Ever drive by people’s houses and look at the Christmas lights? If you hit it right, you’ll enjoy a crisp, cold, night with light snowflakes gently caressing your face with their soft, welcoming touches. Some lighting displays are combined with music timed, others have moving miniature Santa trains making slow soothing metal sounds as they creak around their tracks in front of the owner’s house.
Sometimes it’s fun to take a drive during other seasons and marvel at the magnificent homes that people live in. Once in a while, one sees a glimpse of the owners talking inside.
I always wonder what they do for a living, how they acquired a house like that?
But mostly, I really notice that I am always on the outside looking in. I am always watching other people having fun, doing things, enjoying wonderful expensive homes, cars, taking long vacations.
I am always the outsider looking in.
Being raised as an independent, fundamentalist Baptist taught me to be very good at this. We were ‘separated from the world’, we had to always be on our toes not to get sucked in to doing something that might put us in a compromising position when we happened to be out with our friends. As I was always told, ‘People are watching you!’ They are waiting to see if you happen to fall, lose your temper, say bad words, or enter some place that you shouldn’t go. Being ‘ON’ all the time in public seemed to be paramount and equal to ‘being a witness and testimony’ for Jesus everywhere and at all times.
Obviously, the negatives to this are easily listed. . .
- frozen social and emotional development
- awkwardness in normal social situations even as an adult
- being boring because you cannot discuss current movies, don’t know who the latest musicians, movie stars even are
- being scared to be in new situations, or to be around large crowds
- being extremely lonely, yet being afraid to reach out, or accept someone else reaching out to you for fear that they will think you are boring
- being separated from the world is a synthetic construct by fundamentalists that is also fluid in its definition dependent upon the pastor’s idea of which activities are ‘worldly’
- It is a lie to believe that ‘people are watching me’ – the reality is that we are all wrapped up in our own lives
- If Jesus/God already either knows or predetermines who will get saved, then my actions/speech will have no bearing upon that outcome and placing that burden on me as a child was also a lie
- By thinking that people are watching me, this started me visualizing how I perceived people were thinking about me, and I changed my behavior to be a people-pleaser based on my imagined views of what they thought of me.
- It was not okay to just be Kelly Howarth, unless I was at home within the safe confines of my house with my immediate family. And even then, it wasn’t really okay to express how I really felt or thought about certain subjects.
- This entire idea that ‘I have to be a witness and testimony’ and I have to be ‘separated from ungodly, worldly influences’ has destroyed my normal development for individual identity, and thought.
There’s more, but you get the idea ad nauseum. . .
On the plus side, being on the outside, always looking in has given me a pretty solid skill at reading people very quickly. This is helpful in my current job of inside retail commission sales! Most folks would be somewhat put off if they realized how much I could tell them about themselves after observing them for about 30 seconds or so!
But to get specific, standing on the outside looking in is more than just seeing other people have money and things; the real damaging hurts come from these things. . .
- Always being the ‘smart kid’ and the ‘good kid’ who pleased his teachers, parents, adults, but absolutely not feeling like I was ever just one of the guys. Oh, no, I had to freaking always be the kid who ‘stood for truth’, who couldn’t ever just go along and be a normal, every day, average good ‘ol boy. Once, in middle school, I received what was called a ‘downslip’ for not performing academically on par. The teachers would walk up to your desk during class, and lay this pink slip on your desk in front of the entire class. (Times have sure changed eh?) Anyway, for a brief moment, because the ‘smart kid’ got a ‘downslip’, all the guys gathered around me in the hall, and for a brief few seconds of my life, I felt like I was one of the guys!
- No matter that I was 1st Trombone in band, won several awards, that I went to state speech contest and took a I rating, that I was the Vice President of our Senior class, President of church youth group, Vice President of National Honor Society, I would have traded all that just to have felt as if I was actually liked and looked upon as one of the guys, a normal kid. But no, no, not so much – always, there was the fundamentalist firewall filtering out and creating a barrier between others and myself.
- I saw myself as a figurehead – someone to trot out and look good briefly, but I never did the work behind the scenes.
- I was socially awkward with every young lady I ever dated. Embarrassingly so actually. Here’s an example – one young lady I really liked was visiting our high school with her friend. Since it was the last week of school, traditionally all of us high school students would kill time by congregating in the gym and watching old black and white funny movies. All of us students would sit on the floor in groups, the teachers would sit on the bleachers. So, because I thought I wanted to be ‘special’, and not like the rest of the riff-raff, I pulled out two chairs for the girl and myself to sit on as we watched the movies. Boy did we stick out, and boy did I probably embarrass her, and give my teachers a pretty good chuckle behind us! My entire mentality of being special, unique, set apart has really worked against me in all sorts of situations.
- It wasn’t ever good enough to be a good worker, no, we were taught to ‘be leaders’ at work, and in our homes. Why couldn’t I have just been ‘a part of’ ?
- And to this day, I teach at a local community college – and it gives my ego a bit of a buzz to say that, because after all, how many folks teach college? That seems like a pretty big thing when other people hear it, but the reality is that it is not. I still feel apart, disconnected as I stand in front of the class. They are the group, I am the separate entity.
- I train some of the new sales people. It makes me feel ‘special’ that I was one chosen to train because I think that I am a cut above the others on the sales floor. Again, the reality is that other sales people I work with, like me, have also been sales trainers and now have moved on. But this again is a point of separation for me from ‘just being average’. That would be somehow unacceptable.
- And the saddest ‘not part of’ that I experience is not being a part of my own flesh and blood after being divorced. My ex-wife, my children, and my grandchildren all live together in ‘my’ house, without me. I am apart from them. And they seem fine with that. I am not.
The theology of ‘separation from the world’ really equates to ‘isolation from normal human social interaction and happiness.
Baptist fundamentalism is full of lies on all levels, and has created great harm and hurt in my life.
Enjoy your friends, enjoy having someone to confide in at your deepest levels. Some of us have never known what that feels like.
But you don’t have to stay separated from everyone else now. You can choose to socialize and participate however you’d like. Also, it occurs to me that the examples of achievement in high school and feeling outside of the group is not limited to those with fundamentalist upbringing. There are many teens that feel that way, especially those who are perhaps smarter than their peers, those that achieve the leadership positions and consistently high grades. I think that part just goes with being a teenager. However, I do acknowledge and have experienced the same feelings of being an outsider due to the toxic fundamentalist teachings of being “separate from the world.”