Find Where You Belong

I was scrolling through the blogosphere when an advert came up for the British Army. I’m pretty open to their cause and have a strange affinity because I grew up with a parent serving in the British Army. But something in me winced at this advert.

You see, their advertising has always been targeted but now it’s reaching into the hearts of the many people who have a sense of missing something. It reaches into the heart of the person who feels as though they don’t belong by offering them the one thing they want: a place to belong.

What does it mean to truly belong?

Often people allow fitting in and belonging to become interchangeable, when they actually sit opposite to one another. Fitting in is about changing yourself to be accepted – to fit in you can’t necessarily be yourself. On the other hand, belonging is about being yourself and being accepted and embraced anyway.

It’s because of this distinction, I think, that so many of us have felt that sense of not belonging at some point in our lives. And, oh what sweet relief, when we finally find people we can be real with, be entirely ourselves with. The joy of true friendship has been when I’ve completely messed up. That sounds strange, but it is so freeing to have people who we can turn to and say, “I seriously screwed up here,” and know that they’ll stand by us anyway. And yet, the problem with finding belonging in the people around us, or in our jobs, or our homes, is that these things inevitably shift and change. I know that I’ve loved moving house and yet, I’ve struggled with the shift in relationships. My friends are still my friends, even 100 miles away, but it isn’t the same. I don’t belong in that place anymore and that is uncomfortable.

True belonging

For me (and for millions of others around the world), the truest belonging is found in relationship with Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter how badly I screw up, I can always turn to Him. It’s not without challenge, as we constantly reflect on our lives and little by little try to live better. My relationship with Jesus has changed so much over the last 30 years, but not because he has changed. Rather, he’s changed me. I’ve shifted and grown, and yet Jesus has stayed the same. His constant unchanging presence and truth has enabled me to find a deep sense of belonging that isn’t on offer anywhere else.

At the heart of belonging is Jesus’ offering of grace. It is this grace which allows us the space to be imperfect, to love and live imperfectly and yet to somehow belong at the same time. The world is full of imperfect people, living imperfectly and yet trying to mask their imperfections through literal or digital filters. This is dangerous, not least because filters lead to a lack of grace for ourselves, but also towards others. It’s dangerous because we slowly view ourselves through that lens of judgement and shame.

“If only they knew what you were really like…”

“If everyone knew what you did…”

“If only they knew who you really were…”

When we view ourselves through this lens, there isn’t a lot of room for grace… and there isn’t a lot of room for belonging either. This is fitting in, holding up the filter, hoping it never falls. Brene Brown says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” Today, it truly is an act of courage to openly be imperfect… but to do so requires the truest sense of belonging.

Belonging in community

The other thing about finding true belonging in Jesus, abundantly surrounded by grace, is that it roots itself in community. The church doesn’t always get it right, but at its best it is trying to create that grace-filled space for people to enter into and to belong. Unfortunately, many Christians are the harshest judges, refusing to extend even the slightest amount of grace they themselves have received. But my hope is we can do better.

My hope is that we might be people who accept Jesus’ invitation into relationship with him because, when we do, we accept his invitation for grace and love; we accept his invitation to find an eternal belonging. A belonging that doesn’t shift. A belonging that isn’t dependent upon life’s circumstances.

My prayer is that we might be people who extend that grace to other people so they might also find belonging, and learn to drop the mask.

Welcome. Please, come in. You won’t find perfect people here, but we hope you will find belonging.

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Backstage Help Required

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5: 16

Backstage-Pass

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that so many of us think we are the only ones struggling with something. No-one else could possibly understand. And yet, this verse says otherwise. We are never alone in our falling short; we are never alone in our struggles. It is part of the human condition.

Yet, how many of us allow people into the backstage areas of our lives? Who are we accountable to? Who has permission to ask us those tough questions that require total honesty?

For me, it’s always been this fear of being ‘found out’ that has kept me from showing my backstage life to others. Inviting people in might mean they think less of me… but why would that ever have been my concern? People might think less of the me I’ve portrayed, but it isn’t even the real me. It’s just the front stage, polished act I’d grown into playing throughout years of collusion in my mind.

I say ‘I had’ because I’m trying to live this out in the present. I’m having the really tough, sometimes costly conversations. I’m letting people into the backstage who can pray with me, give me advice, or sometimes just hold my hand through it all. And wow do my shoulders feel lighter.

In his book on leadership, Simon Walker writes about the consequences of not letting people into the backstage: inevitably, the backstage starts to leak onto the front stage; or it just completely explodes. He says, “what lies behind the creation of a front and back stage is the sense that we can’t entirely trust our audience, and so we need to manage what they see of us.” And yet, where we trust, where we intentionally let people in to the stuff we are struggling with, where we make ourselves vulnerable, we find relief and freedom.

Though we risk rejection and judgment, it’s only of the false self we have put forward anyway. In reality, vulnerability allows others to be vulnerable; it breeds honesty, acceptance and respect.

Who are you vulnerable with?

Who do you let into your backstage?

You Got A Friend In Me

Today started out as many others have recently.

My little girl is definitely entering those tricky toddler years, with tantrums galore and crying at the drop of a hat for no reason at all. Of course, that’s not quite true. It seems to be for no reason to me, an adult. But clearly something is bothering my darling daughter. Whether it’s her teeth, her tummy, or just simply the frustration that she can’t communicate what she wants, something is causing my child to behave in a way I previously thought wasn’t in her nature.

And so, today started pretty badly. There were tears, lots of shaking of the head and some very cross noes. All before breakfast! For some unknown reason, she had given up eating for the last week or so. This morning, it is safe to say, I wasn’t looking forward to another day of refusing to eat. But thankfully, this was not to be. She’s eaten so well, and I am thrilled!

Anyway… why the title from Toy Story? 

Well, because today a friend reached out to me. And, for once, I let them.

Wow! What a difference!

I was able to pack my entire wardrobe for our imminent house move, and clean the bathroom. And I was able to breathe, not worry that my child isn’t having fun whilst I am getting organised. My friend arrived back at my house with my lovely bundle, and we enjoyed a natter and then he surprised me… with a lovely box of chocolates (which I might be enjoying right now). Wow! Good friends are really good for you. Such a blessing!

With my mood drastically lifted, I felt ready to get through the rest of the day. Despite a bit more whinging, my little girl seemed happier today – probably because she has eaten food! She’s now in bed, sleeping, and my husband is out at football. So I’m chilling on the sofa in my pjs, eating chocolate and drinking a hot brew. Bliss!

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. It may be just what you need.