Acceptance and Belonging

Romans 15:7 tells us, “Therefore accept one another just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”

 

Do you long for acceptance and belonging?

I know that I do. We as humans generally want to feel that we are a part of something, we need to know that we have a place. We need loving acceptance to welcome us in relationships. The Lord created us with desire for relationship but finding acceptance and belonging can be a struggle. All of the issues that keep us imprisoned in loneliness leave us without the belonging and acceptance we so desperately need.

Paul tells us in Romans 15:7 that we are to accept one another. And we are to do this because of what Jesus did. He is our perfect example. He accepted us by His grace. He died for us and brought glory to His Father. We too can bring glory to God by living out grace in our lives as Jesus did.

We are called to accept one another even though we recognize many differences among us; different looks, different viewpoints, different beliefs, different perceptions, different ways of understanding and on and on it goes. Even so we are to emulate Jesus in showing patience to each other and in showing forbearance for each other. We are to show the same love that the Lord has showered on us.

The Bible speaks a lot about the importance of unity, and as you probably well know that does not come easily. It is only through the love and acceptance of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can we have unity. Unity is not born out of sameness in background. It is born out of the love that Holy Spirit pours into our hearts, and the grace we learn to share as we come to know Jesus in deeper ways. We all come from different backgrounds and have had many different experiences. The common thread for Christians is the Gospel. And it is as we grow in our faith, we grow in our desire to live out Christ-like love and acceptance to others.

Living out love and acceptance in the church, in the Christian community is what Paul is speaking of. He does not say that it will be easy, but he does make it clear that it is possible as we depend on the Holy Spirit. Paul knew the Truth, he knew the reality of God’s grace. He knew full well how his life had been transformed, how his heart had done a 180 degree turn around. Only in God’s power. The Lord led Paul’s heart to a place of peace, and to a desire for fellowship. Following this miracle in his heart, Paul wanted nothing more that to see the church, the body of Christ to grow in peace and unity.

So, it is as we seek the Lord and depend on the Holy Spirit, He will empower us to develop hearts wiling to accept others with Christ-like love. We desperately need the love of Christ in our hearts, the power of His grace, and the leading of the Holy Spirit to help us develop unity in our churches and to grow places filled with people who want to accept others because they have found acceptance in a loving Savior.

Belonging, acceptance, and community bring about an atmosphere where we are willing to carry one another’s burdens and weaknesses, trials, afflictions, and infirmities. This grows out of hearts filled with love. It is in a community of hearts filled with God’s love that we can begin to feel safe to share in authenticity.

When we are stuck holding our shame inside, walls are constructed that keep us separated. But when we are free to share our struggles, confess our sins, and be honest regarding our suffering, we open the doors to the possibility of finding community. We need to know God’s grace in our hearts in order for us to share His acceptance.

When we know the magnitude of God’s love and grace towards us, we learn of the freedom to come to Him just as we are. And knowing His love and grace deep in our hearts leads us to sharing that same kind of grace with others.

I find that people who have found the vast ocean of God’s grace are the ones who can share that same grace from their hearts with others.

The Lord desires the church to be a place of belonging. He created us with longing for belonging. He wants us to be in communion with Him. He wants us to live in community with others through sharing His grace.

The thing about belonging is when we truly belong we no longer need to hide, we can be real and authentic about where we are at in life. We don’t have to be chameleons or people-pleasers.

When we can be honest about who we are and where we are at, and not have to try to be someone we are not, we can feel at home, and truly feel loved.

So finding acceptance and belonging begins in our hearts when our hearts are firm in the knowledge and experience of God’s grace and love towards us.

Take time today to examine the reality to which you know God’s grace. Seek to know it more so that it overflows as you meet others. Acceptance starts with knowing Jesus and the fullness of His grace. Acceptance grows as we allow His grace and love to flood our hearts. We can make a difference. Our Christian communities can be places of acceptance and belonging. How will you begin to make this happen in your life?

 

It has been a number of weeks since I have been able to publish a post because of having to help with my mom’s care. I have felt the Lord’s grace in my life as I saw the Lord work through the prayers of others. I so appreciate those who so kindly prayed for my mom. She has been in and out of the hospital a couple of times in the past few weeks as well as in rehab. She is finally gaining strength and able to sit in a chair. Thank you so very much for your faithful prayers. 

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Loneliness

Do you wrestle with loneliness?

You are not alone.

Loneliness is experienced by many people, but few admit it. Admitting to feeling lonely is difficult because we worry no one will understand.

We find the subject of loneliness in the Psalms. David shares openly of his struggle with feeling lonely. David takes his neediness to the Lord, wanting Him to be aware of his pain and to help him with it. Here are two verses where we find the Psalmist crying out.

Psalm 25:16 “Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely…”

Psalm 142:4  “Look to my right and see, no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge, no one cares for my life.’

Can you relate?

There have been times in my life when I have felt lonely. I remember feeling as though there was no one I could share my present reality with. No one that I could share my feelings about all that was happening in my life. And I wanted to talk with someone.

There are many different reasons for loneliness. Loneliness can be circumstantial. It may be because of moving away to a new town, or having an empty-nest. It could be that there has been a misunderstanding between friends or within your family. Loneliness also occurs when there is a loss of a spouse or close friend through death or divorce, or a separation of some kind.

Loneliness can be because of personal fear of sharing, putting up walls of self-protection. We sometimes choose to isolate ourselves because of fear of others criticism, judgment, or their reaction. We stuff our feelings because it seems as if no one will accept us if we share with them.

I know my depression stemmed from stuffing deep grief from childhood. I felt abandoned in my grief but didn’t feel heard when I tried to express it, so I crammed it deep inside. I chose to be busy and independent as I grew up. I ran away from the painful feelings as much as possible, until at one unexpected moment much later in life all of my pain poured out in sobs. I had walled off that part of me– and chose not to feel it or look at it. But then came the time when there no longer was a choice. I had to get to the bottom of it all.

Loneliness can come about out of shame too. A choice we or a family member made, one that seemed like the only way out at the time, leaving us now feeling alone and afraid to share. What will people say? What will they think? How will they look at me if they knew? These are all questions that may go through our minds. We wonder how could I tell them about my abortion, my drug abusing teen, my affair, my alcoholic spouse, my father in prison–what will they say?

These feelings of shame can be further magnified in the community of believers. We look at those around us in the chairs or pews in our churches and they look as if their lives are perfect. We wonder how could they ever relate to what we are going through? The feelings of “I don’t belong” scream in our heads and rip apart our hearts. We need each other. We need someone to talk to. But who is safe?  Who will even want to be around us? We feel like the lepers in the Bible– isolated and surely to be ostracized.

Again I ask, can you relate?

Loneliness is a problem in all of society. The rich, the poor, and in each and every race. We all need Jesus and we all need the community of others to support us throughout life.

As believers we want to think that we can find that community, that family, in our churches. But that is not always the case. It seems that our churches are often places filled with plastic smiles and rote replies where many hearts are dying of loneliness.

So what is the answer, how do we find a better way? How do we find the connection we so desperately need? Well, the first and most important answer is to seek the Lord in prayer. I know that I have prayed at different times in my life for the Lord to provide me with community, safe-sisters, and He has in amazing and unexpected ways. I have found that He knows exactly what my heart needs.

Many deep safe friendships take years to form, but with God, He can develop depth of years in a few months. He wants us to have heart-to-heart friendships. Friendships filled with love, sharing and accountability. It is in the sharing of our hurts, our struggles, our pain, our missteps, and in our freedom to confess the reality of what life is really like, that we find community. Community is what we need to help us lift our load.

Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Carry each others burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Benson Commentary explains that this verse is telling us to “sympathize with and assist each other in all our weaknesses, grievances, trials.” Matthew Henry’s Concise commentary says that “The better we know our own hearts and way, the less we shall despise others and the more be disposed to help them under infirmities and afflictions.” And Barnes Notes on the Bible  explains that we are to “bear with each other; help each other in the divine life. The sense is that every man has special temptations and easily besetting sins, which constitute a heavy burden. We should aid each other in regard to these, and help one another to overcome them.”

The law of Christ is all about loving one another and love is the antidote to loneliness. Christ-like love. When we read the Word of God we see that Jesus mostly condemned the pious, proud, self-reliant people and befriended the suffering and the sinners.

I am so blessed to be a part of a church that is full of love and honesty regarding struggles, but I know that is not the norm. And it makes me incredibly sad to see so many going through life lonely and isolated because there is no place for honest sharing and confession.

We need to be the change-agents. We need to open our hearts, confess our struggles, and welcome the neediness of others. This can start with just acknowledging the emotions of another or a struggle heard in prayer. it can be followed up with a caring phone call. Or asking one to join you for coffee or for a Bible study or a book study. It takes being aware, and a willingness to be open and available. Reaching out involves risk but when connection occurs it brings great blessing. It’s helpful to remember that people have varying levels of comfort with depth of sharing, so we have to move forward carefully.

We all need acceptance and belonging in our lives and my post will delve into that topic next week. I hope that you will join me again.

We Need the Lord and Each Other

If someone asked you to describe the Lord and your experience of Him, What would you say?

How does that influence your interactions with others and how you respond to pain and difficulties?

Shadows are the result of something blocking the light. There are many things in life that cast a shadow on our faith and make us question the Lord’s goodness, His power, His timing, or His wisdom. Roman’s 8:38-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Yet, Satan wants us to live in the dark places, and to have shadows cast on God’s love and faithfulness so our faith is shaken and we question God. Satan wants us to tremble with fear and feel very alone.

The Lord desires us to fully know His love and to share that love and build community. He wants us to be empathetic, authentic, transparent, and real about what we feel and need. He wants His love to touch our pain and to help us grow. He wants us to grow to know Him and His love more deeply. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him (Psalms 62:8).  He also wants us to make confession of our sin to one another (James 5:16).  He desires us to live in a community of love.

When we as Christians are limited in our experience of knowing the reality and magnitude of God’s love, we fail to share and express it. We all need the Lord, the blessings of His love and grace, and we need each other, but how should this flow and work in life? And, more importantly, is it happening to the extent and in the way the Lord desires, or do some changes need to take place?

The Word of God is filled with people struggling with sin, pain, and fear in real life issues. We read about people who cry out to the Lord in desperation like Elijah (1 Kings 17-19), Ezra, and the Israelites (Ezra 10), and David (Psalms 42, 43, 69). People who authentically confessed their weakness, sin, and neediness. It is in those places in the Bible, in those places of authenticity and transparency, that I feel safe and not alone. I feel a level of community with them because they share their hurt,  and raw emotions with the Lord and with others.

We know that we are a sinful, rebellious people living in a world filled with pain, sickness, evil, and trouble. We know there is a cavernous emptiness within. It is in Jesus that we find grace and acceptance.

Yet, there are so many lonely Christians with dark secrets that they fear sharing. So many afraid to step into our churches because, more than being preached at or judged, they need to feel love and acceptance. There are so many hurting people; deeply wounded by abandonment, rejection, lies, betrayal, loss, grief, death, living in depression, or with another mental illnesses. There are many whose stories are walled off within because of fear, they live in self-protection. People who see plastered on smiles and hear “I’m fine” and wonder, “what’s wrong with me?” People who hear verses handed out like prescriptions, spiritual Band Aids slapped ineffectively on gaping wounds. People who hear Christian platitudes; the way it should be, but know that this isn’t their experience in life or their experience of God. These are people who desperately need to feel and know the love of Jesus in real, practical ways, but they are not finding it.

These are issues I want to discuss, issues I want to look at. You see, I have been on both sides of this problem. I have been the needy, desperate one feeling totally alone and misunderstood, as I felt when I was deep in my depression and people questioned my faith. And I have been that Christian, who has shared an unhelpful Christian platitude and walked away not hearing the pain of another. I think that most of us can probably say we have experienced both sides.

Many of us have been needy and desperate at some time. We have needed empathy, understanding, or a listening ear from a caring person, or maybe something more tangible. Yet we may have struggled to feel safe in asking to have that need met, and so have been left alone in our pain. We fear sharing the reality of our neediness, we question the safety in being fully seen and heard just as we are. Many of us know the pain of loneliness, neediness, or just wanting to know acceptance and have belonging. We feel left out, not good enough or just separate and different.

And many of us also have given out a verse when a listening ear was needed.

What can we as people and we as a part of the “Christian community” do? The change begins in us as individuals.

My next three posts will focus on loneliness, acceptance, belonging, Christian platitudes, and spiritual Band-Aids. I hope you will join me each week.

Authenticity in the Adventure

Being transparent and authentic is difficult, actually it can be downright scary. But apart from choosing transparency in a friendship or relationship, there is emptiness. Sharing, holding heart secrets, being real about life, all build trust. Such friendships are great blessings. They feel safe, you feel understood, and you feel known. These kind of relationships do not come about in an instant. You don’t just sit down and begin sharing from the depths of your heart. These relationships take varying degrees of time to develop.

I have learned that it is very important to be intentional about keeping the Lord first in my life in the quest of building deep friendships. God truly is a jealous God. He wants our hearts to be satisfied in Him alone. I feel that at times the Lord has withheld deep friendships from me because He wanted me to be faithful in honoring Him first. I know in the past I have made idols out of friends, I mean, I chose a person over the Lord without realizing it or intending for it to be that way. I would seek their advice, their help, and/or their understanding, and bypass the Lord.

I have seen that as I am diligent about keeping the Lord first, He has blessed me with gifts of new and deep friendships. This may or may not be true of you and your life. The Lord deals with each one of us individually. He knows how to work with us, how to get our attention, and how to draw us back to Him when we seem to stray. He knows what needs to be taken away or regulated just as a parent knows what is not helpful or healthy for a child.

The Lord also knows exactly what our hearts need. He brings people into our lives, people who we can minster to or help in specific ways as He has gifted us, as well as, people who can bless us with their giftedness.

He knows what is in and on our hearts that needs comfort or holding. He knows our experiences, and how by sharing about those experiences we can find encouragement. He knows how in His wisdom a person truly may lead us to new understanding, maybe understanding that will push us forward in growing in Him.

He hears our prayers of emptiness, loneliness, and neediness. He meets us in the pain of those with community, sisters in Christ or brothers in Christ. The Lord is faithful to meet each of our needs in ways so amazing, in ways that bring our hearts so much satisfaction. But the glory in this all goes to Him because these friends are blessing of His love. Such authenticity deepens our relationships and brings us belonging, they bring us sisterhood or brotherhood.

If you are struggling with not having a close friend or a tribe of trusted ones, ask the Lord to show you His amazing knowledge of the neediness of your heart, ask Him to bring you the blessing of a friend or put you in a group of friends..
The Lord wants us to be in relationship, of course with Him first, and then with the people He puts around us and those He brings into our lives. He cares deeply about the needs of our hearts and He will give you the gift of deep authentic relationship in this adventure we call life.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

 

Love in the Loneliness

Until I find community enough in being with Jesus first, the entire restaurant wouldn’t suffice the aching that loneliness hungers to fill.”
Choosing Real Bekah Jane Pogue

Loneliness is very common. Loneliness is a neediness within that eats away at your heart like a cancer.

Loneliness is defined as a “sadness because one has no friends or company.” I think that at first glance this definition may seem true, but when you really think about it, loneliness can be present even in a crowd. It is the depth of connection with a spouse or a friend that bridges the gap. You don’t feel lonely when you feel understood, known, loved, and you’re your heart is safe.

I learned through my depression that the pain and neediness of my heart cried out for understanding and love. My depression left me feeling as if I was drowning, suffocating, and overwhelmed with so much pain. I mostly pushed people away, but when I found that my neediness wouldn’t annihilate another, then I would cling. It was through this that I learned how needy I really was, I became aware of the emptiness and loneliness of my heart. I recognized how much I had been hiding, how deeply my real self was really buried.

It was in the midst of learning these things, in the midst of my clinging to another in hopes for healing, that the Lord made me to know that He wanted me to give Him my neediness.
It is so easy for us to run to others with our needs even when we know that the Lord is the One with the power to heal, to comfort with His love, to give understanding, and to lead in His perfect wisdom.

The Lord wants us to run to Him with our neediness and loneliness. It was when I began to pour out my heart to the Lord, and really give Him my neediness that my healing began. He desired me to see Him as my greatest need, the All-Sufficient One, my Healer.

Life can just be lonely because of the mundane of everyday. We get so busy with all we try to do that our lives may be spent in living solitary lives. If that is where you are at, Pogue suggests that “maybe solitary isn’t something we need to run away from” instead she suggest it may be our cue of to run to the Lord.

Loneliness can flood your heart throughout many moments of life for many very different reasons, the loss of friendship, the death of a loved one, moving away, isolation, or divorce. It is in these times we need to cry out to the Lord. Maybe it’s just the day and the way it’s going down, or maybe it’s the place you are in life right now, that the string of days, weeks, or even months leave you feeling lonely. Cry out to God. He hears and He answers our prayers. He deeply cares about the neediness in our hearts.

Remember, after you give the Lord the neediness of your heart to look for His answer. It is easy to miss His answers when one’s mind is set on wanting the prayer answered in our own specific way. I share this thought out of my own experience, because it was what happened with me in my depression. I knew what I felt my heart needed and I prayed for the Lord to do it my way. Instead, He showed me His way repeatedly, He wanted me to trust Him with my neediness. He wants to be the One we run to, He wants to be the One to meet our needs in the perfect ways that come out of His wisdom and love.

So, from our knees in prayer, we must get up and look to see what He is doing, where He is leading, who He is bringing or in some cases, whom He has already brought that we have missed. He knows who He has put in your life, or wants to put in your life. He knows the purpose for which He brings them.

I believe that as He sees and hears us bringing the neediness of our hearts, He will lead us to the quenching of the thirst in our loneliness through relationship with Himself, as well as with specific people He puts in community around us. He has a beautiful way of touching our neediness with His love so specific to our personal desires. He truly satisfies our hearts when we give Him the need and trust Him for the answer.

Are you lonely today? Call out to the Lord with your need.

Do you know someone who is lonely? Ask the Lord if there is a way to meet that person with His love.

The Lord is always near and never will abandon or forsake us. In moments of loneliness cling to Him and watch Him work! He is at work because He loves you!

Lord, I Need You, Always!

There is no truer statement. We are a needy people.

My recent blogposts have narrowed in on our crumbling states of emotions that magnify our neediness before the Lord. I want to take one more look at these. Difficult times come up frequently in life and God’s Word gives us so many tools to help us through time when we are hurting in this life.

We considered times of exhaustion and the treasures the Lord gives us in the darkness. When we have grown so incredibly tired from the pressures of life, the Lord in His great love for us, shows up in amazing ways. We can look back and see how He has gifted us. We can see His presence through times when life seemed impossible, when we felt as though we were crawling through a dark cave alone.

We looked at our need for the Lord in the midst of helplessness. When suddenly we come to the end of ourselves and realize we are unable to make a situation any better, when it is evident that we are powerless to change anything, it is then we realize we need help. It is then we must reach to the Lord. King Jehoshaphat’s responded to an impending battle he faced with beautiful words of prayer. We can take his words in our times of helplessness and speak to the Lord, “We do not know what to do but our eyes are upon You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12) The Lord will hear us as He heard King Jehoshaphat, and He will work on our behalf.

We learned from Elijah about the neediness in depression. Elijah’s story led us to see the Lord’s love throughout Elijah’s downward spiral. The Lord met Elijah at each time of need. The Lord knows our deepest needs as well. We saw how the Lord can whisper in His still, small voice, words of hope into our brokeness. He gave direction to Elijah after He had fed him and strengthened him.

We discovered that people respond differently to fear. Caleb and Joshua showed us what we need to remember when we are afraid. Rather than cower and choose to run away, Caleb and Joshua remembered the truth about who God is in the face of giants. We, too, need to remember who God is in the face of our seemingly insurmountable giants that we come upon in our present day lives. The reality of the Lord’s presence with us in everything should bring us confidence and courage. He is our strength and He promises deliverance from all of our troubles.

Emptiness is another place of neediness we considered. O how the Lord desires to satisfy our hearts. He has come to give us abundant life. He can fill the emptiness as nothing else can. We only must seek Him, that is what He desires most of all.

Finally, we looked at our neediness in loneliness. We learned from Jeremiah how he coped with his loneliness as a prophet. He showed us the importance of being honest with the Lord regarding our feelings. And he demonstrated how to feed on the Lord’s faithfuness- remembering God’s goodness and work in our lives during previous trials and difficulties. The Lord promises to always be with us.

Moment-by-moment in our lives we learn more and more of how very needy we really are. And in those times, if we don’t cry out with words, our heart cry out, “Lord, I need You!” We cry with desperation and the Lord hears us. Time and time again we see in the Bible how the Lord met His people in their pain and suffering.

God has not changed and our responses to trials are not much different from those living in Bible times. God knows what we need. We only need to seek Him in our neediness. We must look for Him and He will be found, for He is always faithful!

Just a side-note:

Summer is flying by, and our garden is growing beautifully with the plentiful rains the Lord has provided. My husband and I already have begun doing some freezing of vegetables and there is much more to do. Soon we will begin canning. I know my posts have not been on schedule due to the summer’s busyness, I will try to post once a week throughout the next couple months. I hope that your summer has been a time of learning more about the Lord’s love and provision. Thank you for being a faithful reader!

Sweet Blessings to you, Cheryl