Down We Go: We Belong

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“In fact, it seems like so many of us—when we are really honest—struggle with belonging.”
Feb_KathyEver since I was a young girl, I have had a lot of friends. If you were looking at me from the outside, you would say that I was a secure, confident person who didn’t have any trouble fitting in, that I definitely “belonged.”

That’s what you saw on the outside.

And looks can be deceiving.

Inside, I never felt really free and connected. I had voices in my head raging loudly, saying things like:

“If they really knew you, they wouldn’t like you.”
“If you tell them the truth, they’ll reject you.”
“You’re too much”
“You’re not enough.”
“You should be more funny, wise, biblically savvy, quiet, articulate, more ________ (just about any descriptor you can think of) and then they’ll like you more.”

I always resonate with what the writer Anne Lamott says, “Sometimes my mind is a bad neighborhood. You don’t want to go in there alone.”

The noise in my head used to keep me separated from others in the groups I was part of. Sure, I might have been there physically, but my heart and soul was usually in another place—trying to somehow make myself less or more than I really was, sure that they all belonged but I didn’t.

The end result—I never really belonged.

I never felt comfortable in my skin.

I never felt part in the way I deeply longed for.

When I talk to other people and they share their true feelings about groups, churches, and communities they are part of, I have learned that I am definitely not alone in this “I don’t belong” feeling. In fact, it seems like so many of us—when we are really honest—struggle with belonging.

We desperately want to be part, to feel safe and solid in our own skin with other women and men, but often that feeling remains elusive and we aren’t quite sure what to do about it.

So a lot of us just keep faking it, showing up and looking like we belong when we really don’t feel like we do. As much as we joke about it, “fake it ’til you make it” doesn’t usually work when it comes to belonging. I tried that for years, and the only thing it left me with was more loneliness, more shame, more feelings of inadequacy and disconnection.

I think this is why so many churches and groups are filled with people who regularly see each other, but don’t really know each other.

The path toward belonging seems to be authenticity.

I have openly shared how inadequate I felt in the group, how I was so scared to be known by them, how good I am at faking it, and how I was sure they’d reject me if they knew my honest struggles. Every single time, universally, I have discovered that pretty much everyone in the room was thinking and feeling the same thing.

The “me, too” always echoes.

And we all feel in that moment like maybe, just maybe, we might belong.

Maybe we aren’t weird.

Maybe we don’t need to “do something” to make other people love us.

Maybe we aren’t alone in our struggles.

But belonging doesn’t come in a rush, either. I have been part of The Refuge community for eight years now, and it is definitely the most comfortable I have ever felt in my skin, but the truth is I sometimes still have a nagging voice that says somehow I don’t really belong, that I’m somehow either too much or not enough.

The difference between now and then, though, is that I can identify the voice. I feel its tug away from life, I feel its call to keep me from feeling free with my friends, I feel its lie that tells me I don’t belong.

And now, instead of being mad at the voice and trying to push it down and will it to go away, I just say it out loud, trusting that I am probably in good company on the feeling. And every time, at least a few people–if not all–respond back, “Yeah, me too.”

The “I don’t belong” feeling’s only power is when we carry it alone.

So many are crying out for a place to belong.

This is why we need safe groups and little pockets of love so desperately, why we must create places where we can say out loud “I feel like I don’t belong.”

I keep learning that sometimes the best way to begin to belong is to actually feel like we do.

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Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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