sunflowers, side roads, and fitting in
Wanting to fit in is a woe faced only by junior high schoolers, right?
Certainly, it becomes less pronounced as you come to know and accept who you are as an individual, but the desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself—to belong—is one that persists throughout all of life, expressing itself wherever a community of people collects.
We all long for acceptance, to be deeply known and deeply loved.
But today’s culture of constant comparison, where our every move can be documented and evaluated by likes, it easily perpetuates those situations where we already tend to feel on the outside.
I’m not as witty as that person, or as likable as the next. I’ll never be as funny, intellectual, hip, edgy, or important as (insert name). No matter what I do, I’ll never truly be “in,” never enough.
By nature, I’m most comfortable blending in with my surroundings. Hiding, even. Too easily, I find my security in the safety of others, adapting as needed in order to maintain approval and not stand out.
Though I’ve come a long way in loving the qualities that make me unique, owning those differences sometimes leaves me feeling exposed. Simple observations suddenly become distorted.
If only I were more this/that, I’d be as liked, as accepted as this/that person.
I’d feel more a part of that group.
The temptation is to play the part, to follow the cues of what I’m “supposed” to be, because at least if I’m hiding behind something, it’s not my true self that will be judged or even rejected, and that’s a bit more bearable.
But God has a unique purpose for each one of us, made urgent by the unique perspective each of us holds, glittered with insights from our individual stories. And following God’s call on our lives likely means looking different than those around us, and maybe even feeling alone in that at times. Forfeiting that for the sake of fitting in and playing the part means that also forfeited, is a unique voice which can never be duplicated.
We all have situations in our lives where we sometimes feel on the fringes—not like those around us, different. That’s never a fun feeling, because what it feels like can be summed up in one word: alone.
A few weeks ago I was having one of those days. Driving around Fresno for work in a daze of tiredness and sadness, I was robotically following the directions spouted out by Siri, just about to make a righthand turn when something caught my eye.
Right there on the side of a desolate road was this massive, overgrown bush filled with beautiful, delicate white blossoms. And right there in the middle of it was a tiny little sunflower stalk, growing out of the sea of white petals surrounding it from within.
There it was—beautiful in its own right—and there God used some deserted street corner in the middle of Fresno to speak into my heart, gently reminding me not to be afraid of being different. Beauty doesn't require me to look like, or even be liked by everyone around me. It requires me to be ME, faithfully.
It’s so easy to get caught up with those around us, using them as our measuring sticks telling us where we should be in life, or who we should be in life.
But I’m learning that the point isn’t to blend in with our surroundings, mirroring everyone around us.
Merriam-Webster defines the word “belong” as “to be rightly placed in a specified situation.” Sometimes, God doesn’t call us to places simply to fit in and be liked, but to influence change from within those places. Just because we don’t look like those around us, doesn’t mean it’s not where we’re supposed to be. God is strategic in His placement of each one of us.
A sunflower was never meant to be a white blossom, because the former has something to offer that the latter never can—and vice versa.
Our job is simply to bloom where we are planted—to be faithful wherever God puts us, no matter the outcome. Faithful to who He’s created us to be, faithful with our gifts, passions, and time—no matter how those things are received.
Sometimes, God plants a sunflower in a bush of delicate white blossoms, or a beautiful white blossom in a field of golden sunflowers. Because the reality is, we all have something we can learn from each other; each of us is uniquely different in ways that can better those around us.
It takes boldness and courage to live out of the sweet space of your true identity in a world where it’s easy to conform, but it’s so worth it, because God made each one of us fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139:14), and He made no mistakes. We need to celebrate the things that make us unique because they’re often connected to greatest contribution God calls us to make towards furthering His Kingdom in this world.
My prayer—for you, and for me—is to be like a sunflower: sight swayed only by the movement of the Light, face fixed eternally on the Sun.