The Issue of Belonging
We all yearn to belong. This longing is at our core, constantly seeking the deep well of rest and security that beckons, "Come! You are found here."
From our first breath, we embark upon the quest for belonging. We come into the world needy and wanting, grasping for the breast that tells us we are found, known, and loved. But soon we find that even the most committed nurturing can’t fulfill our spirit, that deep God-space within us that yearns to be fully found in Christ. We’re thrust headfirst into families, cultures, groups, and religions that scream, “Behave, think, dress, talk, vote this way! Then you’ll fit! Then you’ll belong!” But centuries have proven that behavior can’t determine true belonging...because true belonging says to us: “Even if you misbehave, you still belong.” (Thank you dear counselor-friend, Don Arterburn.) This space of belonging is not a peer group, a race, a gender, a people, or a tribe, but rather a keen knowledge that we matter and hold inherent value.
It seems that from the very start of the summer, we have been handed stories of broken hearts, broken lives, and broken families...all fueled by the desire to belong. The identity crises in our culture are so apparent, from Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner wrestling with gender identity to Rachel Dolezal’s race identification (born a white woman, now identifying as a black woman). As the image-bearers of God, we are still wrestling with where we fit.
I look at the way Jesus paved the way for the misfits: he was willing to be labeled by their moral shortcomings, not his own. Here’s where it gets so messy for us: it’s easy to read from a distance about Jesus’s radical association with outcasts without ever tasting the salty sweat of Gospel living.
When we’re faced with these issues, often we want the right argument and theology before we engage. We want to know where we stand before we open our table to the homosexual, transgender, bisexual, homeless, stripper, sex addict, alcoholic, mentally ill (insert the toughest ‘label’ for you to engage with). I’ve found that engaging with the marginalized teaches you how to really think. Theology is thrown up in the air and twisted towards Heaven. What rains back down is pure and true.
Whereas misfits tend to grasp for extreme ideology, the rescued can’t live by extremes because their God keeps them hanging in the beautiful balance of humility and dependency. These are the ones who have found such belonging that they’re free to love anyone, even if they don’t look, think, and act the same - “whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18). We forget that the disciples were asking questions (and getting many of their answers wrong) until the day Jesus ascended. Unsure as they were, they still walked, sat, and ate with the misfits simply because Jesus did. Their uncertainty never excused them from the command to LOVE.
I think of the people of Charleston who welcomed in a deranged Dylan Roof: a misfit full of hate, evil and resentment who clung to extreme white supremacist ideology. We saw the believers at A.M.E Church follow the very way of Jesus...which cost some of them their lives. Was their welcoming a mistake? Should they have “refused a stranger”?
And still in the courtroom, they stood together as the family. Their voices thick and wobbling, they extended forgiveness to Dylan and begged God for mercy on his soul. Wait, they want Dylan to belong to their Savior? They’re asking for this deranged, enemy of the church to come into unity with them through Christ? These grieving families are teaching us if we will only listen: even through suffering, they extended both forgiveness and belonging. They asked him to come to Christ, to join their family that he might find rest for his soul.
The darkness wants us to withhold this invitation, to become exclusive and tightly shut to protect ourselves from harm. But we are commanded to love even if it costs us. If we limit our extension of belonging, we allow fear to rule our family. The real kind of love fears God alone, avoids extremes, and surrenders all. This love says, “we belong and there’s room for you too.”