Have you ever tried to fit in by changing something about yourself? I have been reflecting on my perpetual state of loneliness lately. Most of the time I do not recognize it. When I am with people, no matter whom or no matter where, I do not experience it. I’m a “people person.” Being with people can make me forget about chronic pain, heartache, or fear. But when I’m alone, and experiencing loneliness in all its glory, I realize that I have never felt like I fit in.
Back in 1975, I began going to a little white church in a suburb of Los Angeles. I came in the front doors one sunny Sunday morning in October, but my heart was not filled with sunshine. I had lost my much-loved brother to suicide two months before. I was mentally ill myself. I had been living a hippie lifestyle and thought people who played by the rules of “the establishment” were just plain ignorant. But I was grabbing onto a lifeline.
Within a very short period of time, I got myself a Dorothy Hamill haircut (Dorothy was an ice skater whose short shiny locks literally skated across her face with each toss of her head). I bought dresses and high heels. I began wearing makeup and I even shaved under my arms. I saw a picture of myself from back then the other day and I looked older than I do now! I had a huge mother of pearl cross on the chest of my blue turtleneck sweater and a stern look on my face. But, although I tried to fit in with the ladies, I was asked to not return to a prayer group because I did not have enough faith to “name it and claim it.” They needed real believers!
A few years later we moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico, and I began attending a somewhat large church there, full of ladies I hoped would befriend me. I had long, curly hair and wore bell-bottomed jeans. Again, in desperation to fit in, I cut my hair and bleached it. I wore bandanas around my forehead like Olivia Newton John. “Let’s Get Physical” played on my stereo at home almost daily. I put on darker lipstick…did my nails. And soon I was accepted. This time I noticed it though, and it made me angry, so I grew my hair back out and took my own self out of their prayer group. I took my toys and went home.
We went to Fox Island, Washington for a couple of years and began attending a large church there. Same thing. I attended a women’s retreat (again, in desperation) and sat there alone and anxious. A woman said to me, “with you, what you see is what you get.” She was referring to my personality, and I hoped it was true, but judging by how hard I worked to fit in, I knew I was not being authentic. I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the system.
I’ve lived in Helena, Montana for over 15 years now. I have felt that same sort of “left out” feeling that I had in 1975. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never felt part of a church fellowship. There have been two or three times I’ve felt at home. But it’s been rare…and it is not happening for me here. I have some wonderful women friends that do not go to my church though. They pray for me and we are committed to our relationship. We remember each other’s birthdays and spend many holidays together. It’s enough, because it is true community in heart.
One day I was walking through a park. There was a group of older teenagers. One of the boys had on a pink chiffon prom dress and painted fingernails.
“Hi there,” I said. “What are you guys doing, putting on a play or something?”
“No,” the young man answered. “We’re just fooling around.”
“Oh, well you look pretty!” I answered, laughing. There was a part of me that wanted to stay and hang out with them. “No,” I told myself. You need to get home and feed the fish.”
I walked to my car and thought, “Most people wouldn’t have said that, Linda. Most people would think he was “weird,” and should be shunned or made to straighten up his act.”
One day during an election cycle I walked into my polling precinct and told them I wanted to quit the Republican party. “We don’t have formal parties in Montana,” I was told.
“Oh,” I said, turning away. I felt stupid…and disappointed…different from almost every Christian I knew, and getting a little worried about myself.I’ve always believed that being a hippie ruined me from being a Christian. I can’t seem to conform in my mind.
I just finished Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. I thought, that’s me! I’m Donald Miller in drag! It’s not that anyone is shutting me out. It’s that I have a hard time relating. I sort of walk to the beat of a different drummer. There’s a part of me, even at 61-years-old, that would dye my hair purple, get a nose stud, and more tattoos, if I was really trying to express the weirdness of how I think. But there’s another part of me that just wants to fit in…attract rather than repel. I’m glad God knows me well and loves me the way I am. What I want to do, more than get more friends is to be a better friend, no matter how different people are from me or how different I am from them. That’s the quickest cure for loneliness I know. That and knowing there’s a Donald Miller walking around on the planet.