Our bodies crowd around the wall outside the gym. We stretch our necks like baby birds reaching for food, trying to find a place where our eyes can see every name on the paper list taped to the wall. I scan the names slowly, stopping and restarting after a friend squeals with delight, and another two friends hug each other in celebration.
Before I can get to the bottom, one of my friends grabs my shoulder and says, “I’m so sad you aren’t on the list. Maybe I’ll tell them I’m going to quit since you didn’t make it.” Another friend announces, “I heard you were as close to the cut off as you could be, and if they decided to add one more person to the team, you would be up there too.” Even at thirteen, I know those attempts to lessen the blow aren’t true.
I overhear another friend talking about how they don’t care what they get for their upcoming birthday, that making this team is their dream come true. There’s talk of practices, performances, and the parties they will have together. There’s speculations and squealing about outfits and how their lives will change for the better now that they are on the inside.
I slip away from the commotion and celebration and walk home from school shuffling my feet. I am aware of each clumsy step. In my head, I make my own list, wishing I can cross off each quality I don’t like about myself with a bold pen. I trudge forward, eyes on the sidewalk, wondering whether anything would be left if I cross everything off.
I learn to laugh at myself and my two left feet. I try to find reasons why it was better not to have made the team. I become a silent detective, excellently skilled at finding silver linings, and in the process, exchange the expression of my feelings for a poker-faced life.
Hindsight is important, and perhaps with time, we are given the grace to sometimes see imperfectly why things were the way they were, or why we are who we are, or why we had to endure specific pain or loss. But most of us don’t get a why or how, and casually telling people to seek answers to such questions is like sending them into a battle they cannot win. It’s cruel.
In my adult years, I keep coming back to moments and memories like these. There are too many to count. I still want to run from them, pretend they don’t matter to me now or make them laughable. But it’s the grace of God that brings them back to mind — not for a second dose of pain but for the chance to see Him with me in that pain, to experience His presence with me now. He holds out His book of recorded tears, ready to record each of mine, giving value and validity to every ache and every teardrop.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8 (NLT)
The lie of our culture says to get over it and toughen up. It tells us that if we work hard enough and stay strong enough, we’ll not only heal, but we’ll have a chance at being the underdog that ends up on top. But Jesus says His name is Immanuel — He’s here with us, in all our tenderness and quiet pain.
My own kids are reaching the age that I was when I began to stuff my feelings. I watch them navigate new losses and all the things I naturally want to shield them from. I don’t want them to not make the cut or feel the sting of loneliness and rejection. But do I want them to know the God who comes near, who bore the pain I instinctively want to push away? Will I do everything in my power to keep them from that knowing, or will I come alongside them with my presence and believe God catches each of their tears? I cannot do this for them unless I am willing to receive it for myself.
Jesus knows the pain of being on the outside. He knows what it’s like not to be invited in. He’s felt the sting of carrying a burden alone. He’s been wrought with insomnia — praying through the long hours of an unrelenting night, while the friends He asked to join Him never showed up. He knows what it’s like to wish His life wasn’t what it was. He’s asked God to take hardship away. He knows the sting of rejection and mocking. He knows deep loss and the taste of tears. The Chosen One was unchosen by the crowd that most of us want to be chosen by.
The advent of this Jesus is not confined to December trees and tinsel, but this week, let’s remember the One who came near. Let’s receive Him in every part of our past and even in the memories of the pain we’d like to forget. Let’s receive Him, our Immanuel, that we might be like Him to a hurting heart beside us and world around us.Leave a Comment