God’s Beloved Misfit

spiritual misfit by michelle derushaThose of you who have read Michelle DeRusha’s new book, Spiritual Misfit, will recognize the title of this post as a quote from her book.  I read Spiritual Misfit shortly after its release, loved it, and promptly posted an Amazon review.

At the risk of sounding like a groupie, I’m now doing a blog post on the same topic…not to repeat what I already said in the Amazon review (you can read that HERE)…but to share a little more what Michelle’s book has meant to me on a personal level.

Spiritual Misfit is about Michelle’s journey from agnosticism to a deep faith in God…a journey that often forced her to recognize how very different her faith has been from others…and to feel the sharp pang of being different…of being an outsider…an outsider from within the very circle of faith to which God was drawing her…

That feeling of being an outsider is quite familiar to me.  I suspect it is to most people, in one setting or another.

Growing up in South Arkansas during the days of school integration, I was an outsider among most of the caucasian students, whose parents warned them to stay away from me because of my parent’s outspoken support of the integration.  Ironically, I was also an outsider among most of the black students who resented the imposed changes with equal fervor.

At school, I was on friendly terms with most of the students, but was never really a part of any of the cliques or groups.  Although I excelled at academics, taking math classes ahead of my grade level didn’t do much to improve fitting in socially.

Church, though, was another matter, entirely.

My parents felt led to minister in a variety of churches and Bible studies, with no regard to denomination or creed.  We children (I have 15 siblings) were exposed to a broad spectrum of Christian beliefs, as well as our parents’ assessment of each sermon during the drive home.

While that environment was not conducive to feeling a sense of belonging to any one church, it was excellent for developing a sound biblical knowledge and a deep sense of belonging to the body of Christ.

As a result, I grew up feeling at home in pretty much any church.  Drop me in a Sunday school class filled with strangers my own age, at a church I had never before attended, and I was right at home.  Whatever biblical topic was being discussed, I was sure to have some knowledge of and would feel free to ask questions and express my viewpoints backed by scripture references.

Though there were many settings in which I felt like an outsider, church was not one of them.  Regardless of denomination or style of worship, in church I was in my element and very much at home.

Fast-forward thirty some-odd years to a time I was going through divorce.  An extremely difficult 17-year marriage was drawing to an end, despite having poured my heart into doing all I could to make it work.

To understand my emotional response to divorce, you have to understand the numerous sermons I heard as a child…sermons authoritatively declaring “Divorce is not an option for a Christian!” while citing all sorts of terrifying statistics regarding increased risks imposed on children through divorce. You have to understand how I heard each sermon dissected and discussed by my parents without ever hearing them disagree with these strong statements regarding divorce.  You have to understand the impact on a child’s psyche hearing my father say, “Well, divorce is almost never just one person’s fault,” while discussing a neighbor’s marital difficulties.

You have to understand the many years of praying, imploring God to heal my marriage, to bless my family, and to help me be the best husband and father I could be.

And…you have to understand the numerous negative examples and stereotypes…the divorced men hanging out at bars trying to pick up women…the pastors who, after divorce, began living the immoral lifestyles they had previously preached against…the divorced coworkers (both male and female) with a reputation for being always ‘on the prowl’…

“Oh, dear God,” I prayed, “Please don’t let me be like that.  Show me somehow, someway, how to walk in godliness through divorce.  Show me what Jesus looks like going through divorce.”

And so, for the first time in my life, I began to feel like an outsider in my own church.

When the men’s group in which I was active did studies on being better husbands and discussed the evils of divorce…when they attended Promise Keeper events where men were exhorted to better love their wives…during Father’s day sermons focusing on the need to be better husbands rather than on the gift that Fathers are to children…when our church selected new deacons and I knew without asking that my marital status would exclude me from consideration…

It’s not that anyone was intentionally mean toward me. Rather it was that many of the underlying assumptions and expectations no longer fit me.  They had not changed, but my circumstances had.

More than that, my views also began to change.  Through a combination of studies on biblical covenants and my own life circumstances, I came to see divorce differently from what I had been taught as a child.  My own experiences display the falseness of perceptions of divorce as “a very preventable tragedy” or something that “happens because you make it an option.”  My studies of biblical covenant and redemption show the falseness of perceiving divorce as inherently sinful or opposed to God’s will.

As these false assumptions fell, other false assumptions also dominoed…and I have come to view much of my early teaching on the topic as an unbiblical divorce mythology, which I have begun to speak out against…even writing a book on the topic

In Spiritual Misfit, Michelle tells of a group study where each participant was asked to picture themselves inside the story of Jesus multiplying five loaves and two fish to feed a multitude.  One after another, the participants told how they pictured themselves…one as part of the crowd receiving the food…another as a disciple distributing the food…another as the boy offering his lunch…  And then, in her open honest fashion, Michelle relates her angst at realizing she saw herself not as part of the scene, but as an outsider, observing from a distance.

That’s me.  I’m the outside observer.  A part of the body and yet different.  And in a way, that hurts…I remember how very much at home I once felt in church…how very confident of the acceptance of myself and my views…and a part of me longs for that sense of belonging and acceptance.

And yet…I know the value of truths I’ve learned…truths of God’s gracious heart of redemption…truths of God’s faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.  And I know it is these very truths that now often leave me feeling like an outsider…and not for anything would I trade what I have learned of God’s heart.

Yes, I am sometimes an outsider in the church…but I am never an outsider in God’s heart.

To borrow Michelle’s words…

I am God’s beloved misfit!

And I wouldn’t have it any other way…

 

Have you ever felt like a misfit?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring ]

 

35 thoughts on “God’s Beloved Misfit

  1. Joe, your story touched me deeply. That road is so hard to walk, and to feel ostracized while being pressed down by the burden of tragedy…I am so sorry, and so respect that you’ve chosen to make it work for the good of others. You’re a hero.

    I definitely feel like a misfit, for a lot of reasons. It seems that so much of Christian thinking in the West today is geared toward various permutations of the Prosperity Gospel…and I have seen many good men who followed their conscience and their faith, and had to be buried piece by piece.

    I’ve seen prayer answered by bullets, and worse.

    It’s easy to doubt God in the face of those memories, but the truth is that God is not Santa Claus; He’s the corpsman who is dressing the wounds of a wounded Marine, stepping into the line of fire to offer what comfort He can in the hell this earth can be.

    He’s the chaplain who stays behind with the wounded, as the last helicopter is extracting the last combat-effectives.

    He’s the one who is holding Mary, as Mary holds Jesus’ broken body, in the Pieta, and His tears make an ocean.

    He suffers with us, He bleeds with us, and He dies with us, so that we may live with Him.

    Kind of hard to square those beliefs with “God wants you to be RICH!”

    So I don’t talk about them much.

    • Yes…various permutations of the prosperity doctrine…often without even realizing it or explicitly teaching it.

      There often seems to be a general expectation that if we do all the right things and pray all the right prayers with the right level of faith, that somehow, someway, God will turn our horribly toxic relationships into glorious love-filled homes filled with praise to God. And sometimes He does do that…and those times are held up as examples of what He CAN do…and become expectations of what He WILL do. But CAN and WILL are not the same thing.

      Yes, “He suffers with us, He bleeds with us, and He dies with us, so that we may live with Him.”

      And, yes, there are some believers with whom we can discuss these things…and there are others who simply don’t get it…and maybe never will…

      I’m reminded of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and how the Rangers (led by Strider aka Aragorn) spent there lives in the wilderness keeping evil away from the Shire, so the Hobbits could live in peace, blissfully ignorant of the evil in the world around them…and how the Hobbits reciprocated by viewing the Rangers with suspicion…

  2. Hi, Joe!
    I have almost always felt like a misfit. I don’t hear Him as others claim to; He doesn’t answer my prayers as others said he would. My obedience didn’t make my abuser stop abusing. The very good side of that has been the prying of my reliance away from people and culture, who/which can be so wrong, and so LOUD. The stereotypes and dire warnings no longer scare me. I’m free to seek and trust God as a misfit who has given up on comparing and conforming. It’s kind of quiet out here. Peaceful. Gentle. Healing.

    • “I’m free to seek and trust God as a misfit who has given up on comparing and conforming.”

      That is SUCH a good place to be, isn’t it, Diane?

      To know that we are accepted and loved of God, regardless of what anyone else may think.

  3. I appreciate the way you shared your spiritual journey, Joe. There have been similarities in my own life. I used to find the church my haven. I always attended women’s bible studies, helped in ministries, listened to great preaching, loved God’s people. My knowledge and understanding of Scripture was strong. In some ways I have always been outside the camp. I would discern so much and try to share with others about great theological dangers entering the churches. But I was charged as unkind and unloving. And yet, later, what I was discerning was proven right.

    I prayed for decades after adultery affected my home and family that I would forgive and become the best wife possible, that God would give me a miracle in my marriage, etc.

    What I learned was shattering. God doesn’t force others to behave in a godly manner. He gives them choices too. Unfortunately, I saw the legalism of those who I used to call friends and church leaders. I experienced the tongue wagging and the derision. I was made to feel less than holy. I walked away from my marriage and my church, and lost countless people from my life. I worked hard to get the support of my children back, not entirely successful. I, too, became an outsider.

    In my journey I learned much from solid people and websites about covenants, about God’s mercy and grace, about true love and fellowship. I have seen that the true body of Christ is not in any building or denomination but can be found outside the camp. It has been a challenge that I have fought against because I had so many beliefs carved into my heart. But as I saw the truth and spent time with Him and in His Word, I stopped fighting against it. Each and every time God told His people to leave. God has not created churches, denominations, or para church organisations. We are not bound to engage with them, to sign a covenant agreement with them, to become a member. Yes, there are true believers within their walls, but it may be that their eyes have not been opened yet.

    The road is hard and very lonely at times. But there is no going back. There requires a calm acceptance that you are right where God needs you to be. There, in that lonely wilderness, is our Savior.

    For me, I seek to find other true believers outside the camp, those who dared to heed God and depart from among them.

    I always enjoy what you write, Joe. Thank you.

    • “God doesn’t force others to behave in a godly manner. He gives them choices too.”

      This is SUCH an obvious truth once clearly seen and embraced. It’s hard to understand why it isn’t as obvious to everyone.

      So often, the message received from the church (whether intended or not) is that every marital issue can be resolved through prayer and love…that if our spouse repeatedly violates the covenant vows, the proper ‘christian’ response is to pray harder and act more loving. Somehow, we (the church in general) seem to lose all sense of the sanctity of human free will and the natural depravity of man that are so clearly taught in the Bible.

      Yes, “There requires a calm acceptance that you are right where God needs you to be.” So very true!

      Thank you, Heather, for sharing this perspective.

  4. Glad to have stumbled upon your site today. Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging that God’s grace is big enough for each of us, no matter what road we’ve been down – even when the world around us seems to say we don’t fit.

    • Thank YOU, Kathryn, for stopping by and commenting!

      I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the Christian church is made up entirely of misfits…some just haven’t yet realized it… 😉

      And those okay…because there is no greater honor than to be God’s beloved misfit! 🙂

  5. 15 siblings? How did I not know that? ha.

    Ouch, reading the comments about divorce. Yes, I’ve heard them, too. And before I was divorced, might have even said them (double ouch). But perspective changes things. Thank God.

    I love your conclusion, Joe: “Yes, I am sometimes an outsider in the church…but I am never an outsider in God’s heart.” Amen to that. I’m always blessed by your words.

    • Yep…sixteen of us. Although that was just normal life for me, growing up, now I sometimes wonder how in the world Mama and Papa managed! Lots of faith and trust, I reckon…

      Yes, I also grimace to think of my own attitudes and possible stray comments prior to experiencing divorce, myself. Remembering that helps me to have grace for others…to realize any slight is likely not intentional…to understand what it means to be completely blind to an area of God’s truth and grace…

      At the same time, it also highlights my outsider status as one with understanding gained through experience that many will never understand. It also reminds me that I need to guard my own heart against elitism…thinking I’m somehow better than others who don’t understand…

      We each have our own areas of understanding and our own areas of blindness. We all see through a glass, darkly…but then…someday…some great and glorious day… face to face!

      Thank you, Lisa! I always love your comments! 🙂

  6. I have learned, as a mother raising these boys to men – raising one prodigal coming home – that God loves. loves. loves the broken – whether it is from things they do themselves or things others do to them. He pursues them. I grew up on the outside looking in – and it is only in God’s circle do I belong, where I fit in – and He doesn’t beat me up about me, make me sit at a lowly table. Our God is an awesome God! So glad you are not on the outside looking in!

    • Just waking up to your comment, bluecottonmemory. I needed those words. Always beating myself up for my failures as well as the failures of others. Your words were balm to my heart. Thank you so much. God indeed loves the broken. And being inside His circle is the best place to be….

    • Yes, God truly does love the broken…and truly does use that brokeness to shine the light of His glory!

      Thank you, for the encouraging word, this morning!

  7. Joe. Oh my. I don’t know what to say (and that’s unusual for a writer, eh?). Your story brought me to tears and challenged me in all the right ways. I wish I could hear you out on this more. You seem to have some very developed thoughts about the issue of divorce … and rightly so. Perhaps we would all do well to sit at your feet, friend …

    I, too, know the pain of becoming the outsider. When I was sixteen, I became pregnant. Now, that might not seem so striking unless you also know that my parents were leaders in the church and I was on the youth group leadership council. We were at the church every time the doors were open … and then some. But my pregnancy was just what I needed to make the transition into the next part of my life. It was ESSENTIAL to my growth and development just as much as the “outcast-ness” I felt was. This “falling” taught me more than a whole string of times I kept my feet. And ushered me into a deeper grace than I’d known. I think shattering experiences have that effect, if we’ll let them.

    Thank you, friend, for such a vulnerable and insightful post. So glad you linked with Unforced Rhythms this week.

    • Thank you, Kelli, for such a grace-filled comment!

      That must have been a devastating experience for a sixteen year-old. I am so glad you are able to look back, now, and see how God used those experiences for good.

      Yes, God absolutely uses those shattering experiences to usher us into deeper grace than we have known…when we let Him.

      Thank you, so much, for sharing your story, here.

      Blessings to you!

  8. I’ve popped over from Kell’s link-up and I’m very thankful I did. I just started “Spiritual Misfit” yesterday and have needed to keep myself to only one chapter a day or I will get nothing done :). Joe, I appreciate hearing bits of your story and agree that most things are not as simple as they have been made to be (my blog is The Messy Middle … so that gives you a bit of an insight to where I’m coming from).

    • I’m glad you stopped by, Amy!

      Yes, “Spiritual Misfit” is very enaging and hard to put down. Michelle really knows how to draw a reader in.

      Yes, life in general is not simple…and human relationships are very complex. God is big enough to work in the midst of chaotic complexity…but too often our theology is not…

      Thank you, Amy!

  9. Joe, isnt it interesting that both you and I were insiders. Teaching. Writing. Attending. Active in churches. We epitomized the ideal until our personal lives fell apart. With a judge’s final judgement, I became an outsider, a misfit. I’m finding my way home again.

    thank you for your encouragement and inspiration to keep doing the right thing.

    • Yes, very interesting, indeed! For me, this was a big part of the eye-opening realization that doing all the right things does not guarantee that a marriage will work.

      If it were possible for just one partner to love enough, believe enough, pray enough, try enough, do enough, and be committed enough to make the marriage work, then my first marriage would never have failed. Because I was that committed.

      But it did fail…because it is not possible for one partner to single-handedly be committed enough for both…

      Which disproves a lot of assumptions that I was raised to believe…and many other people were raised to believe the same myths…

  10. I really resonate with your words and what seems to be Michelle’s experience as well, Joe. I’ve struggled with feeling left out–an outsider–in many situations throughout my life. Jesus has been teaching me lately that He was/is an outsider. Most “stumble over Him.” And so I am blessed to experience His suffering. That does bring me comfort, but it’s still so very hard when I’m in the middle of some kind of rejection.

    As far as divorce is concerned, I’ve learned so much from you here at your blog, Joe. And it seems crazy to me that people cannot see that there are situations where a divorce is beneficial and permitted. I think the fact that many have used divorce as a quick and easy option is why many protest against it being an option at all. Thanks for your courage in speaking out on this and for giving us your review of Michelle’s book!

    • “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” (Heb 13:12-13 NASB)

      Yes, Jesus is an outsider, and we are called to join Him outside the camp…to be willing to be treated as an outsider as we cling to His truth.

      And rejection is so hard…but also a necessary part of deliverance. As we continue to cling to His truth even as we are rejected (or the truths God has shown us are rejected) we are delivered from the wrong teachings by which we were previously bound. The rejection, itself, makes the distinction clearer for us, aiding our deliverance.

      God’s beloved misfits! What a wonderful identity to embrace! 🙂

      Thank you, Beth! Your words are always such a blessing to me!

  11. Joe, that is probably the most poignant post of yours I’ve read to date. You wove everything together beautifully, though it is a heart-wrenching topic.

    It is a double slap in the face to have taken away the one place you felt accepted and connected. As I thought of you being cautious about revealing your marital status, I wondered what/where/when I’ve made judgmental comments on various topics without meaning or realizing what I’d done. It’s painful to know how much our attitudes affect each other.

    I felt like a misfit in my own family my entire childhood and beyond. Even now, though my mother and I have reconciled, I am still estranged from my siblings. Mom acts like we are one happy family, but it’s not the case. They continue to say I’m a liar and live in their bubbles of denial. It hurts. I was a misfit at school also. I am a blonde Caucasian and grew up in a rural Alaskan village with mostly Natives. I was definitely the minority, and there were issues related to that. I accepted Christ when I was 7 and my parents were both anti-Christian, so that didn’t help my standing in the family.

    God’s misfit. Yes, I will wear that title next to you Joe. Misfits with this world, but not with God.

    Thank you for this beautiful post. You have touched my heart deeply today.

    • “They continue to say I’m a liar and live in their bubbles of denial.”

      Breaking free of cultural myths to embrace the truth definitely makes one an outsider within that culture.

      But, oh, how liberating!

      Yes, the denial and rejection still stings…but the more we embrace God’s truth and His gracious acceptance, the less concerned we are with what others think.

      Thank you, Denise, for sharing some of your story here. I’m proud to share the title of God’s Beloved Misfit with you! 🙂

  12. I felt like a misfit most of my life. It’s only in the last ten years or so I’ve started to feel like misfittedness is actually not awkward. Being a misfit is not always bad. Sometimes it leads to being who you’re meant to be.

    • I agree, Dan! Embracing being who God created each of us to be seems to lead, inevitably, to being somewhat of a misfit.

      And that’s okay!

  13. Though I haven’t yet read Michelle’s book it is on the short list 🙂

    I’ve felt like an outsider – a misfit – all my life. Church wasn’t home, or a welcoming place, when I was a kid. The family dynamics I came from would shock the average Baptist into apoplexy, but it would have changed nothing – and we were Catholic, so no exposure.

    It wasn’t until I got sober that I started to hear God’s call on my life – I tuned Him out often, though. Sometimes that was intentional – I was still lost in a particular set of sins I didn’t want to give up – while other times it was as a consequence of my acting out that I couldn’t hear. The trifecta of business failure, separation and divorce was almost all of what it took to drive me back to my knees and to my senses – the fourth element that had to be laid on the altar was my pride and presumption.

    Time in the Word is good. Time in the Word mixed with time trying to put the Word into practice – on a moment-by-moment basis? Better. I don’t pretend today to know things I don’t about God, or about what He thinks on a given topic because I don’t use the Word as a collection of proof texts to support my confirmation bias. I know I’m the prodigal, returned home – and that I am welcome there – because He ran to me while I was yet a long way off.

    I’m still walking home with Him, daily.

    • “I know I’m the prodigal, returned home – and that I am welcome there – because He ran to me while I was yet a long way off”

      Love these words, Rick!

      Yes! We know we are welcome because He ran to us!

  14. Hi Joe,

    I’ve seen your face around the web, but never stopped here. My loss! I’ve signed up to receive your posts via e-mail! First, thank you for commenting on my post at Michelle DeRusha’s place on May 30th. I was on vacation with no internet access and just returned home this past weekend. Yesterday was Amy’s birthday, so I wasn’t on the computer.

    Second, where in Arkansas were you raised? I spent some of my formative years there too!

    Last, I loved Michelle’s book! And I love this line from your post: “…but I am never an outsider in God’s heart.”

    By the way, when I clicked your name at Michelle’s place, it did not link to you. I received an error message. Fortunately, a Google search led me here!

    • I’m so glad you stopped by Mary!

      I grew up near Pine Bluff, Arkansas (about 50 miles south of Little Rock). I now live near Hope, Arkansas (about 30 miles east of Texarkana). But I also have some influence from the Ozark Mountain region, where my parents made some life-long friends.

      What part of Arkansas are you from?

  15. Yes, I have felt like a misfit in the Church. Because I was single, because I was too conservative, because I wasn’t conservative enough, because we were poor (in an upper middle class & above church), because I didn’t have kids, because I was too old when all the other moms were young, etc.

    I currently feel like a misfit because I am married to an emotionally abusive man who is good at playing church & impressing people when he teaches children’s church. I have to endure people at church singing his praises. The pastor still likes him, though I’ve told him about some of the abuse. And, for various reasons, I am at a church that is more culturally fundamentalist than I am (tho I am a conservative evangelical). And I’m a misfit because I was sprinkled instead of dunked as a believer & at this church dunking is a requirement for membership. It’s my own little secret though that I was sprinkled, but that along with my marriage, make me relunctant to become a member. I love Jesus, I love his people, I love the people at my current church. But I feel a bit of a misfit. And I am disenchanted with the Church Universal.

    There are many ways to feel like a misfit at church.

    I sympathize with what you went through because of your divorce. Sadly our current church does not allowed divorcees to be in official leadership. I had never heard of that prior to attending this church, even though I’ve belonged to conservative churches.

    Thank you for sharing this article. It is much needed.

    • Thank you, Anon, for adding your perspective to the discussion!

      Aren’t you glad God doesn’t concern Himself with all those petty differences?

      If you navigate around this blog a little, you’ll find quite a few posts related to abuse as well as posts related to divorce. You might like to start with this post and link to others from there: http://josephjpote.com/2014/01/divorce-mythology/

      Blessings to you!

  16. I am touched by the content in your post. Discomfort comes with the outsider status whether perceived or real. Long ago I experienced a boatload of pain including an unwanted divorce. It became a pivotal point in my life because I gave up doing the best I could and turned my focus fully toward God without limiting parameters. A beautiful miracle of God’s grace transformed my being. Thank you for sharing this part of your story. To God be the Glory.

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