Speaking of Life 3006 | Fitting In and Belonging
One of my favorite movies growing up was inspired by Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night. The lead character is a high school female soccer player named Viola. When the school cuts the girls’ soccer program, the coach for the boys’ soccer team refuses to let Viola play, saying that girls can’t compete with boys athletically. Viola spends the rest of the movie trying to prove she’s good enough. She goes undercover as her twin brother and plays on a boys’ soccer team for a competing school, hoping to beat the team that refused to let her play as a girl.
Though we likely haven’t gone to the extremes that Viola did in the movie, we’ve all probably experienced something like this—the feeling like we don’t fit in, being excluded based on difference, feeling pressured to change ourselves, or needing to prove ourselves to belong. Maybe we’ve been the reason another person felt like they didn’t fit in. Maybe we’ve excluded others based on difference, pressured them to change, or required them to prove themselves to belong. Wanting to be included is natural – we all want to belong. But sometimes we think that we, or others, can’t fit in and still be ourselves. The Bible has good news for all of us who thought we didn’t fit in.
The book of Ephesians was written to a group of people who were very diverse, and it tells us this diversity was intended by God who determined that being unique was a blessing. Notice what Paul writes:
With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:8b-10 (NRSV)
It says that God’s will is for Christ to bring everything together, to unite diverse peoples and things in heaven and earth. This is who he is—the great unifier. After all, he created us differently; he loves our differences, and he wants us to love and appreciate diversity.
On our own, we struggle with diversity. When someone is different from us, we sometimes have a hard time celebrating those differences and embracing them. But that is what Christ in us enables us to do. Regardless of our feelings of being excluded, or our practice of excluding others, we can be confident that God’s perfect plan is for everyone’s complete inclusion. Christ is the way we first accept our own uniqueness and then accept the unique personhood of others.
What does this look like? When we know we’re loved and accepted and valued by God for who we are, that loving acceptance cannot help but overflow to others. How the mystery is carried out might be difficult to explain, but we can witness its effects. Christ in us is at work, “gather[ing] up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
As you move through the world, you might feel pressured to change to belong to a group, like Viola did in my favorite high school movie, or you might feel tempted to exclude someone like the boys’ soccer coach did in the movie, but Christ’s way is to help us lovingly celebrate, appreciate, and embrace the differences we encounter in the world.
A mentor once told me that “because of who God is, we don’t have to ‘fit-in’ to truly belong.” The mystery is this: when we appreciate God’s loving acceptance for ourselves, we can extend it graciously to others.
May you be a gracious participant in Christ’s gathering together of all people.
I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.