by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Scriptures: 1 Peter 2:9; Rom. 8:37-39; Eph. 2:4-5; Eph. 2:10
Miriam-Webster's online dictionary defines “belonging” as “close or intimate relationship.” Dictionary.com defines it simply as “something that belongs.” When you put the two together you get a pretty clear definition of what it means to belong. Now, I don't know you or your background, but let me ask this, do you have a sense that you belong? Did you grow up with the feeling you belonged? Cultural and societal “norms” says you only belong if you live up to, or perform at, a certain set standard. That standard changes depending on who decides what's “in” and what “belongs.” The world bases it on things such as looks, job status, the clothes you wear, your weight, etc.
Are you one of those unfortunate enough to have not known your parents, or one of your parents, be it due to adoption, abandonment, or even death. Perhaps you knew them, but never really felt like you belonged. Maybe you were not shown true love and acceptance. Or perhaps you were bullied or picked on throughout your school years leaving you to feel the stabbing pain of rejection by certain “in” groups or “in” people. Maybe you are one who has suffered through physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, and this has caused you to feel as though you've never belonged.
Maybe you worked as hard as you can in school struggling to the best of your ability but still never reached the grades you were aiming for. Maybe you experienced teen pregnancy or even teen motherhood and this left you feeling like an outcast, like you didn't belong. Or, perhaps you have struggled with health problems all your life, mental or emotional. Maybe you grew up in poverty and always were in need causing feelings of not belonging. Or, maybe you even have an actual physical, or mental, disability you have been at war with all of your life. Whatever it is, many people have many things that cause them to feel like they don't belong, like misfits, outcasts, or oddballs.
If you feel like you don't really belong, a misfit if you will, then you know being one doesn't quite fit into any single class, group or category. There is just a gnawing sense of not belonging. I'm not one to blame every adult issue we have on our parents, or lack thereof, but I do believe that attachment and belonging start not just in infancy but in the womb as well. It is our parents who give us our first sense of belonging, acceptance, and our first image of what God may be like.
Have you felt like an outsider, never quite fitting into any particular group or clique? Have you longed and searched for a sense of belonging, for acceptance? In my opinion, most girls/women (men too) who act out sexually do so because they are longing to fill the void of belonging, being attached, and being loved. We also see in our culture a variety of ways people try to fill the void of belonging and love by joining gangs, cults, and some even use genuine religion.
Psychologist, John Bowlby, introduced what is known as the attachment theory. Bowlby notes that when we are accepted by others we experience warmth and security, and when the opposite happens and we experience denial and rejection it causse anxiety and even shame. Part of Bowlby's work included his theory on the relationship infants developed with their caregivers. “It was proposed that strong, secure attachments found in early years were associated with an individual's ability to form intimate trusting and emotionally secure relationships.”*
Another psychologist, one you may well have heard of, Abraham Maslow, introduced the "hierarchy of needs." His formulation, to put it simply, is a pyramid which demonstrates the five levels of basic human needs. One of those five he identified as love and belonging. “According to Maslow, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups, including family and friends. Humans need to love and to be loved by others.”**
Right now, as you are reading this, perhaps you're thinking that you've never really received that kind of love and belonging in your relationships, be they family, friendships, work, etc. As a younger child, I didn't really fit in and belong, I was overweight and got picked on a lot. Many times even as an adult I have found I don't fit in with one particular group of people where I feel I totally belong. It is true though that I do belong to the Body of Christ, but even there we still have denominations, fractions within those denominations, and different groups and cliques that get formed in the church.
I'm a bit of a hodge-podge of things and I'm not what is seen as the “typical” ordained minister type. In ministry I've found that at times I live out my freedom in Christ a bit too liberally for those in conservative circles and my theology and doctrinal beliefs are much too conservative for the liberals. I hate suits, ties in particular, and I think if I feel I have something to say I should be able to say it without watering it down to be more palatable for those with sensitive ears. These things often cause me to feel as if I don't belong.
I do come from a Christian upbringing, and I'm incredibly thankful for that, but I prefer to hang-out with those most consider to be misfits, even sinners if you will (although that includes us all). Now, I don't mean that in the sense of carrying out sinful acts with them, I mean it in the sense that often times those people are less judgmental and more accepting even though the reverse should be true. I'm not making any accusations here, I'm just being completely honest.
Perhaps one of these describe you: physically and/or emotionally disabled, homeless, jobless, an orphan, a widow or widower, a teen mom, were never able to have children, single and lonely, or poor. Or maybe you come from an environment where you did not feel loved or felt like you belonged. Maybe you were abused, abandoned, rejected, or kicked out to the curb. Maybe you were forgotten, misunderstood, or are divorced. Maybe you've always felt “different.” Well, you are not alone. There are countless others, myself included, who have experienced these struggles and difficulties. Actually, we are the majority, not the minority.
If anything I've brought up so far has rang true to you I need you to remember a few things. Don't just scan over the following, read them and take them to heart. Jot them down and read them regularly. Here they are:
1 Peter 2:9, “YOU are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, that you proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (emphasis added).
Romans 8:37-39, “No, in all these things we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS through him who LOVED us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, NOR ANYTHING ESLE IN ALL CREATION, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (emphasis added).
Ephesians 2: 4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great LOVE with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, MADE US ALIVE together with Christ— by GRACE you have been saved—“ (emphasis added).
Ephesians 2:10, “For He chose US in Him BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD to be holy and blameless in His sight. In LOVE, he predestined us to be ADOPTED as His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ” (emphasis added).
We ARE chosen, loved, and adopted by God through Jesus Christ. We are loved, wanted, and we belong!
If you ask me, I think God has a special place in His heart for those who don't feel like they belong, for those who find themselves outside of societal or cultural norms, for misfits. Jesus and the disciples preached and exemplified caring for those who cannot care for themselves: orphans, widows, and the fatherless. Jesus didn't come primarily for the powerful, prosperous, or pious, instead the Bible shows us He came for the blind, lame, diseased, hurting, outcasts, sinners, “dead,” or the “misfits” if you will.
God is a redeemer so whatever your losses and struggles have been, He will one day rectify them all. Just look at a few examples from Scripture of the “misfits” God chose to use and redeem. Abraham and Sarah, who were unable to give birth, God chose them to make an entire great nation. Moses, who had some kind of speech impediment and also murdered someone, yet God still used him mightily. I think pretty much all of the disciples could be classified as “misfits.” Among them you had tax collectors, fisherman, just common run of the mill people, nothing about them really stood out and one was even a traitor. Rahab, the prostitute, clearly a misfit, was used by God and was seen as faithful. Naomi, a bitter widow whom God sent a kinsmen-redeemer to, and she was used in a powerful way with her daughter-in-laws.
Good news! God still uses misfits today. If you are a misfit like me, you can rejoice and find comfort in the fact that God has a special plan and purpose for your life. If you have faith in Jesus Christ, then you belong to God's family. That's really the only place that matters if you belong or not. You may have been rejected by people, never felt accepted or felt you've never really belonged; but you are accepted and loved by God. You belong to Him and His family.
*Reck, Stephanie. “Where Do I Belong?”