"Throw it right here!" my dad said as he pointed to his chest. I held a softball in my hands. We were playing pitch and catch in the backyard of my grandmother's house. We weren't just playing, we were practicing. I was in Jr. High and about to try out for my first ever team of any kind. It was the summer softball league, and I just knew I could make it. I wasn't incredibly athletic, in fact quite the opposite, but I desperately wanted to be a part of a team. I threw the ball to my dad, and it smacked him square on the chest leaving a large whelp right where he pointed. We still tell the story and laugh about my unfortunate aim that day. Soon the practicing ceased and the time came for the tryouts. I was bursting with anticipation and longing. I don't remember much from the field that day, but I remember with great clarity what happened next. When it came time to find out who made the team, there were two girls without their name on the coveted list. I was one of them. I'll never forget the feeling of utter humiliation as I walked back to the car where my stepmother had come to pick me up. No one was pointing and laughing. No one was calling names–it was a silent embarrassment. One that sat just below the surface. It was a painful feeling of rejection that was taking shape and taking root in my heart. They didn't want me. I wasn't good enough. It's a pain that still stings when I speak of it. Or write about it. I sat in the car feeling lonely and hurt and isolated. I made a promise to myself that day. I'll never try out for anything ever again.
I've spent a good portion of my life feeling lonely. The feeling of isolation has become a nice, cozy little pocket where I can crawl into, shut out the world, and forget. This feeling for me started very young. I can recall being a small child and taking note of the birthday parties I wasn't invited to. I remember hearing the chatter of the popular girls giggling about the sleepovers they had over the weekend and longing to be counted worthy to attend. Maybe it was then that the lie was sown. Maybe it was then I began to believe that I wasn't good enough. Maybe it was then I started to build my wall and isolate myself so that being excluded wouldn't hurt so badly.
The longing to be included never quite went away. Through my junior high and high school years, then college, and now adult life as a wife and mother, the longing to be included and counted worthy still exists. I thought that it was an adolescent emotion that only existed on the softball field or school gym, but it has stood the test of time. Every once in a while, it bubbles up inside of me like a sickness, and it must be fought.
Since my childhood though, God has shown me deep truths in His Word that heal wounds of loneliness and hurt. Through the gospel, God has given us a friend. He's given us a Father. He's given us a way to heal the brokenness. I could tell one hundred stories like the now infamous softball tryout disappointment. I could go through my life and share all my broken pieces, reveling in my pain. What I'd like to do instead is go to the place that has put those pieces back together in a sense. I want to point you to the place that bound up the wounds of exclusion and the hurt of not fitting in. I want you to see that God gives us a new identity through His sweet grace and love. It doesn't always take the entire sting out of our stories. It doesn't always make bad things seem good. But it places a blanket of hope over our cold and hurting souls. It shows us that God can use our pain and our brokenness to bring us to Himself. Because we have a God who knows what it's like to be broken.
In our feelings of rejection, we are pulled close to the heart of God in a specific and unique way.
Jesus was rejected. He was humiliated. He was cast out and eventually murdered.
We do not serve a God who cannot identify with the hurt we feel (Hebrews 4:15). We have access, through the cross, to a God who has walked the roads we walk and felt the brokenness we feel (Ephesians 3:12). Yet He overcame it all. He defeated death and now gives us the opportunity to claim freedom through His finished work.
These gospel truths we can cling to are given to us through God's Word. The Holy Scriptures were given to us to tell a beautiful story of redemption. The Old Testament is full of real people who were broken. People who, in our context, wouldn't have made the softball team. Yet God redeemed them. He healed them. He used them–and He can redeem, heal, and use you, too.
I urge you, open your Bibles. If you have ever felt rejected, excluded, or alone–go to the place where God has revealed Himself; where He talks to us; where He shows us our worth. In the Scriptures, we are shown that our worth rests in who Jesus is. Because of the gospel we can be accepted, embraced, and loved with an everlasting love. A love that sees exactly who we are; everything we've done; everything that has been done to us; every emotion we've had; every sin we've committed–and yet, still loves deeper than any other love that exists.
In the car as we drove away from the softball field, I felt alone. I felt like no one wanted me. What I didn't hear was the silent voice of God telling me that I was, in fact, never alone. I was not and never will be abandoned. I was chosen by the Most High. My feelings of rejection do not define me. I am defined in my identity as a child of God.
I cannot promise you that living the Christian life will never include feelings of exclusion, rejection, or loneliness. However, through the authority of God's Word, we can have the promise that He is with us always. We can cling to the hope we have in eternal life. We can hold fast to His Word which shows us exactly who we are.