Marginalize: to relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group.
What comes to your mind when you think of the word marginalize?
“What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always a member of a class and not as an individual person.”- Dorothy L. Sayers
“To have one’s individuality completely ignored is like being pushed quite out of life. Like being blown out as one blows out a light.” Evelyn Scott
As I begin my story today, I invite you to take a moment and allow your mind to wander through the passages of your past. Down through the shadowy passageways we identify as our history. As you ponder your past, let me ask you if a specific situation or person comes to mind that made you feel “lesser” than you are? Has anyone in life pushed you to the sidelines?
I was 8 years old and it was my birthday. I was quite a shy, little girl but this was my day, my birthday. I felt special. There was a party in my honor.
I had invited several of my girlfriends from school to my birthday party. Because we lived on a farm and my birthday was in winter, tobogganing was the game of choice. We spent hours tobogganing down our hill. Sounds of laughter could be heard as we all raced down the hill, it was a perfect day for sledding.The perfect birthday party.
Then came the time to go inside and have birthday cake and open presents. My little group of friends and I trotted into the house, mitts and toques flying in every direction once we were in the door. Anticipation of cake and ice cream foremost on our minds. Pretty packages with ribbons awaited me to be opened.
Giggles and chatter filled the warm kitchen. My uncle could be a playful sort of man when he was in the right mood, and today was one of those days. It was my birthday after all, so this fun side of him felt like a gift to me, it added to the celebration. I was happy and beaming.
He began playing and joking with us and soon had all the girls in a circle-playing ring around the rosy. I stood on the sideline for only a moment watching and laughing before I decided to innocently join in the game by taking the hand of a friend on one side and the hand of another on the other side of me.
And then unexpectedly everything stopped, the atmosphere changed when my uncle halted the game. He looked me right in the eye and said,” get out of the circle”. I stood frozen for a moment wondering if I’d heard the words correctly, maybe he was still joking, maybe…just maybe since there was so much laughter and silliness going on seconds before. But when I saw the look in his eyes I knew I’d heard correctly. I obediently stepped back, dropping the hands of my friends, and stood outside the circle. There were a few moments of awkward, uncomfortable silence before the laughter and game resumed.
But there I stood on the sidelines watching. I felt as if a heavy blanket had fallen over me. I felt such humiliation and shame. My own birthday party and I became the outcast, pushed to the side, marginalized. I would never forget the look of utter despising in my uncle’s eyes, and I would never know what I’d done to deserve the condemnation.
Being only 8 years old I could only assume it was because I was “me”. Was it because I wasn’t pretty enough? Smart enough? Witty enough? Nice enough? Could it be because I really wasn’t wanted or didn’t belong? I was never given an answer so as young girl I decided it was because of all the very reasons I just listed.
The game soon ended and it was time to sit around the table and have hotdogs, cake and ice cream. I remember being quite subdued when we sat around the table.
My heart took another deathblow that day. I smiled politely as was expected of me, not quite entering into the chatter of my girlfriends. Opening my presents and politely thanking everyone but never allowing the gifts to truly touch my soul or to find joy in the remaining festivities and fun. The smile never quite reaching my eyes. I just wanted everyone to go home so I could go and cry into my pillow. But I knew better than to show sadness or pain because if I did then I would only get yelled at or worse after the party. So I pretended.
From that day on I became an expert at being what ever was expected of me, being whomever they wanted me to be. It didn’t matter that I felt dead inside, what mattered was appearances.
I knew the unspoken rules of the family: be blind, be quiet, be numb, be careful, and be good. These rules were not written out and put on the refrigerator door these were unwritten rules. Rules that taught me to be perfect. The trouble is once you learn the rules; they are hard to forget. Even after you leave your childhood family, they stay with you, these rules are engraved in your mind.
Just like blowing out my birthday candles, in one fell swoop, in one breath, my joy had been blown away as I was pushed to the sidelines…. marginalized……my individuality ignored…. pushed out of life by the very one who should have been protecting me, cheering me on, inviting me.
It took me years to accept that I did indeed belong….that I do belong, that I have value, that I am worthwhile, that I am not too much or not enough. I had to take my wound to my Heavenly Father and ask Him to heal me….to affirm me, cherish me and love me. I had to learn to trust Him…believing that He wouldn’t suddenly stop and push me aside.
Friends, I invite you, if you have ever felt “marginalized” to pray this prayer today…. May you know and believe that our Father God longs to lift each of His beautiful daughters into His strong arms of protection…..He will never push you aside. When we come to Him with deep concerns He never silences us. When we risk telling Him our most immediate thoughts and fears He does not patronize or brush us aside…. because He is God and not man. It is in God that we ultimately find our true worth…..
God of the Night”
“God of flowing skirts and tender eyes, you fill the dark places of my life with power and compassion. In your presence I am a child, naked and vulnerable. Yet you find me, and your strong hands lift me into your presence. You are as large and indecipherable as the night, yet as near and touchable as a mother’s hand. When you lift me, I am suspended in the midst of that night; but your eyes as well as your hands hold me, and my fear is contained in your tender compassion. As the stars twinkle with delight, your love clothes my nakedness with joy. God, you are so enormous and so full of power. Once I thought that your grasp might destroy me and that your voice would be like thunder. Yet you stoop to earth and open yourself to my presence. You speak in tones that I can hear and hold me safely in your presence. God of the night, I praise you.”
The Reverend Elizabeth T. Wade