other times I feel left out in my social life: Why wasn’t I invited to that shower? Why wasn’t I included in that dinner party, or that book club? Why, when I open up my Instagram, do I see a group of my friends doing something without me?
It’s difficult to say which form of exclusion is more painful. One plays on fears about my talents and abilities. The other plays on fears about my personality–whether I am fun or interesting, whether people like me.
At different seasons of life, both have been sources of great anguish in my heart. I’ve shed more than a few tears over being left out professionally and socially. At some point I realized it was a recurring theme in my life, and that’s when I began to do battle with it. I began to search Scripture, and I began to pray.
Over time, God has given me some personal insight into why I feel this way, and how to respond to it. In particular, I’ve learned two key responses to the question “why not me?”
1. Instead of asking “why not me?” consider asking “why not her?”
One of the lies behind the question “why not me?” is that I alone was excluded. The Enemy loves this. He wants me to think I’m alone, that EVERYONE was included instead of me, or that there is something particularly objectionable about myself.
Of course, this is all a lie. About 99% of the time, it’s not personal. I wasn’t singled out to be excluded. I wasn’t left out because I’m talentless or have a terrible personality. Instead, it has nothing to do with me at all, and one of the reasons I know this is because I stopped asking the question, “why not me?” and started asking “why not her?”
You see, whenever I am overlooked for a writing opportunity, I can count 10 authors who are better than I am and weren’t included either. Whenever I am left out of a social event, I can name numerous women–great, fun, lovely women–who weren’t invited either. In fact, those women might have even more reason to feel disappointed or wounded than I do. Perhaps they’ve been writing longer, or perhaps they’re better friends with that social group.
Whatever the situation, the question “why not her?” jolts me out of my self-pity so that I can see other women who might feel excluded too. It reminds me that I am not alone, and it enables me to show care and compassion for others.
And really, that is what Jesus did. He was constantly giving his attention to outcasts. Throughout the gospels, the disciples argued about who was most important, who was most “in.” Each time, Jesus directed their attention to those outside the group–servants, children–and said, “be like them.” Jesus was always looking toward those on the margins.
The more I have that kind of vision, and the more I ask, “Why not her? What about her?” the less I am consumed by the question “Why not me?”
2. Embrace the growth that comes through exclusion
One of the great things about being a Christian is the community we inherit. No matter your own family situation, Christians belong to the family of God. The church is our built-in home, and that is a gift.
However, to live on earth is to experience belonging imperfectly. Becoming a Christian does not guarantee you will never feel left out or alone, but the good news is this: some of God’s most masterful work has happened among the outcasts. Jesus himself was an outsider, as were many of his disciples. And just as I mentioned above, Jesus told his disciples to be like children, or like servants. That was the equivalent of saying, “Be like these people that society values less.”
Somehow, God uses our exclusion to grow us. Somehow, on the margins, God does a work in us that He would not have done were we included. Somehow, in that place of feeling left out or rejected, God makes us more like Him.
So instead of wishing away my exclusion, I am learning to embrace it. In those moments when I feel overlooked or ignored, I ask God what He wants me to learn from it. Sometimes He is humbling me. Sometimes He is giving me a heart for the marginalized. Sometimes He is helping me to die to myself. And sometimes He is pruning something toxic in my soul. But if I simply wish away the heartache, I will miss those opportunities altogether.
Those are the two ways I respond to being left out. It’s a discipline, and sometimes I fail, but the more I take the focus off myself and turn my attention to God and others, the less I feel the sting of exclusion. Yes, it still hurts sometimes, but I now have something constructive to do with my pain. Now, I can offer it to God for His good use.
For those of you who share this struggle, I pray the same redemption for you!