I wonder how many of us feel like misfits on a regular basis? It certainly has been an identity for most of my life, despite the sincere efforts of parents, family, friends, a loyal spouse, and wonderful children. I suspect that feeling like a lifelong outsider is more about an inside condition than a measure of external circumstances. Nevertheless, over the years I did my share of manipulating circumstances—and those around me—in the pursuit of happiness and a feeling of belonging.
My early religious practice centered around trying to master belief in the right things. If I could just learn the Bible well then I would be secure and fit in. I went to a Bible college only to discover in a senior seminar that all doctrine was hugely influenced by the historical and cultural settings of the person forming it. That made it very subjective—an unreliable escape from the Island of Misfits, of which I was surely a charter member.
I made other attempts to find belonging—getting married at a very young age with a firmly held idea that I had met someone who would make everything better. But there too, I was betrayed by an internal Judas masquerading as a caring guy. I loved to help people with their problems. If I could rescue my wife and others, if I could solve their hurts for them, surely I would have a guaranteed ticket off Misfit Island.
God was probably the most significant target of my manipulations. If I could only gain his favor! That surely must be the way to escape the nagging feeling of never belonging or being enough. So I began working hard for God. My journey started with the belief that I was saved by grace, but my functioning view of God was that he was, at best, disappointed with me, and most likely on the verge of kicking me to the curb at any moment.
As a pastor and then a missionary based in the US I worked myself into utter exhaustion. Especially as a missionary trying to raise financial support, I was pinned between depression and anxiety. I was sick to death, almost literally, of trying to make things happen. That is what took me up the mountain to Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, CA.
I spent three days alone in prayer asking some of the most important questions I’ve ever asked God: Do you see me? Why have you led me to something I’m very good at but cannot make a living from? This whole support raising business seems to favor people with very different personalities and experiences than mine, why have you dropped me in the middle of it?
Do you even care what I want?
Through very vivid encounters with Jesus those three days, he tenderly and carefully showed me his name. It is the name I am With You—Immanuel! It was a profound awakening to something that had always been there, lost in the noise of self-doubt and self-imposed status as a misfit. Immanuel, in the very truest sense, meant I was never alone nor out of place.
To the question, “Do you even care what I want?” he simply and softly said, “My son!”
What came to me then, fully formed and all at once, was the image of a maturing son in an Italian bakery. The son came tentatively to his aging father to ask if he could take over the family business. The deep yearning in the son’s question was met with deeper satisfaction and pleasure on the father’s radiant face. The anticipation of the father for the day the son might ask was evident in his embracing hug and gentle whisper, “Of course, my son, of course!”
Then to me, as clearly as could be hoped for, Immanuel said with satisfaction and immeasurable pleasure, “Roy, we will give you the Family Business!” I knew at once the business in the House of Yahweh is Love—which always looks like coming alongside in suffering together and giving oneself away. Leaning into that with Immanuel brings healing and the means to be Immanuel-like for others. Such is the business of God’s family!
Learning the Family Business
God has spent the past four years since that moment teaching me how to receive Love, how to allow it to transform and free me, remaking my understanding of theology, of relationships (especially my marriage), and what ministry is really all about. There has been layer after layer of healing as I learn to follow Love into, rather than away from, pain.
My current syllabus from God is all about letting go of my need to control outcomes. Letting go of control is one of the most important goals and therefore biggest hurdles of being a disciple of Jesus; it is by no means the sole domain of high achievers and so-called control freaks. Surrendering, or as I prefer to say, opening myself to Immanuel on a daily basis, is the only way for me to give up my control and the desire to manipulate my circumstances.
The usual objection to letting go of control is that we won’t achieve anything, yet that simply has not been my experience. Immanuel has brought about emotional, spiritual, and physical healing through my hands on several occasions. My own healing from a lifelong battle with depression and anxiety, often manifested in a physical addiction of compulsive overeating, has freed me to wait on him. Those are results I can live with!
This is life within the Family Business.
My Favorite Trick of the Trade
One of the most useful tools I use to introduce people around the world to this incredible shop—the Family Business of God’s Love—is “Interactive Gratitude.” It is the key tool Immanuel used, practicing it many times a day for six months, to break depression and anxiety’s lifelong grip on me.
It’s simple to practice. Take a moment and think of something you can be grateful for right here and now. It does not matter how trivial it may seem. All of life is drenched with God’s Love, especially the simple everyday things. Once you have it, allow it to permeate all of you: mind, spirit, emotions, even your body. Feel the gratitude with your entire being. Now, express it to Immanuel: “Lord, in this moment I am grateful for....” Say it aloud if possible. Here is the key to this exercise—wait! Wait for the Lord to respond. He always does. It can be a thought, image, impression, feeling, Bible verse, or anything really. If it is good, it is from Immanuel!
With the practice of this simple prayer technique you enter through the front door of the Family Business.
Do it daily, and I promise it will change your life and work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roy Graham is a part of Novo’s Imago Christi community, a spiritual formation ministry. He provides spiritual direction to emerging leaders, seminars on inner healing prayer and a restorative view of the gospel, and focuses on building new spiritual communities. Based in Littleton, CO, he serves in the US, Africa, the UK, and Asia.