I struggle with feeling accepted when it comes to enjoying time around people. Mainly it is all in my head. I have dealt with mental health struggles since middle school. It caused me to isolate and question whether people approved of me or whether they only tolerated me. Anxiety and depression do that to your head and make you question any place of belonging. Those feelings weigh down on a person, and faith in God feels distant. Constantly, I sought affirmation from God, to know with absolute certainty the people around me liked me. I knew my immediate family loved me, but other than them, I was questioning myself. I lacked trust in myself to discern my belonging.
The table was where I began to notice the ways God was at work. After I left home and started college from undergraduate to graduate studies, the table provided me a place. It manifested around different people at different times, but there was something that made it special for me. It opened my eyes and heart to trust the people who chose to come together. One of these community tables arrived in the form of two professors and about seven students at a small house in Indiana during my final year of undergrad. Every other week, the group gathered and talked, and it did not necessarily have any Bible study format, though we attended a Christian university. It was a place to talk, sometimes a place to vent, a place to trust that what got said around the table never left the table. It was a place I knew with certainty I belonged. We feasted on vegan soups and talked, laughed, and held each other’s stories.
Ultimately, the spaces formed around the table established safety. It reminded me of the verse from Jesus, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). I imagine what Jesus feels like, and I think about the words love and belonging. Not simplistic meanings but the love that was raw and real, death-defying, strong, and vulnerable all at once. It was at the table, sharing food where I practiced the love and trust to know everyone at the table was needed and belonged. Each person brought their stories, interests, and questions that enriched the space. I believed this was how it felt to be among the early church in the book of Acts.
The early followers were not perfect, but at their best, when they lived out the lessons of Jesus, they created a true community. “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47). At their best, raw love and belonging were at work among the people. No person felt rejected or alone, questioning their acceptance, everyone belonged.
The table I shared was caught short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it remains in my heart. I have experienced other beautiful tables of belonging, where bread was broken, stories were told, and I did not feel out of place. I did not get miraculously healed from anxiety and depression, but I am learning to find spaces where I feel safe. I will always be on a quest to find places of belonging, but now I better understand what those spaces look like. Feasting at the table of belonging is something all people need, and I celebrate with those who have found those places, and I am holding much love to those still searching.