In a recent survey of young teens they were asked what the difference was between belonging and just fitting in. The answers:
- Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
- Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
- If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.
The same survey revealed the heartache of not belonging. Why? Because it is natural and normal to want to belong and not just fit in. There is an inner need to belong. Many of the students felt that even at home they did not belong. When asked what they meant, the following responses:
- Not living up to your parent’s’ expectations
- Not being as cool or popular as your parents want you to be
- Not being good at the same things your parents were good at
- Your parents being embarrassed because you don’t have enough friends or you’re not an athlete or a cheerleader
- Your parents not liking who you are and what you like to do
- When your parents don’t pay attention to your life
This same issue of not belonging can be present in a marriage between spouses. And, of course, it can be an issue in the local church.
People join a local church because they want to belong. However, often the church has an unspoken, or even spoken, set of rules and expectations. You have to believe certain things, dress a certain way, live a certain way, and do certain things. This means that to be a member of that church you must change and “fit in.” You can no longer be yourself but now must follow the crowd if you hope to remain a part of that local church.
Of course, there are things to believe and certain lifestyles that should change. But, lasting change starts on the inside and people need to feel that they are in a safe place so that they can embrace the needed changes. The safe place is found by belonging and not by some outside pressure to fit in. Once they sense that they belong and are accepted for who they are – then the changes can begin from the inside out and with the help of God and others.
But when a person simply adopts the external rules and expectations and “fits in” they simply put on their plastic Christian face and behave like everyone else – never really belonging on a heart level and truly never becoming all that God would have them become.
To truly “be yourself” and express yourself in your own unique way you need to know who you are deep inside and be very secure in who you are. You need to know that you belong to Him. You need to have a firm grasp on God’s unconditional love and acceptance – especially when others are not loving you or accepting you for who you are. You need to have confidence in your personhood and personality and be bold in expressing the real you regardless of what others may think or say.
This may leave you standing alone at times but you will stand with integrity knowing who you are and that is a great feeling.