How many of us have thought, “If I could just lose 20 pounds, If I get that promotion, when I get married, when I can afford a nicer house, If I were more educated...THEN I would feel okay about myself or THEN I’ll be happy? I’m pretty sure all of us have had these types of thoughts along the way. And all of these things can feel pretty good, but they don’t affect our self worth in any lasting way.
Brene Brown says in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: “Here’s what is truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness. Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging right now. Right this minute. As is.” She has also learned through her research that “Love belongs with belonging.”
She says, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. 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.”
There is a big difference between fitting in and belonging. When we are fitting in, we are portraying ourselves as something we’re not. We become like a chameleon and adapt in order to fit in with our surroundings. We perform or as Brene Brown says, “hustle” for acceptance. We figure out the need so we can fill it. We figure out how we should look, act, walk, and talk so we will be deemed acceptable. If acceptance comes at this high price, it is not our place of belonging.
Our place of belonging is where we can present our imperfect authentic selves and be accepted. In other words the good, bad, and the ugly. The bedhead and morning breath, the person who talks way too much in the morning and snores at night, but that same person who is my biggest fan and greatest encourager, and is one of the most generous people I know. That safe place where we can let our hair down and be real without fear of judgement, ridicule, or rejection.
Jesus models this throughout the New Testament. He is always looking for the one who is trying to find their place of belonging. A great example is the woman at the well. To begin with, this woman was a Samaritan which meant she was considered a mixed race by the Jews. The Jews hated the Samaritans and would go to extreme measures to avoid even going near Samaria. The second strike was that she was a woman, and not only a woman, but a woman of ill repute. She had been married five times and was now living with a man whom she was not married to. Women could be stoned to death for adultery so suffice to say, she did not fit in with her culture.
Jesus cares about every single one of us no matter our race, social position, or our past. No respectable Jewish man would’ve been caught dead speaking to a woman like her. The rejection, whispers, finger pointing, and insults must have been relentless and unbearable. Rather than coming to the well early in the morning or in the evening as all the other women of the community did, this woman came in the heat of the day to avoid all the reminders that she didn’t belong.
On this particular day the Jew of all Jews, the Messiah, treated her with dignity and respect. He chose the town outcast to reveal his true identity to her and to her community. He met her right where she was and offered her hope and acceptance. He didn’t condone her lifestyle but he understood her journey. I don’t know what her story was that led her to be married five times and to be living with a 6th man, but Jesus knew and he didn’t judge her unworthy. He spoke worth, love, and belonging into her heart. She was worthy she just didn’t know it until her encounter with Jesus the Messiah.
I’ve been where she was disillusioned and hopeless, because I believed my best never had been and never would be enough. I’ve searched for belonging in people, appearance, being good, meeting needs, etc and like her it left me lost. Also like her, I was changed by an encounter with Jesus. It certainly didn’t all happen overnight, but I am here to say that today I know I belong. Do I have days that I feel insecure and I struggle with my worth? Absolutely. But even in those days, I KNOW the truth even if I don’t FEEL it. On those days I reach out to a trusted friend if I need to, or I go to the Word and I choose with my will to believe the absolute truth that doesn’t change. Truth doesn’t change based on my feelings, another person’s opinion of me, or the number on the scale.
Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible and I’ll end with verses 31-39.