Good morning! I want to talk about belonging–what it means to belong, what it means to not belong. Do we want to belong, or do we want to fit in? How do we help others belong?
So to get us started, we’re going to talk about a time in our life where it felt the MOST important to BELONG, to feel like you fit in. A time when you didn’t want to stand out. For me, that’s junior high, middle school. Now my daughter is in middle school, and I think to myself, I would not want to go back to that age! It’s tough.
Now, I’m sure we all have some middle school nightmares, and you can start thinking of a time now to share in just a minute. It could also be starting a brand new job or another time of being the new person or walking into an uncomfortable situation.
I’ll give you a couple minutes to share, but first, here’s my story. I had sprained my ankle and needed crutches. The first moments back to school, I was late because I had a doctor's appointment in the morning for my cast and crutches. I was walking on my new crutches to the lunchroom, and a friend of mine, also my school crush, was sitting in the doorway, eating his lunch, and laughing at me as I walked down the hallway, towards the lunchroom on my crutches. And then, with the laughter already happening, I tripped and fell in the hallway for all to see–especially him–and the laughter just got more intense.
Okay, now it’s your turn. I know I’m not the only one that’s had a moment like this:
Share about an awkward, outsider, embarrassing moment.
Okay, let’s sit in that feeling for just a moment longer. Have you ever had a moment where everyone got a joke, but you didn’t? Or a group tells an inside joke, that you're on the other side of–not a part of it–and everyone’s laughing but you. What are some of the feelings that come up for you in this embarrassing moment, or feeling like an outsider?
What are some of the emotions you experience as an outsider?
Okay, we’ve all had that moment. Even if we couldn’t think of a specific moment just now, we could probably easily think of the emotions behind it–that kind of sick feeling, knowing you’re out of place.
We know what it feels like to be an outsider, to have that embarrassing moment. And maybe this is a little bit the same as the last question, but I think it’s the emotions behind the emotions, a little bit deeper of a question.
You’re new in a place, you’re an outsider, you don’t quite fit in. You’re the new student, the co-worker, the new family member, the new friend, the new churchgoer, the new whatever it is. What makes you FEEL like you don’t belong somewhere?
What makes you feel like you don’t belong somewhere?
We’ve been talking a lot about embarrassment, fitting in, feeling like we belong. But really there is a difference between trying to fit in and actually truly belonging somewhere.
Trying to fit in is all these moments where we try to conform to the people around us. I see how these other people act, and I want to try to be like them. Or I HAVE to be like them to fit in. We have to wear the right clothes, we have to behave the right way, we have to have the right hair, the right shoes. We have to laugh at the right jokes. We have to talk the same way. Fitting In.
On the other side is this feeling of belonging. We have talked about this in the past, how we don’t all have to be the same to be a part of the body of Christ. We don’t all have to fit into a perfect mold to belong.
Belonging–feeling like we belong somewhere. These are our people. Our group. It’s a part of us. Belonging allows people to be who they are and still belong. It allows people to be themselves, not having to conform. It actually requires people to be themselves and KNOW they still belong. We won't jeopardize belonging by being ourselves–unlike how it is when we’re trying to fit in.
Belonging is more than just showing up and being here. It’s about being present, being vulnerable, sometimes being uncomfortable and honest, and present with the people around you without sacrificing who you are. It requires something from you. It requires authenticity. But it also allows authenticity.
Desire to belong is hardwired in us. It’s important for our well-being. Why? Why do we think we want to belong? Why do we want to feel like we belong? Not just try to fit in, but belong.
Why do we want to feel like we belong?
I was studying this week, thinking about belonging, and I was trying to understand the feelings behind wanting to belong. And I was reading through this book called Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown. It connected belonging with fitting in, connection, feeling disconnected, insecurity, invisibility, loneliness. Places where we go when we search for connection.
When we’re searching for connection, to feel like we belong, we also can experience these moments of disconnection, insecurity, invisibility, and loneliness. It’s such a vulnerable place to be. I need connection because I am feeling disconnected, insecure, invisible and lonely.
So on one side there are the people looking for connection, and on the other side, there are the people that already belong–the insiders. There are moments where I need to connect, and there are moments where I’m the insider. And sometimes insiders–sometimes–can feel this desire to be exclusive.
I don’t really understand it. What’s behind this desire to be exclusive?
When I was in college, I lived with a group of women in a small dorm between the library and the next dorm. It was called the Bridge–it bridged between the 2 buildings. And we called ourselves the Bridge Girls. There were only 4 rooms, and a few women that came and left. Over a few years there were a total of maybe 12 of us. And there are about 5 or 6 of us that are lifers, still Bridge Girls, and we still celebrate birthdays together and share our lives with each other.
Over the years, there have been a few women that tried to join our little group. They didn’t live on the Bridge. Or maybe they lived on the bridge for a semester and didn’t really stick around. Or they lived in the house we all moved in together after college, called the Bridge House.
They didn’t feel like REAL bridge girls. And I always had this intense negative internal reaction to someone new trying to invade our space. I felt protective of it.I felt like they hadn’t paid their dues. Who do they think they are???
It’s this moment of exclusivity. It’s the opposite of trust. It’s the opposite of letting someone belong. We can be on both sides of this equation: sometimes we don’t feel like we belong, and sometimes we’re the ones excluding others.
Exclusivity is a real feeling. There’s something going on inside of me when I feel that feeling. It feels like such a childish moment, but I feel protective, I feel vulnerable, I feel a loss of control. Insecure. I feel like I should be past that. Right? But there it is. This real emotion, this real feeling that I don’t really love.
In the book of Mark, the disciples had a few similar moments. Once they tried to keep the little children from bothering Jesus:
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)
They also fought about who was greatest among them!
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:33-37)
Exclusive rights to be the greatest, to be able to sit right next to Jesus.
Or later in chapter 10, when the disciples try to stop outsiders from healing people in the name of Jesus, because they weren’t one of them.
Let’s talk about it for a minute.
What are some reasons we feel exclusive?
We’ve been through the side of wanting to belong, needing to belong, to the other side of wanting to be exclusive, protective of our group, not wanting change. Let’s think now even beyond our own communities, beyond our individual situations, to something that is probably even more difficult of an experience–that of a foreigner coming to a new country and searching for belonging, being a complete outsider from what you know. Imagine the difficulties that must be felt, for an immigrant, for a refugee, for someone that doesn’t know the language or culture they’re living in.
When I was thinking about how we help people feel like they belong, I ran across this verse:
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:4)
I think we can see this in the big picture of how to treat people, but also someone that is new in our community, someone that is new in your neighborhood, new in your work, new at our church, wherever it is. I think this verse speaks to the big moments and the smaller ones.
What are some of the impacts of not belonging?
There are moments in the Word where God shows us we belong.
Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are His; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3)
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (Ephesians 2:17-19)
He cares about the lonely, the disconnected:
God settles the solitary in a home (Psalms 68:6a)
In the early church, we see this group of people ostracized from their old communities. They were still Jewish, but they believed differently than the people around them. They believed the Messiah had come.
Some were physically punished, even martyred. They had moments where they gave everything away. They had moments of great success. They had moments of great failure. What they did have, in all of it, is each other.
Over and over again Paul instructs the churches on how they should treat each other:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-5)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
So, this brings us to our last question. We know what it feels like; we know how to treat each other. But in our community and the communities around us, this is an important question when we’re thinking about church on Sunday morning. And the important places in our lives beyond the church.
I want us to think about this question from the perspective of here in our church community, but also in our local communities, and beyond that.
In church, in our community, in our families: what do you need in order to feel like you belong? How do we help others feel like they belong?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Psalm 103.
- When have you been remarkably dirty? What happened? How did you feel? How did you get cleaned up?
- What makes forgiving others complicated? Complete?
- What makes forgiving yourself complicated? Complete?
- How do the words of David’s psalm encourage you?
- How do the words of David’s psalm seem unreal?
- How do the words of David’s psalm make you hopeful?
Bible Reading Plan
- Psalm 103
- Psalm 104
- Psalm 105
- Psalm 106
- Psalm 107