Where Caitlyn and Rachel Belong

The reason many of us have a desire to belong is because many others have made us feel like we don't.

When Caitlyn Jenner is accused of being narcissistic and Rachel Dolezal is said to be deceptive, I can't help but think that these are the words of white, suburban prom kings and queens. In other words, people who have never been ridiculed for being different. As a four-eyed nerd whose average score in hacky sack is two, I can say from experience that this sort of criticism is dismissive.

It all starts when the boy who loves math and science drops the ball for the first time. In the next game, that boy will find himself near the end of those picked. Soon other boys who used to call him friend will start calling him butterfingers or "Mr. Sports". His name will magically disappear from birthday party invitations as his identity gradually shifts from boy to pariah.

Becoming a teenager who grows out his hair and beard and dresses all in black, it would be easy to mistake him for someone who craves attention. Or someone searching for meaning and satisfaction in the most empty of places.

It's easy to confuse longing with belonging.

Glasses may be fashionable now and brains sexy, but that awkward teenager is no less different. He grows into a young man with lots of uncomfortable questions and an aversion to simplistic answers. While his college GPA had identified him as a good, hard-working kid, his current nonconformity and challenges to convention have redefined him as an undisciplined rebel in need of therapy.

It doesn't help that he actually does need therapy. Those persistent questions have driven him to depression.

But a funny thing happened after a while. He begins to see through the lie that being depressed means there's something wrong with him. Peeling back layers upon layers of man-made theology, he discovers that he was made that way. He was created to be depressed, and that this glorified God. He was God's witness to corruption.

Even more amazing is that he finds other people like him. He's not alone in his groaning; the depressed, the anxious, the bipolar, they all share his discontent with a world not as it ought to be. Those people, the mentally ill, are his people. They understand him and he understands them. All the labels he's been given by others throughout his life--nerd, geek, loser, freak, rebel--none of them are who he really is. His identity is in his depression. In that identity, he can finally belong.

Some, no doubt, will contend that his true identity is in Christ and all other labels are merely distractions from godly devotion. But, like western missionaries bearing a white Jesus, this is said with a Christian cast already in mind. The kingdom of God didn't come with a mold but with a command to love one another. Such an injunction wouldn't be necessary if we were all supposed to look the same.

Furthermore, God would have to be pretty small for his image to only come in one model. Because an infinite God would have infinite expressions of his image. It would be a kaleidoscope, not color blindness. And the best way to testify to God's greatness would be to celebrate that which makes us unique. The real distraction, then, would be to ignore those parts of us and cover them with a wet blanket of homogeneity.

I tried for fifteen years. And when I finally embraced my identity as a depressed person, I felt free. Not free from Christ, but free to be exactly who he made me to be. Free to boldly bear the marks of a soul that groans for the redemption of its body. And I feel all the more united to Christ and united to those like me by identifying with them.

Now if only we could relax our arrogance and imagine a God who could also create a Caitlyn and a Rachel with the same desire to be exactly who he made them to be.

photo credit: Distinctively Red via photopin (license)

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