Envy. It’s a hot topic these days, especially with the novel ways in which social media venues such as Facebook and Instagram can plant those ugly seeds of inadequacy, when we see daily images and words that remind us of how we’re not living up to the fabulousness of what we see on our screens. (Also, on a side note, I’m sure there are cooler sites like Snapchat or Hipster Hangout that inspire much cooler forms of envy, but I’m behind-the-times and blissfully unaware of these).
Everyone has her own particular triggers that incur a gnawing sense of incompleteness: for some, it may be seeing photos of the palatial home of your business associate. For others, it’s the infuriatingly ageless beauty of your fellow high school cheerleading frenemy that you graduated with 20 years ago who’s somehow managed to escape the ravages of time and metabolism slowdown.
Yet for me, my biggest, hidden insecurity, present in everyday life but exacerbated by social media, is “it girl” envy. No, it’s not so much the physical beauty or material possessions that I see in my Facebook feed that brings on that queasy uneasiness of inadequacy. It’s displays of charisma, that hard-to-define magic that wins friends, admirers, followers, and overall memorability; the “it” girl always appears to seamlessly fit in and belong.
This is my confession of insecurity, of battling against a lifetime of deeply ingrained feelings of “not enoughness.” This is how I’m making peace with failing to be the “it girl.”
I couldn’t quite put a name to the current of uneasiness and insecurity within. Though it ebbs and flows depending on my particular season of life, that current has existed since early childhood. It was only when I started a Bible study with my female co-workers – and, by the way, I’m massively spoiled by working with sisters in Christ who continually encourage, care for, lovingly admonish, and affirm one another – when I started to realize, specifically, what that ache was and how much misery it was causing me by taking my eyes off of Christ and forgetting who I was as His beloved and redeemed.
We’re reading “Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison,” a book in which author Heather Holleman exposes and examines the pain and discontentedness that comes from striving after the wrong things, the wrong affirmations, and going down the wrong paths, in a search for “enoughness,” identity, and finding our tribe. She uses the analogy of tables – think of that scary walk as the new kid in school into the cafeteria at lunchtime, trying to find which table you’ll be welcome at because you sure don’t want to sit alone – that we strive to earn a seat at. We all have these tables of identity and achievement that we ache to belong at, though they’re not the same for all of us – for some, it’s the table of “thin enough,” for others it’s the table of “college degree or higher,” or perhaps it’s “Pinterest-approved, spotlessly organized home.” I have a few tables that I long to sit at, but the one I’ve pined for most of my life is a seat at the table of belonging.
These days it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to own up to being an introvert. Yet not only was it uncool to be an introvert in my childhood, it wasn’t even a familiar term to me. I’d love to tell you that I was quiet and reserved in an elegant, mysterious way, but the sad truth is I was just awkward. Discussing the weather, exchanging pleasantries, and ordering fast food at the counter didn’t come naturally to me. Neither did making friends.
Growing up, thankfully, I did make friends though, then as now, as an introvert I’ve always tended towards a small number of close friends. And it’s not that I’ve ever wanted to be popular – that’s not false modesty, I’m simply not a center-stage type of person – it’s just that I’ve always felt like an outsider to some degree. I’ve never felt like I quite “fit” anywhere. I was the book nerd in a family of card players; the middle schooler who attended Sunday mass alone; the roller coaster enthusiast who is (I’m not entirely proud to admit) fearful (okay, terrified) of driving on congested interstates around large cities.
As I matured, I began to take pride in being independent and free from needing to conform to group dynamics…and there is a type of freedom in being an outsider…yet there’s always been that part of me, deep down, that’s on the lookout for that place, that “fit” on the inside of something, that seat at the table. I think that’s the ache that comes with seeing social media photos and posts about group outings, happenings, connections, and gatherings. It’s not popularity envy; it’s tribe – belonging – envy. Do you get it, too, a gnawing discontent caused by envy of those who are in the tribe while you’re on the outside looking in?
And here’s where we mess up, even those of us who are so grown up and should know better, when we exhaust and burn ourselves out in trying to achieve that place, that “fitting in,” that “enoughness.” We torment and starve ourselves on ridiculous diets…we spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need…we work longer and longer hours to get a title, a promotion, recognition…but even if we’re “successful,” why do we still feel hollow and recognize that it didn’t earn us the seat we’ve been longing for?
Even in the Church – even in churches that are gospel-oriented and infused with genuine fellowship – you will find cliques or, at least, people who “click,” or fit, more easily into certain groups, expectations, and hierarchies (churches are, after all, comprised of broken people in need of a Savior). I say this not as a condemnation of churches, but because I think so many people (at one point, I was one of them) come to church looking for that complete sense of belonging, that seat at the table, and are disappointed because it can never truly come from a church. It only comes from, and through, Him.
Yes, there are “it girls” and “it guys,” though I suspect even the “it people” of the world feel on the outside of something. “It person” or not, we are all outsiders in this world. And it doesn’t matter what book club, networking group, or church you find, there will always be something or someone that you’re on the outside of. That doesn’t negate or define your value in Christ. Christ has a place for every outsider, every misfit, every has-been, and every person who doesn’t quite fit in. There’s a seat reserved for you; you need only accept His invitation.
So to those of you (those of us) who don’t quite fit in…for the awkward, the broken…who are on the outside looking in…there’s a place; a tribe; an unconditional inner circle that you (we) won’t get kicked out of. True Belonging.