I have always struggled to belong. Born and raised on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, my early memories contain crystal blue ocean, ethereal sunsets, and a profound sense of being a fish out of water.
I am a blonde, white, German-descent haole, and on the island of O’ahu, we are the minority. Throughout elementary and high school I loved experiencing my friends’ cultures. Being invited over for homemade chicken adobo from my Filipina friend’s Lola, attending lavish baby’s first Luaus, and learning the Japanese language and heritage from my Sensei (teacher) remain some of my favorite memories. However, at the end of the day, they weren’t my culture.
My father is a Missouri Synod Lutheran Pastor (another island minority), and his congregation mostly serves the large military population. Once again, I loved experiencing my friends’ culture: learning the different military ranks and exploring base life made for fun afternoons, but at the end of the day, I was a civilian and they would PCS (move) to another military base within three years.
For college, I chose to attend Concordia University Chicago (CURF, CTC) and thought that finally I would find my place. Instead, I struggled to find belonging in a culture where 8a.m. classes actually started at 8:00 (instead of 8:06…like island time). And my homeschooled past (which I wouldn’t trade for anything) kept me from understanding some of the “‘cool” social cues (i.e.: no one sits in the front row or raises their hand to ask questions and participate, especially in basic classes, especially when it keeps class from getting out early!) However, slowly but surely (after some awkward cafeteria encounters), I found my “tribe:” people who loved Christ and celebrated their mutual weirdness. Senior year, during finals week, my friends and I celebrated by attending “dollar beer night” at a popular local bar. Surrounded by real friends and constantly enjoying visitors to our table from other college seniors I felt a sense of arrival. I belonged here. On May 12th, 2013 my class threw their caps in the air (I had to wait another year, until after my required one-year internship), little aware of how much our worlds would soon shift.
By the time I returned to campus for the midyear internship conference in January, the magic was gone. Who were all these babies on campus? And although my dearly loved friends still loved me and one another, we now lived scattered across the United States and irregular Skype meetups replaced face-to-face vulnerability.
Dear friends in Christ, if any part of this story sounds familiar, my heart hurts for you. But let’s pause there and walk for a moment looking at the word belong. Merriam Webster lists as the first two meanings: “to be suitable, appropriate, or advantageous,” and “to be in a proper situation.”
Many of the times in my life when I feel like an outsider, I am actually in a proper situation, or even advantageous and suitable for the group of people. So, what keeps me from having that “belonging feeling?” My guess is the little voice in my head. The little voice that has plagued me especially this past year with the thought, “you don’t even belong in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
How is that little voice (the voice of The Enemy) robbing you of belonging?
Fast-forward to March 2019. I am living in my fourth residence (and third state) since college, and once again am slowly working my way into a sense of belonging. A few weeks ago my husband and I attended the school auction. On one of the tables laid a school mascot sweatshirt: soft, unbelievably cute for spirit wear, and in the perfect size. I put in a modest bid, but as much as I liked the sweatshirt, didn’t intend to put in more. I am not a teacher at the school, just the principal’s wife, and even our oldest son is only in part-time preschool. “Another person is surely more deserving of sporting Blue Jay pride,” I thought.
But at the end of the night, my sweet husband handed me the sweatshirt. “I knew you wanted it. Happy Birthday,” he smiled. Even though I had given up, he had returned and followed the bidding.
As I wore the sweatshirt for the first time that Monday, I had one of those “aha” moments. Although I didn’t feel as though I belonged enough to the St. Paul’s community, my husband did, and had welcomed me into it by purchasing it for me. Sound familiar yet?
The Enemy whispers into my heart, “You don’t belong in the Kingdom of God. You haven’t done enough good yet. You raised your voice to the kids again. You haven’t studied your Bible enough, trusted enough, given enough, opened your home enough…” The guilt goes on and on. But my sense of belonging is not based on how I feel or what I do. My belonging is based on the one who purchased it for me. Hebrews 12 puts this so eloquently:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God….Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, 28-29)
Jesus didn’t belong on earth. He is so far beyond and above our human existence and
yet he chose to dwell among us. Overjoyed by the future, he endured the ultimate suffering, being cast aside as an outsider, and in a strange turn of events, gave us belonging in his eternal kingdom. We may find family and friends who give us love, comfort, and joy, but we will never really, truly belong.
And the voice in my head that says we can’t earn a place in his kingdom? Colossians 3 tells us that our lives are hidden in Christ. He brought us into himself through his death and resurrection. His death served as our death, and his resurrection into new life served to bring us to new life. He didn’t belong on earth, so we no longer belong on earth. We belong in an eternal kingdom because of Jesus’ actions.
Knowing that my ultimate belonging is purchased by the one who is seated at the right hand of God, I am striving to push past the voice that tells me I don’t belong, and instead am focusing on worshipping the God of belonging by welcoming others into his joy. Join me?
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious king,
Who has washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side.
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
You have opened paradise,
And your saints in you shall rise.
At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing, office hymn, 17th cent.
Hymn # 126 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Bohemian Brethren