belonging

I ate my lunch in the girls’ bathroom for two weeks during eighth grade. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say I had had a falling out with the people I usually sat with and, having put all of my eggs in that social basket, found myself with nowhere to sit in a 45 minute span when I needed somewhere, anywhere, to go. So for two weeks I took my pretzels and Dr. Pepper (life long health goddess) to the bathroom and ate in there. At the time it seemed more desirable to eat in the least sanitary place in the entire building than to pray for a place to sit in a room filled with people already sitting.

Most of us have felt this way at some point in life, many of us first encountered this just like I did— scanning a crowded cafeteria wondering where to sit and wishing we had a place to go. The feeling was sincere, albeit silly, at thirteen; and at thiry-one it feels even sillier but maybe even more poignant.

I moved back to my hometown about a year ago and it’s been different than I was expecting. It’s changed, but it hasn’t. I’ve changed, but I haven’t. Everyone else has changed, but also they haven’t at all. There has been novelty in the place I’ve always associated with normalcy, and in short, I don’t really know what to make of it. It’s been funny and humbling and fun and weird going back to square one and learning the place I’ve called home (and always will, love you mom) all over again— its people, its nooks and crannies, its social quirks and constructs, its weird endearing way—as an adult, and even more so learning myself all over again too. It’s been lonely. But in being lonely, and being honest about feeling lonely, I’ve been able to make and rekindled deeper and richer friendships than I could have ever anticipated.

I have this friend from high school who, upon my telling her I was lonely for heart friends, has welcomed me into her life and invited me to just about every single thing she does. Whether it’s going on a walk around the neighborhood or running errands or sitting on her couch with her while she pumps— everything that entails, out and about—she has gone out of her way to welcome me back in. This wouldn’t be noteworthy if we had stayed in touch over the years, or if we had been close friends to begin with, or were in the same season of life, or really if our paths naturally crossed at all. But that’s not the case. We were friends in high school but ran with different circles. Most of her circle lives here and most of mine has moved away. Moving back was socially scary because this is not my first “move and make friends” rodeo and I know that I’m different than I was when I left, not to mention that I am tragically out of social shape due to working from home for two years (Example: in the past two months I have, honest to the good Lord on high, SALUTED—like cadet Kelly— three different people, at three different times, as if it was as socially acceptable as waving hello. These are scary times, folks). It’s one thing to jump back in when you feel like you’ve got something to offer; it’s an entirely different animal when you feel like you don’t have a best foot to put forward.

And I explained this to my friend, apologizing for “oversharing” and dumping on her. And she welcomed me back into her life, and even into her circle, with open and insistent arms. And it’s not just me either. Just this week I was getting lunch with a mutual friend of ours and I drove by her house on my way and noticed her car in the drive. I instinctively pulled over, let myself in, completely unannounced, through her garage door, and was greeted with a “Well, hey!” My lunch date and I ended up taking our food over to her house where we ate while she put her baby down, made her husband lunch, and watered her plants. Another friend of hers, whom I hadn’t yet met, also stopped by with her lunch and the four of us had an impromptu picnic together in her back yard while she pumped— Janis Joplin glasses on, boobs out and about, just basking in the sun and jumping into the conversation as if it we had planned it weeks out. She welcomed us all into her life exactly as it is.

My friend gives people a place to belong. No matter where you’re coming from or where you’re going, no matter what you’re bringing in with you or leaving behind, no matter if you need to laugh or cry or process or pray— or all of the above— she gives people a place to belong. She welcomes you in exactly as you are and meets you exactly as she is.

This is what Jesus did. Jesus gave people a place to belong.

We don’t read about group dynamics or whether or not all of his followers clicked with one another. He doesn’t mention general personality cohesion or the vibe of his followers. There were fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, Jews, poor people, rich people, crippled people, sick people, and a little bit of everything else running with Jesus. So I’ll go out on that limb with Zacchaeus and say there was likely an awkward moment or two, a preconceived notion or two, a prejudice or two, throughout the group of his ever-growing followers over the years.

But it didn’t matter. Their humors, hobbies, interests, socio-economic classes, and professions weren’t what brought them together— Jesus did.

They all belonged with Jesus.

He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

He said “come to me”. He simply gave people a place to belong with him, in his company, while he was helping, healing, serving, and teaching. He was where people belonged.

It’s the same with my friend—I know that if I see her at Bible study or book club or a birthday party, I have someone to talk to.

It’s such a small thing to give someone a place to belong and to welcome her into our lives. It’s tempting to keep people at a distance until we feel we have our lives together. We don’t want to have people over until the house is clean enough, we don’t want to let people into our mess because we don’t want to burden them, we don’t want to invite someone over because we can’t fully entertain them. This way of thinking is not biblical. Jesus didn’t even have a place to lay his head and yet he was inviting people into his life left and right. It might cost us some time, some pride, and some emotional stock, but we have an opportunity to give people a place to belong. Let’s take it.

Photo: Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

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