Thursday, May 26, 2016

Where We Belong

I distinctly remember the feeling of walking into church that first Sunday after having filed for divorce. Holding tightly to my two year old's hand, I walked into sacrament meeting to a row near the overflow section and prayed that no one would talk to me. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had...we had been separated for months, but I had never opened up to friends or ward members about my marital struggles. That Sunday, after everything had been decided, I suddenly felt like I was wearing a huge neon sign blaring the news of all my failures and shortcomings. The absence of my wedding ring on my left hand felt shameful and embarrassing. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone would ask, and I could either choose to continue to skirt the truth with excuses - or I could face the horror of saying out loud that my dreams of eternity had come to an end. I felt vulnerable and exposed; I felt like I was wearing a huge bullseye, and I waited for the shots of judgement to hit me.

When I was in my twenties, I desperately wanted to get married and have a family. It felt like everyone around me was realizing that dream - but I couldn't seem to figure out how to get married myself. By the time I was 25, I felt like a total black sheep amongst my fellow church members. Every sacrament talk, every Sunday School lesson and every Relief Society meeting seemed to focus on the importance of family, being a mother, raising children, etc...I couldn't escape the sinking feeling that I'd never realize my FULL potential without getting married and having a family. I felt forgotten by the church curriculum - and constantly reminded of my shortcomings. It was a difficult time for me. All I wanted was to feel like I really belonged; like I belonged to another person, like I belonged within the demographic that all those lessons catered to, like I truly belonged at church.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about belonging lately. It's easy to look out across the congregation at church during a talk about the importance of eternal families, identify how many beautiful, happy, two-parent families are sitting together on pews, and to feel like the sorely out-of-place single Mom on the back row. I feel intensely aware of curious eyes, and often I feel defensive over questions or comments that I'm sure aren't meant to offend me. "Do I really belong here?" I've asked myself.

The answer has come to me in waves - and is consistently reaffirmed to me when I open my heart up to hear the truth.

I belong to God; and therefore, I belong here.

I often deny myself permission to belong. I think we all do sometimes. We find reasons to separate ourselves because of our experiences - our trauma, our burdens, our sins. We imagine that people can't understand us because the path we've walked is different than their's. We wait for money to be right, clothes, education. We wait for the right marital status. We wait for grief to pass. We wait for the right calling (or any calling). We wait for an apology we feel we're owed, or for someone to notice us.

But...what do we value most within the walls of our church buildings? Is it the friendships our children make? The supportive social network we find there? The familiarity and the organization? The spirit we feel? Are we just struggling through three hours so we can say we went..?

(If you're like me, it's probably a mix of those things depending on the day haha.)

The thing I have to remember to value above everything else when I go to church is...who I am and what I mean to God - in spite of all of my many shortcomings. Do we actively remember that the value of each soul in that building, including our own - regardless of our circumstances - is of "great worth" in God's sight? Do we take time (easier said than done with a toddler!) to connect with that truth each Sunday?

Over time, I've realized no one is judging me as harshly as I judge myself - I'm the one casting most of the judgement (taking aim and firing at my own personal bullseye over and over again). People generally don't have the time or energy to spend thinking about/judging me. And if they do? (because, let's be honest...sometimes it happens...) Well, I feel sorry for them. Their life must be pretty boring (and their understanding of who is worthy enough to judge others needs some work).

The truth is: We are known and understood perfectly by a God who knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves. He loves me (and you) not in spite of our failings, but including them. He is the creator of each strength AND weakness we have, having given us talents and flaws to help us learn and grow. He loves us; we belong to and with Him.

I don't have to be anything to belong (perfect, married, covered in children, physically beautiful, wealthy, educated)...I belong because I am His. There is no other approval, no other acceptance, no other understanding that will ever matter in light of that truth.

(Now if someone could remind me of that this coming Sunday, I'd appreciate it.)
(It comes in waves, remember?!)

Love to you all.


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