Everyone was laughing, but all I could do was force a half-smile. My skin felt like it was betraying me like a sunburn. I just had to get through the dinner and I’d be okay. I felt angry and awkward and embarrassed. I was engaged and meeting my fiance’s family for the first time. He warned me his extended family could be racist. We sat around a circular table, and I couldn’t escape.
Where do you go when you can’t hide your skin? It’s impossible to disappear.
Shame will always make you want to cover. That moment, with his family, made me want to cover my darkness with something comfortable, like the color white. I just wanted to fit in. The racist jokes were unbearable, but instead of turning the shame back onto the comedian of the night, I turned my shame inward. It became another moment where I just didn’t fit. I wasn’t fully Asian. I wasn’t fully White. I was somewhere in the middle.
I won’t ever forget that night. I won’t forget the way I wanted to scream, cry, and throw something. The racism seemed so obvious to me, but the jokesters were oblivious at the harm they were causing. I did what I normally do: I swallowed the pain and moved on.
I’ve been looking the other way, dismissing my pain and minimizing my feelings my entire life. I’ll never forget last year when an Asian American friend of mine invited me to a conference just for Asian Americans. She texted me the words, “You belong there.” I remember feeling instantly bothered. I was surprised by my knee jerk reaction when she used the word “belong.” The truth is I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere.
Belonging is an embedded human desire. We all want to belong somewhere. We want community, culture, and people who understand us. We want to know we are desired, welcome, and have a seat at the table. When we don’t belong, we are grieved. It’s an ache that rocks us to sleep. The pain is so deep it’s like a hole that tries to swallow us down into a world of darkness. It’s the same kind of darkness I see in our world right now.
As the racism in our country becomes more exposed and fear, pain, and panic escalate, so do our reactions. I am so tempted to find my sense of a belonging with a particular side. I think that’s what has been so tricky for me. I hear things from different sides, and I am torn. No one person, leader, or group fully represents my heart on the issue of racism, and trying to find belonging when I can’t wholeheartedly agree with one side has been futile.
As I try to find my place in all of this, I’m tempted to just bury my head and ignore everything, and I’m tempted to use Scripture or self-pity as weapons, to gather up arguments as ammunition for battle. Like so many, I want to handle my pain apart from God and manage it in my own power. We all want to control how we’re perceived, how others think, how a conversation goes, or what the outcome will be. But when we silence the vulnerable, cup our hands over our ears and only protect our own interests, that’s when our temptation for power is the strongest. And the only force to break it is to worship God.
Power is the attempt to be God, and worshipping Him allows God to be God. It puts us in our place and in a posture where we relinquish our power back to the One who is power and who is in control.
There are still days when I’m tempted to control everything or just bury my head and ignore it all, but I know God is calling me to grow and change. Growth is painful and hard, and it requires me to relinquish control. It means entering parts of my story that are still stinging with pain. But I don’t want to cover my eyes and just get through it the same way I did at that dinner table when cruel jokes were recklessly shot out like bullets. I don’t want to pretend I’m okay. I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to go back to the way things were before.
Life will never go back to normal. And though, there is grief in that reality, there is goodness in it as well. When everything has been sifted and shifted, we will find the gift of deeper belonging when we exchange our power for God’s power and find communion with Him. When we don’t feel like we fit anywhere, acceptance can be found when we admit how unaccepted and powerless we feel at times. We become children asking God again and again for help to see and to have hearts to hear. Relinquishing our power to control everything around us and in us means we must break, opening ourselves to true intimacy — to true belonging.
I broke after that dinner party when I cried until there were no more tears. But in the breaking, my hands were pried open to worship the One who made me who I am and in whom I truly belong.
As we do our best to navigate this current season, may we find the belonging we so desperately crave in Christ, the One who laid down His power to reconcile us back to God.
Worship puts us in our place and in a posture where we relinquish our power back to the One who is power and who is in control. -Anjuli Paschall: Click To Tweet