I remember vividly the fall that I began graduate school at the University of Chicago, walking around campus and feeling completely and totally invisible. It was an awful feeling. Now, I’m aware that some of this is because I went to a college with around 2000 students, so walking around campus I would recognize almost everyone, and know and greet many of the people. This was my first time in years walking around an academic community regularly, and I longed for that old familiarity. But I was also greatly impacted by my social anxiety and depression, which often are worse when I’m in a new place.
The first year that I lived in the town of 2400 where my husband and I currently reside, I was surprised to find that I had similar feelings. Though here, many people do in fact know that I’m the Lutheran pastor’s wife, or one of the owners of the black standard poodle, and I recognize many of the people that I pass in town. The feelings here were (and sometimes continue to be) more about feeling like no one here really knows me—there are plenty of assumptions about what I must be like based on my role as pastor’s wife, but I fit very few of the assumptions or stereotypes that people have about me. Most still haven’t figured out that I’m pursing ordination in the UCC (and am a member at a church in a nearby town—I guess I attend my husband’s church just enough), and would likely be surprised by many of my passions in the world. I don’t work in our town, which certainly impacts my feelings of being not known and sometimes isolated, but again I know that my depression and anxiety are certainly at play as well.
I imagine that there are many of us who feel similar things at various times in our lives. And at this place in my life, I find the lectionary readings for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany to provide some of the comfort for which I’ve been yearning. In the reading from 1st Samuel, while Samuel and Eli are sleeping, God calls Samuel by name, over and over again. In John, Jesus sees Nathanael first, and knows things about him. I am loved and known by God, even when I feel isolated and unknown by those around me. Thanks be to God.
Psalm 139: 1-5 Lord, you have examined me. You know me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and resting. You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways. There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. You surround me—front and back. You put your hand on me.
Hannah Campbell Gustafson
Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin. She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church. Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy Óscar.