The whole adventure of the Christian life is in not fitting in.
A recent issue of Gilbert reminded me of this truth, expressed in the delightful essay “The Ballade of a Strange Town” from G. K. Chesterton’s book Tremendous Trifles. The tale focuses on two men whose sense of adventure awakens once they realize they are not where they thought they were. They’re in the wrong town.
That is what makes life at once so splendid and so strange. We are in the wrong world. When I thought that was the right town, it bored me; when I knew it was wrong, I was happy.
Then comes the application for today:
So the false optimism, the modern happiness, tires us because it tells us we fit into this world. The true happiness is that we don’t fit. We come from somewhere else. We have lost our way.
The key to joy in the Christian life can be found in this funny little story of reorientation.
The Boredom of Fitting In
Look around and you find people who assume that the purpose of life is to adapt to the world as best we can, by expressing ourselves and offering those around us something unique. The best way to fit in is to stand out in some way, except that everyone seems to “stand out” in similar ways, or at least in ways that aren’t too different or won’t cause too much of a stir among the people we most want to impress.
We are conditioned to believe the world is whatever we make of it. The world is fine; it’s your job to fit in somehow; the best way to adapt is by fulfilling the expectations of the people you care about most.
The Adventure of Standing Out
The Christian life flips the narrative. The world isn’t what we’ve made, but a universe awaiting discovery. And truly standing out doesn’t happen when we accept the “state of things” with meek and mild resignation, but when we realize we’re in the wrong world, or better said, the world gone wrong.
Here’s where the adventure starts. We inhabit a world that has gone off the rails, and so we stumble through life, drawn to beauty, hungry for glory, still savoring the splendid though fading aroma of long-lost perfection. The reason we don’t fit is because we are fallen, and so is the world.
It’s as if we’ve discovered ancient ruins or an abandoned mansion—places that maintain traces of their original beauty and still contain treasures from a long-lost world of glory. The adventure begins, not when we adapt to the conditions we see around us, but when we recognize something’s gone wrong.
Christianity says: This world is your home, but it reflects neither its past glory nor its future promise. The point of life is not to fit into this world as it stands today, but to glimpse the glimmers of greatness and to rediscover the adventure of standing out.
Homesick at Home
We were not created to fit into a fallen world—to ignore the fallenness around us and assume all will be well if we just make do with the current state of things. Instead, we experience the joyful ache of being homesick at home. That’s why Christians can sing the old campfire song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through,” and follow it up with “This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget!”
The paradox of fitting in and standing out is what makes the Christian life an exciting journey of discovery. We are free to live as a people set apart, a foretaste of future glory, as we cultivate the virtues that mark Christian character and become the kind of people who embody faith, hope, and love—both homesick and “at home” in a world both ruined by sin and marked for redemption.
It’s easy to feel sad at the state of the world. Of course, the culture is crumbling! Such is the fate of any society where Christ is not acknowledged as King.
But rather than meekly assume a resigned state of pessimism, or adopt an overly ambitious project of world renewal, we can happily make a difference where we are, pointing people to God’s original design and holding out hope in his future promise. This is the word of life we hold firm, that we may be “blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation,” among whom we “shine like stars in the world” (Phil. 2:16–17).
Don’t despair when you see how badly this world needs repair. Stand up and stand out. This is what makes the Christian life an adventure.
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