As soon as I walked into the party, I noticed I was the only single adult. I felt much like I did that time I jumped on a Zoom call only to realize my attendance wasn’t necessary. I didn’t fit. I felt awkward, out of place — like everyone knew I didn’t belong. I felt the all-too-familiar ache of being left out.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve walked into a social gathering feeling like an outsider. As a result, I often evaluate events I attend by the number of attendees whose life stage matches mine. I realize this approach is less than ideal, but short of bailing early, what am I supposed to do when I feel like I don’t belong?
A category for everyone
This isn’t unique to singleness. We humans are adept at categorizing ourselves by all manner of secondary characteristics: Did everyone else in that meeting have a master’s degree? I wonder how many people in this small group make more money than I do? Was I the only one wearing a Disney t-shirt?
We have more significant differences, too. Gender, race, and family background all play an influential role in our lives. That’s why it’s so significant that Paul says even these differences can’t divide Christians. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” he wrote to the Galatians.
In Paul’s culture, few differences were more significant than “Jew” and “Greek.” Even the disciple Peter stumbled over viewing other believers more as non-Jews than as brothers in Christ. If even that difference is secondary compared to our identity in Christ, then all our other lesser categories are also outranked. The common denominator among all Christians is also our deepest, most foundational identity: We are blood-bought followers of Christ.
I may feel like I don’t belong. Others may think I don’t belong. And sometimes, like on that Zoom call, I may truly — literally — not belong. But among fellow believers, I know that my identity in Christ supersedes whatever I don’t have in common with my peers.
Don’t isolate yourself
Some of our secondary statuses, like gender or race, don’t change. Others, like age or income, change over time and in different circumstances. Still others may or may not change — like my relationship status. But all these secondary statuses are exactly that: secondary.
When I fixate on my single status, I isolate myself from deeper relationships with other Christians whose lives don’t look like mine. It may be cliché, but it’s so true in Christ: We are more alike than we are different. We can speak into the hard things in each other’s lives even if it’s not the specific hard thing we’ve faced.
Growing up, I fully expected to walk through life stages with my best friend. I had no doubt we’d date, marry, and have kids on roughly the same timetable. She’s now married with three little boys, while I don’t know if I’ll ever enjoy that reality. I’ve been frustrated that we haven’t walked through those life stages together like I had hoped.
But when I traveled this spring to visit her and meet her youngest son, I realized: We are walking through these life stages together. Just because our life stages are different doesn’t mean we don’t go through them together. She encourages me on my hard days, and I do my best to return the favor. We’re walking through life together regardless of whether our secondary statuses match up.
Next time it’ll be different
I’m sure that party was not the last time I’ll find myself feeling left out. There will be many more times I feel out of place. Like I don’t belong. My relationship status places me in a different relational category than most of my peers, as do countless other secondary statuses. But those pale in comparison to the deep sameness we have through the gospel.
Knowing all this won’t necessarily make it easier the next time I walk into a room where I feel like I don’t belong. But regardless of how I feel, the truth stands: In Christ, we’re more alike than we are different.
Copyright 2023 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.