What Makes a Misfit, Anyway?
Ultimately, when studying the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, the question which seems to cross everyone’s mind is that of why these were doomed to live in exile. Are we to believe that a simple difference of appearance or function is such a profound nonconformity that these must live a life of banishment—as though a small deviation from one’s peers is worthy to condemn one to a life of seclusion? We say the word “no” with our mouths, and yet, our actions often give a far different answer as we withdraw from others; either because they or we seem different from one another. And sadly, one of the places that we see this isolation occur with the greatest devastation is when it serves to divide and handicap the Body of Christ (more on this in the upcoming pages). So, one may ask, precisely who is it that we are hardest on when it is time to ostracize? For many of us, the answer to this question is ourselves.
One is the… Safest Number
Just as so many of the toys on the island seem unflawed or still loveable to viewers—the Sally Doll, the Spotted Elephant, the Charlie-in-a-Box—many of us have unnecessarily isolated ourselves from those around us. We do this because we are keenly aware of our own scars, shortcomings, failures, past traumas, insecurities, and vulnerabilities. Interacting with others beyond a certain point requires that we would open up and be transparent about such injuries. As people are all different, these fears are managed in many different ways. Some bravely put on a façade of normality, hoping that nobody sees behind the veil of success, wealth, or other “I’ve-got-my-act-together”-isms. Some retreat behind a flurry of drama of some sort, always seeking a circumstance or peer to blame for any perception of personal shortcomings. A small percentage of people are transparent: confessing where they lack strength and continually working to self-improve.
But many of us hide. At the appearance of what we perceive to be an un-lovely aspect of ourselves, we put up a wall behind which we retreat alone. Many become so accustomed to this isolation that an entire lifetime of relationships take place at arm’s length—the safety of isolation traded for the intimacy of human relationships of all kinds.
The irony in such cases is that, like many of these toys, onlookers are unable to see what the debilitating issue even is, nor are they usually even looking for it. For example, many toys on the island appear to have no flaws at all: the scooter, the soldiers, the cars, and a few others. The viewer finds themselves thinking, “Wait a minute, there’s nothing wrong with that plaything. Why is it stuck out there with the misfits?” For others, the query becomes, “Okay, so that toy is a little different than other toys. But a child could totally still play with it. The flaw doesn’t render it un-useable. So, why the dramatic exile to an island of outcasts?
And yet, many of us do this to ourselves each day in all arenas: family, work, school, communities, and even in the Church. In fact, I daresay that the Church is one of the first places this happens. For many, attendance in any sort of religious institution carries a stigma which goes one of two directions. It becomes either a competition for pious-appearance, usually laced with hypocrisy; or a continual measuring-up of righteousness which falls short of allowing an individual the opportunity of making a real and lasting contribution. On one hand, a person becomes disenchanted and wants no part of the scene. On the other, the individual never feels he or she measures up, and so these assume they have nothing to contribute.
Type-casted Ministerial Roles
Another element that causes people to isolate from the Body of Christ is the formulaic type-casting of ministerial roles which seems to take place in the Church. For example, say an individual recently converted wants to be used of God. Most people have a chapter like this after beginning to witness Christ’s transformative power in his or her own life. Thus, it’s not unusual at all for such spiritual newcomers to approach Church leadership with interest in serving.
Unfortunately, this offer of ministerial help is all-too-often met with a narrative that goes something like this:
“It’s great that you want to serve! Here’s what we have open right now… The adult Sunday School class, the two-and-three-year old Vacation Bible School Class, church building repair/work days on Saturdays, and we always need more janitors.”
Understanding first that service to the Lord comes in many forms, it is quickly recognizable that each of these roles is vastly important, and if you as the reader have been fulfilling any of these, kudos to you! Our outlining of these vocations is not to pick on these as functions, but to subsequently outline the hearer’s response to this narrative which we will now reveal. A recent convert’s reaction to this may go something like this:
“I don’t yet know enough about the Bible to feel like I could teach it to adults. I work weeknights/am intimidated by babies, so the two-and-three-year-old class is not a good fit for me. I have some valid reason (perhaps a work schedule, family events, or health condition) that keeps me from being able to give my Saturdays to building maintenance and repair. Does this mean that the only way to serve/grow closer to God is by being a janitor?”
(Now, before continuing, please allow me to say that I was a janitor for several years. I’m in no way condescending to the occupation. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. It was hard enough work that I stayed physically fit. I was left alone all day long—just God, me, and my music-loaded earbuds. And, as long as everything was clean when I left, there was no interpersonal drama, no coworker politics, and no boss breathing down my neck. It was great! So please, understand, the mention of such a vital job is not to pick on it. In fact, first impressions upon a church occur because of those self-sacrificing individuals who make sure that the facilities are pristine. This boosts a newcomer’s confidence in the organization as a whole, making them feel safer about bringing their children in and even elevating one’s esteem in the credibility of such unseen elements as doctrine. After all, those who are meticulous about their presentation will give the impression of having done due diligence in other areas as well.)
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DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!
The issue as it pertains to a recent convert asking to be involved in ministry is the fact that such an individual is often struggling to put a more complex question into words when he or she approaches church leadership regarding serving. As this person has begun to witness God’s transformational power in his or her life, they are looking for a deeper interaction with God, His people, His Church Body, and His work. In any believer who sees the fruits of God’s work in their lives, a connection to the Great Commission (scripture) should begin to fuel their drive toward action. Often, the unspoken crux of this is a mental image of oneself operating in a role where they are reaching people for Christ, improving the world around them, and finding their own, unique calling wherein they are growing in their calling and doing a good work along the way. Having no idea how to put this visual into words which form a request, they often approach Church leadership with a generic interest “to serve.” (Additionally, the request is usually so outside of one’s comfort zone that there is also a measure of fear of rejection, to which anything less than a fulfilling answer can often exacerbate this tender vulnerability, even when any form of rejection is completely unintended.) In any case, the aforementioned, type-casted response often renders a person unsure of how to close the gap between that beautiful mental image of ministerial thriving and the cold, hard truth of sterile, institutional job openings.
For many, the ensuing “disconnect” between the dream of operating in the Body of Christ and the robotic, week-in/week-out mechanisms of the utilitarian aspect of religion causes people to do one of a few things. For some, these withdraw from religion altogether, stating that it worked for a while but they somehow lost the life-changing momentum they had once had. Others may separate themselves from the Body, deciding that Christianity is now something to pursue on their own, often without a church. While some who take this road continue to stay in their Word and grow closer to God, others find that their path begins to follow an open-ended search for a more generic “truth,” wherein a syncretistic, blended religion with Jesus somewhere still at the center becomes the focus while a singular, Biblical truth is lost along the way. Another group remains in the Church, but each self-isolates. Having somewhere, early on, had the mental visual of ministerial thriving reduced to a handful of job descriptions—all of which didn’t seem to work for a particular individual—these have seen the notion of “serving God” reduced to automated functions which are often done out of obligation for some institutional “greater good.” Yet, for these, the true understanding of what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ eludes them. This is not for lack of effort: it is for lack of understanding how to bring the mental image of finding one’s calling and being fulfilled in God’s service into the realm of the communicate-able, where it can be truly shared with other members of the Body and mutually realized. Because of the organized, formulaic way that most churches operate, the individual’s request for assistance in finding his or her God-ordained calling is perpetually met with sterile, impersonal, un-impassioning, or even old-fashioned to-do lists.
In a nutshell, we within the Body of Christ have forgotten who we are and who He created us to be. We have replaced the dynamic an evangelistic vision of individuals all serving God with passion and sincerity with tired, type-casted, and automated functions which we fulfil out of obedience and the desire to serve our God. In so doing, we fall into a mindset of survival: much of our fervent desire to connect with others shuts down, and we further isolate. The result is often people who, aware of their own shortcomings and now additionally acclimated to living without a personal sense of thriving and success, become more withdrawn from the body of Christ, which in turn, becomes more robotic and routine-oriented as a result. (While the full issue of modern church-relevance is outside the scope of this book, this is a huge contributing factor to why the Church has become so disconnected from its surrounding society).
Additionally, when discussing the mental process by which our modern church-going populace self-isolates, many of these elements manifest in individuals’ personal lives. In fact, it is often the case that such issues are present in the personal life before an individual even arrives on the church-scene. This is because the congregation is made up of individuals who, by default, carry their personal lives into the institution with them, and this is the collective that makes up the Body. So, when we speak to the individual we speak to the congregation and vice versa.
At this point, the reader may be wondering what all this has to do with the misfit toys. We will certainly come back to that throughout this chapter, but before getting into the specifics of what each toy may hold as a flaw or strength, it is necessary to explain that, for most of these playthings, their only shortcoming was in their own mind: which brings us to the actual crux of many of our problems. You see, just as many of the residents of the island may have been able to move forward and live a fulfilling life which was not exiled, their own belief that they must be isolated under the label of “misfit” kept them doing precisely that. And the truth is that we are not so different. Thus, if we can each heal and redirect our own mind, we can, once and for all, shed the label which banishes us.
Renew Your Mind
By Donna Howell, Allie Henson, and Nita Horn
Since our conversation surrounding the toys’ inhibitors rests largely on their own inability to overlook their small deviations from their peers, the battle which occurs within our thoughts is a good starting point for redeeming said misfits back into society. And, as we tackle this issue, we will discuss its implications in the Body of Christ as well. There is much to be said for the renewing of our minds: it is Scriptural and practical.
The obvious command for such revitalization is found in Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” This concept is elaborated upon in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, and we will refer to this passage indepth in the upcoming pages:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
This passage is so very profound and yet is often underappreciated. Its essence states that we live in the realm of the flesh, but that is not where our battle occurs. In fact, the methods of our warfare are mighty enough to remove strongholds—this means break bondage!—through the power of God. This is accompanied with surrendering our own ungodly or false narratives, and filtering every thought until the only ones we allow to remain in our mind are those that follow God’s will.
Sounds pretty, right? It is, but it’s also much easier said than done. And, the right kind of covert attack from the enemy can cause a person to misinterpret which thoughts need to be arrested and which to feed.
This distinction is an important thing to grasp moving forward, we must understand that for many people, the enemy’s tactic of destruction can be somewhat easily identified to onlookers. These are enacted through temptation of wrongdoing: addiction, crime, marital infidelity, greed, even pride, etc. Such pitfalls, while less obvious to those who land in them, are usually readily visible to individuals whose weaknesses lie in other areas. But there are others, whose downfalls are found within the range of self-defeat. For these, the evil one’s method is often a lie which feels to an individual as though it comes from within themselves: a shut-down which is perceived as though it comes from the inside. For example, such attacks do not appear dressed as salacious temptations which lure one off the path of the righteous in an attempt to render them ineffective in the Body of Christ, but instead bar a person’s ability to grow spiritually under such covert lies as “I could live a more potent spiritual life and even reach others for the Kingdom, if only I were smart enough,” or, “If I were pretty enough, rich enough, organized, charismatic, extroverted, etc. enough…” Because these individuals will never measure up to their own self-critiquing, the enemy has them right where he wants them, and the measure is so undetectable that these individuals do nothing to fight against this attack—never realizing it for what it is. The lie becomes a self-poisoning which isolates people under the belief that their damage, shortcomings, or vulnerabilities render their banishment to be in everyone’s best interests along with their own personal emotional and psychological safety, and they withdraw. Often, along with each progressive state of exile comes a deeper sense of failure and loneliness than the individual suffered before, perpetuating the situation.
Francesca Batistelli sings a song called “If We’re Honest,” in which she tackles this issue. The lyrics state in better measure than I could hope to how we can reverse this fragmentation within the Body of Christ:
Truth is harder than a lie.
The dark seems safer than the light.
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide.
I’m a mess and so are you.
We’ve built walls nobody can get through.
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do
Is bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine.
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides.
And mercy’s waiting on the other side, if we’re honest.[i]
If we’re honest. Huh. What a thought. I wonder what such a notion could look like?
Perhaps it could mean transparent, vulnerable, damaged people gathering under the heading of making the world a better place and reaching people for the Savior. Such a collective would be willing to face their shortcomings while harnessing their strengths; using the resources available to them and maximizing their natural abilities with the understanding that community built on Christ is filled with flawed but ever–improving, forgiven people who want to reach others and share God’s love.
Kind of sounds like an evangelistic, dynamic, relevant, community–reaching body of believers, doesn’t it?
The concept is so rudimentary and simplistic, but is somehow so difficult for many to grasp. Of course, everybody wants to be transparent and vulnerable, to be willing to coexist with others in a form of community where everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are understood, embraced, and encouraged. And yet, there is something inside each of us that seems to say that everyone around us has permission to be flawed or have baggage, but that we personally have no such luxury. Each of us is so much harder on ourselves than we are those around us, and the result is that we build walls to hide the real “us” behind veils of perfection, success, beauty, charisma, joy, talent, and/or myriads of other attributes that, to us, seem more “presentable” than the damaged individual who resides inside our skin. And yet, many of us innately understand that it’s this hiding that keeps us from fulfilling the beautiful calling that God has placed on each of our lives. How do we open up and get beyond this self–abasement that keeps us from ever reaching our potential? And, what do we do with the fear of opening up and then being hurt by others who we’ve exposed our true, inner selves to?
UP NEXT: How do we open up and overcome?
[i] Batistelli, Francesca. “If We’re Honest.” (2014) If We’re Honest. (Album). Nashville, TN: Word Records.