Choosing to Belong

We hadn’t been going to any church regularly for a couple of years, yet we felt the yearning to belong to a local part of the body, to be connected. We had a few friends at a church who had invited us along, so we made a decision: we would go for an entire school term and then assess if we wanted to stay. It has been more than two years now, since we started going to our church.

The first Sunday service shook my world. Not because it was amazingly awesome, or because we felt God moving, or because we made incredible connections with people. No, it wasn’t a good shaking.

I could barely look at the front wall, where in proud red letters it said, “Jesus Christ is Lord”. I didn’t know where I stood with Jesus anymore. My faith was so confused and deconstructed. Luckily, I had a two-year-old who needed lots of attention and a six-year-old who wanted regular reassurance. It was months until I made peace with those words, until I chose to stand in the mystery of how God could be human. Every Sunday I looked at those words and they never changed. Every Sunday the service centered around Jesus, this God-man who confounded me. So, I had to find a way to change myself; I had to find a way to meet God in this place.

Other parts of the church I still haven’t made peace with: we were told that women weren’t allowed to preach or lead at this church. I nearly didn’t go back. In fact, I was tempted to walk out before that first service even really got started.

But my husband and I had agreed to go for a whole school term. We felt like God was asking us to just bear with it and try this church out.

So, we went back and kept going back.

It has been an uneasy truce. Some Sunday services are more uncomfortable than others, some weeks the patriarchy shows more; other weeks a casual comment leaves me reeling in my deconstructed faith. Some weeks I can predict it and brace for it; other weeks it takes me completely by surprise and I am pierced through again.

But I keep showing up. I keep insisting that I belong, heretical though I may seem.

No matter our differences in theology, no matter that when I first walked in my faith lay broken around me; every time I ask God if this is where I should be, I get a resounding affirmation.

So, I process the pain as best I can, and go back again the following week. Sometimes I hide in the prayer room when my heart is too heavy to socialize after the service. Slowly, we have grown familiar with the faces around us, could smile in recognition even if we didn’t find much to talk about.

God wants me here, and I have, long before this, chosen to trust God. So I’ll keep showing up, keep insisting I belong here, until I can believe it, too.

My repeated showing up is slowly making me more comfortable, slowly lowering my guard. I am slowly teaching myself that I belong here, with these people, despite how different I feel. Less often do I feel the heaviness of tears welling up over innocuous chats about the weather or my children. Slowly, I feel my spirit spread her wings in this space.

And the thing that most made me feel a part? When I was in need, when I asked this family to gather around to support me in prayer, and they did. And then the next week they came around me again, asking how things were, lifting me up. These people, who had once been strangers, could be Christ to me.

Slowly, I’m finding that I am not alone, that my heart for God is also found throughout this church, this community. And there is community; there is togetherness; in standing side-by-side in Christ, no matter how different we seem to be.

I belong here because I choose to belong here, not because I fit.

The New Testament talks repeatedly about the need for unity in the church, but unity doesn’t mean sameness; it means togetherness, it means bringing our differences together to make a fullness that otherwise isn’t possible. And it is Christ who brings us together; it is in Christ we belong.

If I just keep showing up, no matter how discordant I feel, I can belong. And not just because I am being obedient to God, but because it is becoming home, becoming family, and there is a place for me here.

Kathy Hastelow
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3 thoughts on “Choosing to Belong

  1. Kathy, I appreciate how you have shown belonging is a choice and it isn’t equated to fitting in. That’s something to let sink in. Thanks

    • Hi Debby, I’m glad to hear this is helpful. It was a new way of looking at belonging for me, being able to choose it.

  2. We were on a long church search that has recently come to an end, and it didn’t end where I expected it to. I don’t necessarily feel out of place in our new church, as you describe, but I also didn’t really connect with the people around me either. But there were several things that happened that made me think, contrary to what I would have expected, this is the one, we’re staying. Staying still feels like a decision I didn’t expect to make, but I keep making it. Thanks for sharing your story.

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