Through my life, I have consistently felt like the ugly duckling. The one who doesn’t fit in; I’m too loud, to firm, too blunt, too different. Anytime I found somewhere that accepted me, I have clung to that deeply. I think the first time was when I was 14 and I sat in the back row of a church and a boy in that church decided that he wanted to be friends with a girl who would show up at 14 in church alone. He’s been my best friend ever since.
My husband has family in Mexico and the first time I ever met them they made me feel like a part of the family, not because I was married in, but because they accepted me and wanted me. When my husband and I divorced, none of that changed. We actually grew closer. I had somewhere that I belonged.
Brene Brown has written about the difference of fitting in and belonging. She says, “Fitting in is about assessing the situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are,” (The gifts of imperfection).
Dear Church Leaders – knowing the difference is CRUCIAL. In school I always tried to fit in. I felt that who I was would never be good enough. Because I had been abused and grew up in a dysfunctional family, I didn’t believe that who I was had value or worth. So I constantly tried to change who I was to fit the group I was around. This resulted in me hating myself even more. I compromised who I was, to try and get acceptance and ultimately would reject myself. I often wasn’t accepted that way either anyways, so my efforts were wasted.
But isn’t this EXACTLY what the church does? We expect people to change before we make them a part of our group. You have to fit in, in order to be a Christian – at least that’s the theology people actually practice. It’s 100% contrary to the Bible and we NEED TO STOP THIS!
Christ taught belonging. Come to me, as you are, who you are and I accept you. Christians panic because they think this is a permission to sin, but it’s not. It’s permission to be real, to be honest, open and vulnerable. That sometimes I act in ways that God never created me to, but He loves me anyways. He has already planned for my mistakes. My sin didn’t take me off course, because God already knew my sin and he has planned for that. He is still going to use me even though I mess up.
Can we as Christians not also do the same? Can we also not accept people for where they are at, show them unconditional love and know that God has a plan?
Brene also writes, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
I was not functioning as I was meant to, because my needs hadn’t been met. Too often I found churches that wanted me to “clean up” before I could be accepted by them. I couldn’t clean up because my needs weren’t being met. If we meet peoples needs for love and belonging, then their behaviors will change. It was true for me. It was a long process, but as I found more and more people who loved me for who I was, and I felt I didn’t have to try and change who I was for them to accept me, I had less pain to numb. They loved me even though I was loud and blunt and different. God made me this way. I have to know when to temper those things, but it’s who I am at my core.
Stop trying to make people fit in, when God created us to belong. We all belong to Him.