It was September 1991. Holding my large stack of books tightly in my arms, I shifted my weight from side to side as I walked in an attempt to avoid the kids barreling down the hallway in an unofficial race to lunch. There was the proverbial couple with their hands in each other’s pockets, having reached a middle school record by dating for more than one week, the soccer player running down the hall showing off for all the ogling girls to see, and the popular cheerleader with her perfect ponytail. They all passed without acknowledging my presence. That was okay; I learned to never expect it.
My heart pounded as I walked through the wide open doors of the cafeteria. The lunchroom served as a demonstration of the caste system; one had to sit with others of their same social status if they were to avoid embarrassment, chastising or worse. When I spotted my usual table in the middle, it was full. The few friends I had at the table threw their arms up in a feeble apologetic gesture. Even Megan, my supposed best friend, opted to join the group in their response. As I looked around at the other tables for a place to make myself unseen, I found only unapproving head shakes and mouthings of the word "no". There was no place for me.
I was unacceptable.
Last night, as I sat watching the movie The Terminal, these memories flooded my mind. In the film, Viktor Navorski is a citizen of no country. He must remain in the JFK airport while the Department of Homeland Security determines where Viktor belongs. He cannot return to his home country of Krakozhia, which is no longer recognized by the United States when its government is overtaken by a military coup. He also cannot enter the United States because, being no longer a citizen of Krakozhia, his Visa is invalid. He is unacceptable to Krakozhia. He is unacceptable to the United States.
Viktor Navorski is unacceptable.
The harshest of labels, being unacceptable is one of the worst sentences one can receive. The word echoes loudly in the back of our memories and feels like it is permanently tattooed on our foreheads. It only takes being unacceptable once to require a lifetime of ego repair to get over, as rejection is a sting that does not easily go away.
Viktor Navorski knows that being unacceptable is a powerful label. He continues to repeat the phrase "unacceptable" each time he is denied entry into the United States. The red stamp marked "denied" begins to define him. And as the movie continues, we begin to identify with Navorski’s struggle to once and for all be accepted. Fortunately, Navorski meets a group of shopkeepers, janitors and food attendants at the airport that provide him with the acceptance he is looking for. This interesting mix of people take Viktor under their wing and ensure he eats everyday and has a sense of belonging. At the end of the film, Navorski’s janitor friend even sacrifices his own freedom so that Viktor may ultimately be free of the confines of the airport.
Christians, like Viktor Navorski at the end of the film, have acceptance and freedom. But instead of finding it in an airport, we find our acceptance and freedom in Christ.
In him we were also chosen,
having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11-14).
God chose us. He has a hold of us, and He won’t let us go. His accepting arms are wide open, desiring to possess us as one of His own. Even when we are unacceptable to our friends to our peers to strangers to immigration authorities or even to ourselves, Christ stands there waiting to accept us.
At the end of the movie, I was stuck with an amazing realization that I had tucked away in the vault of my mind and passed off as another Christian cliché. It is a truth I believed, but had somehow forgotten—I will never have to look for acceptance in others. I belong to God.
It does not matter who in life deems me unacceptable, because He has already accepted me. With that truth comes freedom from the search for acceptance. The rejections we face in life don’t scar quite as deep when we remind ourselves that we are the heirs to an entire kingdom that He has built for us because we belong to Him.[Amanda Gale is a 25-year-old woman who isn’t afraid of the lunchrooms of life. While she may not always get invitations to lunch from her co-workers, she knows she’ll always have a place at God’s table.]