And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
1 Kings 19:9(b) -10, 18, NIV
In this passage, the prophet Elijah is on the run. He has just experienced a tremendous show of God’s power at Mt. Carmel, where he witnesses God consume an entire altar and the presented sacrifice in a mighty show of power. The competing god’s (Baal) prophets are put to death at Elijah’s command. Jezebel, wife of the ruling Israelite monarch and a strong proponent of Baal worship, issues a threat that results in the prophet’s flight. When God encounters Elijah, he is hiding in a cave. In what is the first of two similar question/response interactions between God and Elijah, the latter indicates how singular and isolated he feels. He reasons that he is “the only one left” of God’s prophets and he is in fear for his life. In his mind he is different and alone. In verse 18, God indicates that contrary to his (Elijah’s) thinking, there are others who “have not bowed down to Baal”.
I have always felt different. As a child, growing up in Malawi, I was different because my home was a mix of Afro-centric ethnicities. I was African and Caribbean…and economically we were better off than my friends. When I moved to Trinidad, in my Primary School, I was different. My name, accent, and African origin made me stand out. When I moved on to Secondary School, I was different…my ambition, capacity, capability, drive and desire to excel were not always well received. When I moved to my “prestige” pre-collegiate Secondary School, I was different. I had not come through the school’s high-achieving stream like my classmates. I was an import from a less prestigious school. At university, in my Engineering School, I was different. I wasn’t an entrant from one of the “prestige” schools across the island. When I entered the world of work, in a part of the country that was predominantly East Indian, I was different. I believed in being open minded towards people who were different to me, a position that did not ingratiate me well with some of my African-descended colleagues. Once I moved to the US, I reacquainted myself with some of my earlier characteristics of difference – I was a foreigner with an odd name and an accent, once again, much like my initial move from Malawi to Trinidad. These experiences have made me very familiar with feeling like I don’t belong; like I am alone.
Recognizing that difference is not always celebrated, I attempted to conform and fit in. This eventually only resulted in the misery of inauthenticity. Even when, externally, I looked like I fit, internally I still felt misplaced, feeling the absence of true belonging.
Marrying Shivana and walking through some of our more trying challenges, I have felt a kinship with her that I never had anywhere else before. She has embraced her own story of not fitting in and we can both attest that God has forged our partnership into one where belonging is foundational and unquestioned even during the hottest conflicts. In my relationship with Christ, the sense of belonging is partially cognitive and experiential. During my deepest spiritual crises, I have seen Him in my mind’s eye always accepting, always steadfast, always present. He is both silent and vocal when I need. He has never wavered in His love for me; never chastising me for my questions and confusion; celebrating and using my uniqueness; never pressing me into a conforming mold or placing a constraining corset around me; comfortable with my difference, because he made me so.
I am different. This used to be a saddening realization. I once wished that I had an “easy” name like George and that I had been born to two White parents. I once wished that I wasn’t so dark and my hair as kinky as it is. I once wished I had attended a “prestigious” Trinidad Secondary School and moved up through its high achieving stream. I once wished that my parents had the resources to send me abroad to study medicine at one of the better-known universities in the US or the UK. There is someone out there, possibly, living this wished-for life but God in His great wisdom made me (with all of my experiences and characteristics) so that I could prove the power of His enablement. This is the power of being different – the Holy Spirit empowered ability to contravene the world’s convention and still contribute uniquely to the Creator’s redemptive plan for creation.
This person (me) who:
As a boy in Malawi didn’t quite fit in and felt disconnected from his Caribbean heritage;
As an adolescent in Trinidad was picked on for being “nerdy” and referred to as a “nobody”;
As a young man in Trinidad was ridiculed for embracing pluralism and political inclusiveness;
As an older man in the US was rejected for highlighting church silence around issues of social injustice;
is finding his places of belonging with Christ and others who have stories of difference. Wherever you are in the world, you don’t have to be the same as what is around you. It’s ok to feel different. Christ sees and accepts you as you are. On earth, there are multitudes out there like you, feeling different but embracing themselves. God will connect you with them. You are not alone.