Long before we loved from the Jersey Shore to South Carolina, my impressions of all states South of the Mason Dixon line were forged by an unforgettable experience. Annually our family would load into our wood-paneled Dodge Caravan and head to Venice, Florida for summer vacation. The most exciting part of the drive always came about 90 miles outside of the border of South Carolina where the ridiculous billboards began counting down every two miles to South of the Border. 90 miles until you met Pedro, 76 miles until “You are a Weiner,” 54 miles until you experienced the largest metal sombrero on earth, and so on and so forth until you hit the tacky tourist mecca.
As my parents have an aversion to extreme tackiness, we always had our noses pressed against the van windows as the child’s wonderland of souvenirs passed before our eyes. Except one year. That one fateful year there was a raging thunderstorm that forced us to stop at South of the Border. After eating a sub par Mexican meal, we killed time at the gift shops. My mom bought a back scratcher there. I remember this because she still has the handy tool by her bedside for those times when she is all alone with an awful itch in the unreachable arch of her back.
I wish all itches were that easy to scratch.
I find myself tormented from time to time by itches that I am unable to scratch, the most notable of which is the itch for a niche.
According to its definition, a niche is a job, activity or role that is perfectly suitable for someone or an environment that has all the things a creature needs to live and thrive. A niche is not a generic role or spot, but a hand-crafted, perfectly suitable space for someone or something.
I long for a role, a calling that is perfectly suited to my nuanced interests and talents and gifts. I long to be able to operate out of my particular strengths and passions. I often find myself wondering if such a niche even exists, and, if it does, if I will ever find it and comfortably nestle down into it.
I truly believe that the Lord has made each human intentionally unique with a few little splinters of His multi-faceted beauty. We all long to have people notice and develop those splinters, we all long to find a little space to thrive and invest our talents and treasures.
The other day while I was walking through the airport en route to a much-needed cup of coffee sans kiddos, I found myself looking at the countless people in throngs around me. So many faces, so many stories, so many talents. Rather than feel encouraged, I felt effaced and small, lost in a sea of humanity. Does who I am and what I have to bear upon this world make a difference? How silly to think I could be uniquely significant in such a vast collection of humanity.
I found myself incredibly lonely while surrounded by more people than I usually see in a week. I began silently crying out to God, “Lord, where do I fit in? Where is the space just for me? I feel so very generic compared to such a loud and vibrant crowd.”
And the Lord, as He always does, heard my vacillation in doubt and ever-so-gently responded to me. “I am your niche, Aimee. Stop trying to find yourself. You need only hide in me.”
I had somehow forgotten that the way to find oneself is to be hidden in and focused on the One who made that self.
C. S. Lewis perfectly captures the truth I need to hear again and again.
“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for everyday mattes. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever have noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body. In the end, submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing, Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
My heart is so prone to fall back into trying to find myself by darting back and forth from myself to everyone else around me. But I am most me, most alive, when I have my eyes gazing at the One who made all the selves on earth and throughout history. When I am looking into His eyes, I get a few glimpses into how those gracious eyes see me. And that is all the niche I could ever need.
Lord, only you can scratch my persistent itch for a niche. Thank you for always drawing me out of self and into hiding in you, my perfect niche.