The Bumps and Bruises of Belonging

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We all want to belong, don’t we? 

At the same time - especially in the U.S. - we also want to be “rugged individuals.” This tension can be challenging. 

Labels and group identity can be restrictive (or even harmful) at times, but they can also help us know where we “fit.” Sociology teaches that one of the ways we understand ourselves is by the groups we believe we are a part of and, just as important, the groups we know we are not a part of.

I have always identified as a white Evangelical Christian woman. I believe I am these things. I grew up learning all the songs, going to the camps, reading all the Christy Miller books. I even wore the t-shirts. I was that little fish swimming against the flow. I was a Christian girl through and through.

But many years back, I started to feel like maybe I didn’t quite fit into that group. I don’t know if it was me feeling itchy or if I was getting the vibe from others that I didn’t belong. But if this identity were a crowded trolley, I was getting elbowed and jostled inside the white, Christian woman car a lot. And it hurt.

It started when I moved to live cross-culturally among the poor at age 19. My encounters with people and experiences that were completely outside my realm of understanding began shaping me in different ways. Then I got married to someone whose culture, first language, and immigration status was different than mine. And together we lived among a third culture and placed our kids in a public school where they are in the minority group. Each of my choices seemed to raise questions about whether or not I belonged in “my group.” 

I may have wondered about these things myself, but I was content to stay in the car with my people. But it also felt like slowly and sweetly - and with all the genteel of Southern white women - they were pushing me out of the car and into the road. Last year felt like the final kick. You don’t belong here.

It is taking some time, but I am becoming more comfortable not belonging. Or at least, not belonging to labels I’ve held for so long. I found Brené Brown's recent book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, to be so encouraging and practical. She writes, “You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” 

In stepping away from some of the labels that defined me, I resonate with the description of loneliness belonging no place. But I also find deep encouragement as Brown writes about the wilderness and the people you meet in that space.

I believe I do belong to a group, a collective of people working hard to live differently in the world. To challenge injustice. To seek God’s face. To promote reconciliation and peace and shalom. I don't often use the image of wilderness. I think of these folks as bridge-builders, extended out over a lonely cavern, connecting otherwise disconnected worlds. We belong no place, we belong every place.

In our family, we are trying to make different choices. We are doing our best to live differently because we believe that’s what it means to follow God. Not fitting into all the boxes. Not following all the culturally prescribed norms. Believe it or not, I think we’re swimming against the flow.

I know many of you belong to that group as well. You know the feeling of being pushed out of a group you thought you were a part of. And to you, I say welcome! We are your people. I may be dirty and a little bruised (jumping out of a moving vehicle never gets any easier), but I am cheering you on with all my little heart.

How are you living different in this season of life? Where have you seen your desire to follow God or to stay true to your values cause you to "go against the flow"? 

Photo credit: RogueRetro