Those 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?