Feeling like we belong can be a struggle sometimes. In my 20s, this was quite the challenge for me. I thought if I belonged to a place then I would be sought there. I imagined it would be easy to interact with others and I would feel like an important component no matter how large the structure. Of course, that was the idea but reality was much different.
I remember choosing the college I wanted to attend and the first time I discovered the church I would join. It's interesting to me that I really didn't want to be in either of the places initially. I had recently transferred from a historically black college and I wanted to attend another but decided on a traditional university. Likewise, I never wanted to join a large church. I always thought I would get lost there and I would never be noticed. In both experiences I didn't know what to expect but I was open to new possibilities. I wanted to learn and I needed a school and a church that afforded me the chance to do both.
To my surprise, when I began classes at my new college, I had a sense of ownership of my education. I learned that from my time at the historically black college I attended. They'd always reminded me I was paying for my education and I had the power of stewarding it. My new school had exactly what I needed. I made lasting friendships, obtained a great education, and learned how to navigate daily life challenges. I belonged at that university. Not because it was easy, it wasn't. Not because it was free from obstacles, it was full of them. I belonged because I was in a place that had what I needed and I staked my claim to be there. Even though my old school and my new school were nothing alike, I was still enriched in both places. I can't compare my old school to the new one but each were exactly what I needed at the time.
My church experience was similar. I had visited church after church and honestly, religion after religion for several years. I had foundational questions that no one could answer for me and I couldn't move past them. I had given up my quest to find a church when I was invited to visit a one more with my aunt. I asked if it was a big church and she said it was and I wasn't interested. I never liked how I felt in large churches. I felt invisible. After much persistence, she persuaded me and I agreed to attend the following Sunday. When I arrived, I don't know what I was expecting but I definitely wasn't expecting encountering all the smiles, the hellos, and the hugs. I sat towards the back and was blown away. The questions I had all my life were being answered in one church service. I found myself again in a place where I was receiving what I needed. I needed truth. I returned again and again and eventually joined. I belonged to that place. It wasn't because it was perfect, it wasn't. It wasn't because I was free from challenges there, I had a few. I belonged because I believed it was the place where I could finally learn about who God is and what I was on this earth to do. I could learn and I could grow.
I don't know where you are today but I want to encourage you. Don't be afraid to seek what you need. Be open to new possibilities. Don't rely on ease, it's not always an reliable indicator. Have the courage to belong in the place you've chosen to be no matter the obstacles. Take the opportunity to be a smiling face and a kind hello for someone else. Stake your claim, get what you need, and enjoy the journey.