Last week when I wrote here about Barbara Brown Taylor’s EF podcast episode, I had no idea that this week’s episode was also going to be so relevant to that post, so we’re doing this two weeks in a row. I used the metaphor of a child’s toy that comes with shapes that correspond to holes in a box. So did Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes in her 2019 Evolving Faith conference talk featured in this week’s episode! It was a perfect part 2 to that topic. She follows up on that moment of recognition and grief over how tired we are of “being good instead of being alive” with a crucial question:
Who told you that you had to fit?
She describes herself as “an ill-fitting Christian. A square peg trying to fit into a round hole, each of the angles representing the diverse religious traditions that shaped my understanding of the Divine.”
But the key is that she doesn’t end there. As Sarah and Jeff discuss at the end of the episode, Jeff says, “For some of us coming to a message like Chanequa’s, the grief of this is that we once did fit and we once really did belong. But for others of us, we’ve never fit and we’ve never belonged, perhaps because of some indelible aspect of our identity. And then there are the folks who have had both experiences.”
I’ve been both and more. In some ways, I used to hold the same views or labels or things in common with others, and we both moved apart. In other situations, they didn’t know or didn’t understand the full extent of my differences because I tried to force myself to fit as part of something bigger. Agreeing to disagree on things that I just didn’t want to be alone in. Not wanting to cause drama or conflict, not wanting to rock the boat or be The Problem. So many times, I didn’t push back or dare to share my real self because it would have risked the relationships I was desperate to hold on to. I chose to lose parts of myself, to silence myself into goodness and compliance, rather than shatter under the ache of grief, exclusion, loneliness, fear, and depression. The catch, of course, is that those were just magnified later with the more I lost and the more people I convinced I was someone I wasn’t to earn their approval.
In still other ways, I’ve had to pick my battles to keep collaborating and doing work together with people who held different views than I did. I believed in the overall cause or shared values or was left without a better-fitting team when no one else was doing the work, so I had to fit into what I had available to me to get the job done. To some degree, these things are healthy and just part of living peacefully together in a society or group.
But there are some parts of me that were never going to fit and I wasn’t welcome to try. Some parts that others don’t even let you in the door if they know about. Today, at this moment, my inclination is “good riddance. I wouldn’t want to be part of their number anyway if they think like that.” But inside, a smaller, quiet, wounded voice says, “Yes, but wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t think that way? Wouldn’t it have been lovely if there weren’t these barriers for entry or exclusionary signs at the door and they wanted all of the facets of you, not just the ones they identify with?”
Jeff goes on to hit on a (literally therapeutic) point for me: Chanequa “knows the goodness of those facets. She is rooted in their richness. And I wonder whether the knowledge of that goodness, that rootedness, is what could open you up to new possibilities for relationship. You’re not looking for affirmation or acceptance or approval in the way that perhaps you might have before because you don’t need it.”
Sarah adds: “You’re abiding in your belovedness.”
It feels like a bit of a cruel trick that the answer to finding the connection and belonging we are wired to desire is to stop working so hard to get them. To know all the parts of you are already good while also not needing that knowledge imparted constantly through others’ validation. Again, as an Enneagram 3, I am quite good at (there’s that word again!) being good enough, holding up that measuring stick to myself, trying to see if I fit into a shape in the box and, as Chanequa says, wondering how much of myself I lose when I do so. Achieving and approval seeking and looking for affirmation have a reason behind them, and that reason isn’t vanity or ego or selfishness. It’s loneliness. It’s “fitlessness” as Chanequa calls it. It’s that search for belovedness and belonging.
So to hear and know that what it takes is to stop, to be still, to not need it, to accept ourselves and belong to our whole stories… that is both beautifully freeing and incredibly discouraging. I am powerless to engineer belonging. My belovedness doesn’t give me a way of certainty and control outside of vulnerable concepts like trust and faith. Even writing it, part of me doesn’t really believe it. Surely, what I need is a better strategy, to just say and do the right thing to achieve the right numbers so others will see me and love me and invite me into belonging? No?
The implication between the lines of “who told you that you have to fit?” is “the voices telling you this are likely not voices you should heed.” The key here being that we don’t only grieve the ways we have lost our belonging or been denied it altogether, but that we see the goodness in our various parts. We must hear a different voice that tells us who we are, where we belong, to whom we are beloved—as our whole selves, without shame and fear and masking our unwelcome angles.
Abiding in authenticity, with all the good, beautiful, beloved angles of our shape.