A few years ago, a television show titled “Who do you think you are?” became very popular. The premise of the show was to spotlight the journey of well-known celebrities in finding their ancestors and their stories. Often times there were surprises in store when the celebrities discovered secrets about their ancestors or when family members they knew nothing about popped up in old written records that were found.
Our maternal grandmother emigrated to the US from Sweden when she was 17 yrs old. She did not speak any English but taught herself the language by listening to the radio and by reading the newspaper. She wanted to belong… to fit in… to not stand out as a foreigner. When my younger sister took a DNA test to determine our ancestry, it was no surprise to find out that we have a Scandinavian heritage. What did surprise us was that we have a 62% English ancestry. We expected to find Irish blood, as our maiden name is McCarter, but it was actually very low on the list. We were not who we thought we were!
It is interesting to find out who we are, as it gives us an identity… a sense of belonging to someone or to something. In chapter 9, Lee introduces us to Sarah. Sarah is Vietnamese and was adopted into a family in Minnesota at the age of 4. Her siblings are all blond, blue-eyed Minnesotans and she is the exact opposite in looks… dark hair and brown Asian eyes and features. But when she looks in the mirror as a young child, she sees herself as she sees her siblings. It was not until she was in high school that she began to feel that she did not fit in somehow. She stood out from the others and thus began her journey to find her true identity. This journey eventually took her to Viet Nam where she met her birth father and other relatives. Finally, she felt she belonged… she had a connection.
How could Sarah not see herself as she was? She wanted so much to belong that she saw what she wanted to see in the mirror. She imagined herself with blond hair and blue eyes and that became her identity. How often do we try to become something we are not just to be accepted or to have a sense of belonging?
I have shared how we moved to a new town when I started 8th grade. It was a small town where all the students had grown up together and their schools all fed into the one junior high school in town. So as the new kid, I stood out. I wanted so much to be liked and to be accepted but it is hard to find a niche in a group of kids who were as tight as glue. I was a good student and always did my homework and studied for the tests. Even though I knew it was wrong, I allowed them to cheat off my tests… we would arrange the desks just so slightly off-center so they could see my answers. It made me feel wanted even though it made me sad that I had allowed them to do that. I compromised my principles just to be a part of the group.
God made us as unique beings but yet, in His image. As we look in the mirror, we should see Him in the reflection and as others look at us, is that who they see? When we are unhappy with who we are and with how we look we are, in a sense, telling God that He has made a mistake. Is that really the message we want to send Him?
1. What are the qualities you dislike about yourself? How much of this dislike comes from your desire to have the approval of certain people (such as family members, peer groups, religious authorities, professional colleagues)?
Like Sarah, I am the dark haired, darker skinned one among the fair haired and fair skinned sisters. I favor my mother’s coloring while my sisters have lighter hair and lighter skin color. I feel it made me stand out but not always in a good way. I don’t like to smile due to crooked teeth and I have a hard time finding cute shoes due to wide short feet. In spite of being an introvert, my voice is not a quiet one by any means and I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. My emotional state is very evident in my demeanor and in my countenance.
2. Do you think any of these qualities need to change in order for God to accept and love you? Why or why not?
In my heart, I know God loves me as I am. He shed His blood for me and I trust in that promises of salvation and eternal life. I am coming to realize that He created me the way I am for a purpose and I pray that I can live out that purpose to His glory.
3. How has your personal story, the experiences of your life, shaped the way that you think about what it is to truly belong?
I am work-in-progress in this regard. It is still very important to me to belong… to be liked… to feel needed. Reading this book and sharing my thoughts and my story is helping me to see myself apart from a group… to see that I have value in my own identity.
4. Discuss some of the ways that having a secure sense of belonging in the arms of God is different from being seen as acceptable in the eyes of people. People judge us by our actions and by our looks. Our looks are not important to God but rather, He is concerned about our hearts and our minds. Belonging to God leads us to eternal life while being acceptable in the eyes of people is temporary and transient.