We all want to belong. We all want to feel valued. There are many of us who feel we deserve to be noticed and there are many of us who feel like we just want to fade into the background, and then there are others who fall somewhere in between.
I am the oldest of four children. I have three brothers. All of us are very different but we have some kind of family gene that means we have similar talents and similar natural flairs; that is perhaps apart from Ben. Ben is my second youngest brother. He is very creative, very talented, wise, witty and generally he is a leader wherever he goes. He is a valuable member of any team. Growing up, though, we used to tease him about being adopted. We all had our own individual fashion senses, we were quite quirky and we wanted to stand out from the crowd. We were artistic and musical. Ben was sporty, and none of us were. He loved his tracksuit bottoms and trainers. He was artistic, creative and musical but in a different way, so my brothers used to say he was adopted.
He wasn’t. He was just Ben.
Perhaps there is a child in your family that was teased in this way. Perhaps it was you. All of our childhood experiences shape us into the people that we are. I used to feel pretty confident in myself until I was about 15 or 16 and then my individuality seemed to become something that people around me would mock. They would say things like ‘What are you wearing that for?’ or ‘you’re so weird’, in fact one boy in particular used to call me ‘skinny weirdo’. I was never too bothered by this stuff, but when I look back it shaped me. Perhaps it took off my quirky edges and made me fit in better amongst my friends or maybe I lost parts of me. I don’t know but I do remember developing a feeling inside myself that made me feel like I didn’t fit.
I was confident on the outside but often I would walk into a room and feel like I didn’t fit or that people didn’t want me there. This feeling was confronted by a lady who came to visit our church. She picked me out in a church service and spoke in to my life saying, “There are times when you have felt like you don’t fit, but God says I’m grafting you in, you are accepted, you’re my daughter.” Something broke off me with her words, though sometimes it is still something that every so often is whispered in my ear and I have to fight it.
The truth is, we only find our place in the family of God by really understanding who our heavenly father says we are. In the film Cheaper by the Dozen there is a scene where one child (one of twelve children) goes to his mum and says, ‘everyone calls me Fed ex because they say the Fed ex guy dropped me off and I don’t fit in this family.’ His mum pulls him into her for a cuddle and she says, “You fit! You fit right here!”
That is what God is saying to us. He is pulling us in to His embrace and saying, “You fit! You fit right here!” Until we can grasp that we will always be wondering what our role is, whether we are in the right place, why we can’t find friends that value us for who we are. In church I think sometimes this stuff is heightened. We think we’ve found our place on the host team, or as a connect group leader, or on the worship team, or working with the kids. Whatever it looks like, at the root I guess we all have similar needs. We just want to be free to be ourselves and to belong.
We don’t need a role or a title in church to be free to be ourselves, though it can feel like that. We don’t need acknowledgment from others to know we are in the right place, we just need Jesus and he will give a place to flourish that might surprise us. There are, however, some practical things that we can do and some questions we can ask ourselves that will help us.
The first thing is to stop and ask ourselves whether we are trying too hard to be someone we are not. Do we feel lonely because the people we want to be friends with just don’t seem to notice us? Maybe we are looking for friendship in the wrong place. As church we are family, we all belong; we all have a place in it, but when it comes to friendships we don’t need to be friends with everyone. In fact it may not be healthy. If you are continually striving to fit in within certain people groups maybe you need to ask yourself if these are the people who are going to make you soar. Are these people helping you flourish or do they, unknowingly, fuel your insecurity? We all need friends who we can totally be ourselves with and if we are putting on a front everyday to fit we need to look ourselves in the mirror and ask God who He says we are.
Are we trying too hard to please leaders? If we do too much just to please people we will loose ourselves and loose sight of Who it is that we are really serving. If you are on the children’s team (or any team for that matter) to please your leader: STOP! Reassess why you are on that team. You are there to serve Jesus, to let him use the gifts he has given you. Being on the right team will help you find your place in the church and we should serve with everything, it is our worship to God, but when it isn’t anymore we have to stop and look at our motives and the internal damage it could be doing to us. People will let us down: God never will. Serve Him first.
Spend time with God. He knows who we are even when we don’t. I have found that through the toughest things we have faced, I have lost myself and found myself all at the same time. I lost who I thought I was. This can be such an isolating process. It can feel like no one has noticed that you are not the same person anymore, but you’re not the same and you never will be again. I had to get to know the new version of me, the one with broken pieces that didn’t fit together anymore. Illness can do this to us, grief can do this, depression all sorts of things can leave us bewildered and in the middle of an identity crisis. Sometimes we need to be brave enough to let go of things in order to find new things. I was disturbed in my comfortableness! And I had to understand that only God, my source, my song, can use the stuff that life throws at me to refine me and shape me. 1 Peter 4 in The Message says this:
Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
Too often our motives are about getting what we want and even getting what we think we have earnt or deserve. None of us deserve any of this. We don’t deserve the gifts that God freely gives us and we don’t deserve recognition. None of these things will help us fit but if we can learn to work in our giftings quietly and diligently behind the scenes we will feel fulfilled. Some people are called to lead others, some aren’t and leadership comes in many forms. You don’t need a platform to lead in life. Sometimes we think we should be something that we are not and we will spend our lives feeling unfilled, undervalued and overlooked. Titus 3:14 in the NIV says, “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not to live unproductive lives.” The MSG puts it like this: ‘Our people have to learn to be diligent in their work so that all necessities are met (especially among the needy) and they don’t end up with nothing to show for their lives.’
I don’t want to be someone who has nothing to show for my life, but I don’t want that to come in the form of acclamation or recognition, I want to bear fruit for the Kingdom. If we try to be someone that we are not there is an ‘us’ shaped hole left in the places where we could flourish. If we don’t get over ourselves someone else will do the stuff that we could do and they will go on to lead fruitful lives while we sit and look on feeling sorry for ourselves.
Ask a good friend or a trusted leader to tell you where they think your giftings are. Others can often see this stuff better than we can because iron sharpens iron and then get over yourself! Get over your wants and look only to what God wants. Sometimes hunger for the things of God is shown in discontentment, sometimes discontentment is just about our own selfishness. Learn to discern between the two.
We need to help each other find our place. We need to be brave enough to acknowledge when we are wrong. We need to correct the lies of the enemy over each other and speak truth and life, instead of being jealous or insecure and we need to be more like Jesus. Stop striving and rest in the embrace of Father God. Today and everyday He is saying:
‘You fit! You fit right here!’