Belonging and Authenticity

By Reverend Amanda

Have you ever walked into a room full of people and felt like, “I really don’t belong here”? Or have gone out with a group of people and felt like the spare wheel? We all have felt out of place at some point in life. As a child, I always wanted to hang out with my older brothers. But they never seemed to want me around. I always kind of felt left out, like I was the spare wheel that was only included because my mother made them take their baby sister along with them.

One time in particular, I followed the younger of my older brothers and his friend. They were always running away from me when they saw me and I was only allowed to join them when they wanted someone to play a trick on. One such summer day, we were playing outside in the sprinkler and all of a sudden the water stopped. They asked me to help them out by checking to see if there was something wrong with the hose. Well, as I looked in the hose the water came rushing back directly into my face. They laughed and ran off. I did not always feel welcomed; I did not feel as if I belonged.

As I have gotten older, when I find myself in similar situations, I refuse to be deterred. I ask questions and learn about people to see how I might fit in. I have learned to share my life and eventually people share their life experiences with me as well. I find that just being authentically me, by taking an interest in others, I find my own unique spot among new communities and groups of people.

This happens in church communities as well. There are people who feel as if they just do not belong in the world of church because of their lives, their choices, or their backgrounds. Brene Brown writes, “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance”.1

This is no different than what people have felt for thousands of years throughout the history of Christianity. There have always been those who have felt excluded by the persona Christianity places out in the world. The earliest Christians fought over whether gentiles could legitimately call themselves Christian if they did not first convert to Judaism which required adhering to the Mosaic Laws. It meant changing life habits, friends and acquaintances, and the possible conversion of all family members in the house.

Gentiles were not welcomed by many Christian groups. Primarily, by the Christians converted under the disciples. The only one who sought out a ministry to these previously pagan groups was Paul. He saw that though they did not know who God was up until this point they were very much yearning to know God and to feel the power of Christ in their lives. It was only after Christ opened the eyes of Peter to the all welcoming power and will of God that Peter realized he had acted in error by excluding those who were not of Jewish descent. The gentiles felt excluded, as if they were the third wheel. This did not help the cause and ministry of Christ.

Even today there are individuals that Christian communities try to exclude and in so doing they exclude the very people Christ is calling us to minister to, the very people Christ is calling us to accept and to welcome into the loving, supporting community of Christ.

The message is not only for those who fit a certain image of what a Christian should be, but the beauty of the message of Christ is that it is for all peoples. Christ’s message of compassion, love, acceptance, and care has the potential to bring people together, to unite people across boundaries and cultures. It has the power to open us up to a new world of peace and care. If we open out hearts and welcome all who yearn for something more in life, if we open our minds and welcome all who want to find peace, purpose, and belonging in their lives, then we too will find a new sense of peace and purpose in our faiths.

We have the potential to offer so much healing for people in their lives just by offering community, companionship and care to those who are in need. By removing the stigma of judgment that sometimes comes with the Christian faith, we could really do wonderful things with people’s lives. This type of compassion, care and fellowship is what strengthens individuals and communities. It brings people together creating that sense of belonging we all need. We called not to judge others but to welcome them just as they are. Church, God, and Christ are for all people no matter past transgressions, anxieties, or concerns of judgment. Our mission should be to reach out to God’s people with compassion through our work, in our community, in our church because there is a great message to be experienced, in each person who professes faith, in each individual who finds themselves yearning and searching in life.

So let us welcome strangers and friends alike into our hearts, into our lives, and into our community. We do this by working to live into the message of Christ. Just as Peter was encouraged to do in our scriptures when they said, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”2 God tells us to go into the world and to not make distinctions between people for everyone is loved. There is always room for more people just as they are in the family of God.

[1] Brene Brown, 21st century Research professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host.
[2] Acts 11: 10, NRSV.