WHILE ONLINE THE other day, I came across an old photo that brought back all the insecurities and uncertainties of my teenage years. There I was, kneeling in the front row of the grammar school rugby team.
I’m tempted to say that the fact that I didn’t get a chair to sit on for the shot summed up my tentative place there. But to be fair, the lad on the other end was a regular starter. We were just the shorties.
Still, just looking at myself squatting there reminded me how I felt: I was there under false pretenses, and everyone else knew it too—kind of how I have gone through much of the rest of life.
Lacking size and being somewhat timid, rugby wasn’t my game of choice. However, it was the school’s, so that was that. I reluctantly showed enough ability to get selected for the squad, but not to get picked as a first choice…or second. I played only two games, when the other scrum-halves were not available. The inevitable last resort.
If you weren’t needed for the game, you didn’t get to travel with the team. So on the two occasions on which I showed up for the bus with my bag, I sensed a collective slump of the shoulders from the rest of the lads. Oh dear, Andy’s here. We must be desperate.
And, yes, I am pretty sure we lost both times (though I did get a bloody nose in one of the matches, which gave me a bit of a fallen-hero spike of pride.)
I have gained a measure more self-confidence through the years, but have never quite completely shaken the sense of being a bit of an outsider in most situations. In but on the edge. Near but not close. Part but peripheral.
At times that has served me well as a journalist, providing me with access while also giving me a distance that let me observe keenly. Still, that professional positive hasn’t always translated so well to my spiritual life.
I am more certain these days of God’s delight in me than I have been in the past. Yet, sometimes I still find myself having to shake off the sense of being tolerated by Him more than celebrated. If I am not careful, I can find myself entertaining the suggestion that, Yes, God loves me, because that’s His job. But I’m not sure He’s that interested in me.
Thankfully, I have learned not to accept as true every thought that flashes through my mind. I know now that some are the residue of that insecure kid. Others come from the adversary who wants to keep us from finding the place that is truly ours in Christ.
I have also seen God’s good hand in and on my life in many ways that assure me of His favor. And God’s people have helped me move to the center from the side, too. I have experienced welcome from so many of them. By their words and actions they have communicated, You belong. We’re glad you’re here!
That old rugby picture may have stirred up so much because I came across it as I am preparing to leave a church community where, for nearly 20 years, much of that growing sense of acceptance and inclusion has been developed.
They have stood with me through some dark days and danced with me in sunshiny ones. They have encouraged me as I have grown in the gifts God has given me, with the inevitable missteps that are part of life.
The prospect of finding a new church home has me thinking back to those times boarding the rugby bus. But instead of a sigh, I’m anticipating a smile and, Hi, we’ve saved a seat for you. Glad you made it.