I spoke at a young adults gathering last night. My best friend and I drove two hours, and the entire drive my stomach continued to plunge lower and lower, as if I were on the DropZone at Wonderland. I swear my vital organs were mixing themselves up within me. My liver and lungs and heart and kidneys seemed to be trading places with each other. Stop it, I told my organs. They ignored me and kept moving around.
A few of my friends were leading worship before I was set to speak, so when I arrived at the church I saw kind, familiar faces. "They seem very natural up there," I thought as I watched them practice. They looked like they belonged on that stage -- humble, but still confident. Modest, but still sure of themselves.
I placed my hand against my stomach and tried to settle my nerves.
I don't belong here.
The thought came from out of nowhere. But like the pattern of thoughts I've experienced before, once one thought seeps in, a dozen more follow.
I had prayed over my talk for a month. I was going to be vulnerable and share exactly what I've been feeling recently -- that waiting is hard, that rejection is utterly crappy, and that faithfulness looks like a little bit of all of that: waiting, taking a step forward, and growth.
I was prepared. I was ready. The preparation wasn't the problem. The problem was my overwhelming mind telling me that I didn't belong.
Last week I was away for a few days at a leadership retreat. I felt like I didn't belong there either. It was me, a writer and artist, among twenty-five pastors and worship pastors and youth pastors and ministry organizers. I sat there and learned far more about leading, and healing, and freedom than I thought I would, but I still had that niggling sense of unbelonging deep within me.
Someone kindly called me out on that. I'm going to tell you what he told me.
What to do when you feel like you don't belong:
When you are invited to the table, and you feel like you don't belong, you have one moment to feel that way. You can ask yourself, "what am I doing here?" and then, once your one moment is finished, you move on. Once you've moved on you say, "I'm here now, in this place where I have been invited. What can I offer to the people around me?" And then you hold your hands out, and you understand instinctually that you were created uniquely with strengths and gifts, and you offer your very best.
Even if you feel like you don't belong, you choose to move forward. You choose that you belong. Because God has made you intricately with strengths and gifts and purposes and abilities that you alone were designed for. It has taken me far too long to believe that.
Looking out at the young adults who were coming to sit down in the church, I watched their faces pass by me. I was going to be speaking to them in a matter of moments -- about how faithfulness looks an awful lot like planting a garden: carefully and gently tending each day, hoping and praying something is growing deep within the ground below you.
You don't belong here, whispered harsh and raw against my brain. I paused and closed my eyes. I took my one moment. I asked myself, "what am I doing here?" and then my moment was finished and I was moving on. I added gratitude to that too. I said, "Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me here, to this very place, in this very moment."
I was there then, in that place where I had been invited. I had so much to offer the people around me. So I rose from my seat, and I stepped on the stage, and I understood instinctually that I was created uniquely with strengths, and gifts, and purposes and abilities.
And then I opened my hands and offered my very best.