I felt it as a teenager.
It seemed like most of my peers had spent the majority of their life in the church. Whether they were related to a pastor or leader or had just been brought of up as a regular attender, it was the most comfortable place for them, where they shined and everyone loved them. Why were they so happy and satisfied here, involved in nothing deeper than volleyball games and pizza parties? Was I the only one getting lost in the darkness? The darkness of loneliness and depression and living in a home with dysfunction and brokenness?
I felt awkward and different and ugly in this place, so the whisper in my ear said "These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here."
I felt it as a new adult.
I had a young love for Jesus in my soul, that was constantly at war with my natural tendencies and desires, and zero guidance on how to walk that out well. I so badly wanted to connect with people who shared that tension of passion and struggle, but couldn't seem to find any authentic version of it. These young, naive adults had never known any environment outside of the comfortable, sheltered inner circles of their church or christian school or homeschool co-op. They kept social outings and conversation so surface and shallow, it was almost creepy to me, in a Stepford Wives sort of way. I would be myself and try to break through to deeper discussions, only to be met with shock and awkwardness.
I felt vulnerable and broken and bitter, and the whisper in my ear said "These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here."
But the friends I partied with and the guys I spent the night with all seemed to understand. Nothing shocked them and they were there for me. They didn't love Jesus, and they mocked Christians, but hey, I hadn't become a big fan of them either, so it was fine, right? They loved enough of me, which was better than nothing, and the whisper said "See? This is where you belong."
Over a decade and lots of growth later, I've still felt it as a wife and mother.
I love God and His Word, attend church regularly, have a healthy marriage to a godly man, and am a stay-at-home mom (who, coincidentally, homeschools.)
I'm basically a walking stereotype of the 'Inner Circle' christian. These characteristics aren't going to give me any backlash in the church, if anything, I'll fit in even better because of them.
But there are still plenty of times that I'm met with weird looks and awkward silences.
"People have a hard time with you."
"Your humor is weird and offensive."
"You just have a really challenging personality."
"I just think that you'd be a better witness for Christ, if you weren't so much like.. yourself."
Those are all things that have been said to me, VERBATIM, by people in the Church. (Not in loving, convicting ways, but shameful, condemning ways.)
And there have been countless situations and relationships where it should have been safe and natural to get real and vulnerable about the hard things in life, and it wasn't.
In every one of those moments, the whisperer hasn't missed a beat to say:
"See? These people don't understand. They don't love you. And you don't belong here."
But the difference between then and now, is that I know exactly what those whispers are.
That's all they are. The truth is that I am known and understood. I am loved and accepted. And I belong with Him.
The One who bought me for a price, and redeemed me, and adopted me into His family.
Yet the Enemy always has, and probably always will, tell me that I am less than.
That sure, I am adopted, but that the Extra Churchy People are God's "REAL", biological children who fit in better and have more of a right to be in this family than I do.
But the truth is that if we have put our trust in Jesus, then His family is our family.
And that we are ALL his real children.
And that we are ALL adopted.
Satan has whispered those particular lies to me, because those are the ones that have been the most painful and convincing to me (and with no shortage of evidence.) But he's going to use different lies for different people, and they won't all look the same, but they are all meant to accomplish the same thing.
They are meant to distract and hurt and deceive us. Meant to make us hide our face from our Savior, and withdraw from His people. Meant to make us find comfort and purpose and belonging in places that won't ever really give it to us. Meant to hinder us from using our gifts and our hearts to encourage and build up the Church. Meant to shame and condemn and separate us.
But when we know the truth, we can and have to speak it to those lies and fight to believe what's real and good, even in our pain. That is, in a nutshell, what it means to trust God.
And, not so ironically, we desperately need each other to do it well.
Family is messy. The Church is messy.
But let me tell you what I've also experienced in the Church, in addition to the rejection and loneliness, when I trusted God that this is where I belonged:
I've experienced friendship like I had never known before. Friendship with deep honesty and courageous vulnerability. Friends who have deep love and fierce loyalty for me, and I for them. Friends who see my best and cheer me on in it, and also my worst and have never been shocked or scared by it. Friends who I have reached out to in my darkest moments and have breathed life-giving truth and grace to my heart.
I've experienced service and generosity like I've never seen otherwise. I've seen people at their neediest, surrounded by help and support. I've seen communities sacrifice everything they can to rally and carry those who can't carry themselves.
I've experienced and witnessed growth and humility that is almost unbelievable at times.
I've seen hardened, angry people become soft and gentle. Passive, timid people become bold and strong. Naive, shallow people become wise and authentic.
I've seen the kind of repentance and forgiveness that could change the world.
This is all Jesus, baby.
This is what he does! He is in the business of making beauty from ashes.
Why would we want to miss out on any of it? Or not be an important part of it?
If you have been an "insider" at church the majority of your life, it's really important to not be naive to the fact that it hasn't been a rainbows and sunshine experience for everyone. We have to be gentle and understanding to that pain, because Jesus is.
We can't be so sheltered and superficial that we aren't willing to walk with people through their dark spaces. We cannot be out-of-touch weirdos. We can't become too comfortable or prideful to be honest and vulnerable about our own darkness (or be under the dangerous assumption that ours isn't as dark as others.)
We absolutely cannot only accept and befriend and walk alongside people who are just like us, inside or outside of the Church.
Because if we are all of those things, did we ever actually know the Gospel to begin with?
If the Church must be anything, may it be safe.
If you are among the many who have felt like an outsider in Church or with christians, know that you are not as alone as you think. That the person sitting right next to you might feel, or has felt in the past, exactly the way you do.
You shouldn't ever feel unwelcome because your personality, physical appearance, ethnicity, gender, marital status, salvation history, sexual orientation, mental health, or economic status. It hurts us to the core, to be rejected for these things, but I believe when we find a healthy church, that genuinely believes and lives out the Gospel, that we won't be. Find one with solid, biblical doctrine and that is lead by people who know and live like they desperately need Jesus.
There isn't a perfect church, every one is going to be imperfect and messy. But there is a huge difference between healthy and unhealthy, fruitful and dysfunctional.
Listen to me.
If God has called you by name, then you are HIS.
He loves you, He knows you, and He will never give up you.
He has kept His promises and He has always proven to be trustworthy.
When He calls us to something, we can trust Him that it's good.
So when He calls us to fellowship with other believers, to serve and to use our gifts, to sacrifice and to get vulnerable, to speak truth to each other... we can trust Him in that.
He has made this big, beautiful, diverse, messy family, that we are now apart of.
And it is exactly where we belong.