I’ve even talked with people who have completely left everything and everyone behind, moved to another state where they don’t know a soul, and with the best of intentions find themselves in the same circumstances they were fleeing. It’s like heat seeking drama.
This cycle leads people to believe everyone is selfish, or that everyone will abuse them. Try as they may, they seem to always choose the most toxic person possible to connect with. This has led me to advise many to essentially do the opposite of what they feel, when it comes to choosing relationships.
So what’s going on here? Why do we choose to get hurt over and over. Why do some play out the same tragedy from cradle to grave?
I believe the answer is: belonging. When you experience something, especially early in your life, you feel you belong there. That’s great when it’s healthy, but joy robbing when it is not. Scripture tells us when we accept Christ, we are a new creation and tells us we have been adopted, grafted, made joint heirs … the list goes on and on. We are being encouraged repeatedly that we belong, that we are loved, and that we are valued. So why doesn’t it feel that way?
1. We don’t believe our new identity.
When I was a resident doctor, there were a lot of privileges I didn’t have. One of the most trivial, but also most apparent, was access to the physician lounge. Most hospitals have a physician lounge, a private dining room with buffet style food and comfortable seating. Basically a VIP section of the hospital.
Although I was technically a doctor (already an MD) I wasn’t an “attending” (completed training), so I wasn’t permitted in.
The hospital ID would permit me anywhere else in the hospital, but nothing but red flashing lights at the physician lounge.
Then, one glorious rotation, while still in residency, I was at a hospital with no such restriction. My badge opened the door, and there before me was all manner of fare. Scrambled eggs, danishes, bagels with cream cheese, and even premium coffee. It was amazing.
As I bellied up to the buffet, I found myself next to an older physician. He was a surgeon, and this was his morning routine. His eyes were devoid of wonder at the spread before us.
“I’m Dr. Evans” he said without looking up from the bin of bacon he was plundering. “Are you new on staff?”
Suddenly I was terrified. Every ounce of joy left me, and I immediately wished I was huddled in a corner somewhere eating a breakfast burrito from QT.
I didn’t know how to tell him I wasn’t “on staff”. I felt second class. I felt that if he knew I was “just a resident” I’d be dragged out by my ear. I didn’t lie … not really. I told him that I am normally at the med center, but covering a month here. I let him connect any dots he wanted as I hurriedly devoured my breakfast.
What happened here was another example of how feeling like you don’t belong, lead to a loss of joy. I would have been more comfortable in a less comfortable environment because I felt like an outsider.
2. We believe loud lies rather than quiet truths
“You’re stupid!” “You can’t do anything right”. “You’d be so pretty if you weren’t so heavy”. “You made me so mad, it’s your fault that I …”
If any of these saying sound familiar, there’s a good chance you’ve been through some difficult relationships. These toxic words have a way of embedding in our minds. They feel more real than the truth. They make us feel worthless rather than valuable. When we feel worthless, we expect to be treated as such. When a devalued person is treated as valuable, they are suspicious and feel strange.
The truth is you are valuable. The fact that you are made in God’s image imparts precious value. Even when we fail, we do not deserve to be degraded. The truth is you are worth dying for, because God became a man to do just that.
3. We are afraid someone will “out us” for who we really are.
Walking into the hospital the other day, I heard a voice behind me call out, “Abe?!”
I don’t hear my first name much anymore, especially at work. It definitely caught my attention. I turned around to see someone I had gone to high school with. He was the first of us to have a license and a car. We carpooled to school and traded dirty jokes. We made fun of each other mercilessly as I assume most teenage boys do.
Now there we stood, grown up and years away from those days. I felt nervous for a moment. What would he think. I imagined him saying to himself “I wouldn’t go to him as a doctor, the only thing he’s good at is coming up with insults that rhyme with my name.”
There was no context. We had no frame of reference for each other now. Ultimately we exchanged a few pleasantries, and went our separate ways.
Funny how a face from your past can make your current identity feel “phony”. If someone from your past tries to steal your belonging in the Kingdom, remember, that’s not who you are anymore. You are a new creation and you are being renewed daily.
4. We believe a screw up invalidates our belonging.
I see this one a lot. Someone has struggled with drugs or alcohol or some other vice. They finally get the strength and support to break the chain of use, and their life changes. They surround themselves with sober people and try to start life anew. Then it happens. A slip, or a full blown relapse. They go to work drunk, or they get caught using.
Rather than falling on grace, they choose to believe they never really fit in with the “good people” and allow themselves to spiral into the same pattern.
God does not define us by our mistakes, but instead by our acceptance of the grace provided for them. A citizen of the kingdom doesn’t lose citizenship by visiting another land, but they can miss the rewards by assuming they can’t go back.
If you’ve sinned, or moved away from where you belong, you are missed. Come back. The feeling that you will be shamed is a lie.
If you are reading this, and feel that this doesn’t describe the church or religion you remember, then you may need to do some searching for a church that accepts you where you are, is determined to see you grow, and loves you enough to know that it isn’t a straight line. Please, please don’t give up. You belong, and you are valuable. You are made in God’s image and He died for you.
If you are reading this and you know you have made people feel less than welcomed, ask for grace to and opportunity to welcome someone who needs to feel like they belong.
Belonging is essential to joy. You get to choose where you belong. Choose wisely and trust the completed work of Christ.