Unless you had the good fortune of being a fast runner and skilled kicker, I think everyone can remember the feeling of being the last one chosen for teams when the kickball was rolled at recess. That was always me: lined up on the place where dirt meets grass, waiting. Standing at the ready, toes jabbing nervously into the dust, trying desperately to look around without making eye contact with the captains in charge of each person’s kickball destiny. Person to my left, an early pick. Person to my right, not a classically-trained kickballer, but still better than me.
The feeling of being left out is something not easily forgotten. I’ve gone on to have a great life and have managed to put my ill-fated kickball career behind me without any counseling or medication. I don’t think about those days much, except to pray that my own children will not be ridiculed if they do in fact lack the bronze ring of the recess playground: athletic ability. Still, there’s a new field of play that, if I’m honest, is slowing picking the old scab of rejection. This time, the wound pickers are those sitting to my left and right around the dinner table on Sunday afternoons: my extended family.
Comments, subtly inserted into conversation: Remember that waitress at dinner last weekend? hahaha… or Hey–you left this at our house last time we hung out… There I sit, lined up where the table meets my stuffed abdomen. Fork moving from corn to potatoes and back again. I take a drink and nudge my husband under the table, wondering why they don’t hear the elephant shifting its weight in the smallness of the room. Where were we that night? Why didn’t our phone ring? Not even a mercy invite?…Then again, do I want a mercy invite?? I used to count at least one of these people as a dear, dear friend. In fact, friend first, relative second. So why has this new curtain dropped between us? I haven’t quite figured out how to process this. There are a lot of layers that need to get peeled away, and I’m not sure I’m the one for the job. Do I really want to know the answers?
This past week I happened upon Dr. Gary Chapman on the radio, talking to singles about dating and God and singleness. He took some time to address the issue of rejection and what a man [or woman] might mean if they say something along the lines of, ‘I just don’t think we have the chemistry we need to move forward in this relationship.‘ What is the stunned person [probably the girl] to do–to say–in the face of such blunt, albeit gentle, rejection? And does the non-chemistry-feeling boy owe this poor, bumbling, unacceptable girl an explanation? After all, what does he mean when he states that they don’t have “chemistry?” Certainly, any introspective girl would rightly wonder! Dr. Smalley said that in general, he does not think the rejected party should probe deeper. After all, he pointed out, if the non-chemistry-feeling boy wanted to share his list of your offending qualities, he would have told you. So, he concludes, accept this miserable boy’s decision and move on. No questions asked.
In light of this argument, I find myself warring over what to do with the kickballers at Sunday dinner. If they don’t feel the “chemistry” between themselves and us, why dive into that murky pool? Why wait to hear their list of our offenses? On the other hand, if I need to ask forgiveness for something, I welcome the opportunity to erase the slate and move forward. I would hate to think that something I have done–or failed to do–has impaired something I always regarded as loving and communal.
Families are weird sometimes, but the beauty of families is that we are supposed to be one team. There should be no choosing sides. No picking her over me. No loving her better for some arbitrary and juvenile reason. It should be a place of warmth and safety and acceptance.
When the ball is rolled out next Sunday, I’m praying that the teams will slowly settle into the dirt and that there will be no more separation: whether perceived or actual. No one wants to be the last person standing on the kickball field, toes covered with dust, heart sinking. I’m too old to be worried about my own family rejecting me. I’m too old to spend mental energy wondering why my family wasn’t asked to join the game. But I still care. And it still hurts. Whether at recess or in life, it still hurts.