Groucho Marx said it best, “I would never belong to a club that would have a person like me as a member.”
I used to think I was alone in feeling out of place. From what I observed, everyone in the crowded room had a strong purpose for their presence and appeared to feel that he or she belonged there.
It happened in business conferences, church meetings and social settings. The same feeling loomed large in my response to invitations to board service for charitable organizations, when I pictured my seat among stalwarts in the local community.
In such environments, I generally addressed the situation in one of two ways. At times I would remain silent unless addressed directly, taking notes and trying to look as if I belonged there. The presider or presenter had the expertise and I didn’t, so I’d better be quiet to hide my level of ignorance.
At other times I used humor to lighten the tone of the meeting when appropriate. At least in this way I felt I could add value without detracting from the issue at hand.
What I didn’t realize is that others in the room were feeling that same sense of inferiority, that they didn’t belong, and they were also employing strategies for handling the situation as effectively as they knew how.
As I reflect on this need to feel that one belongs, I look at how we belong in God’s kingdom.
There is no one out of place among God’s children. Everyone who lives and breathes is a beloved child of our almighty Father and belongs in His family. Whatever our idiosyncrasy, God loves every one of His children unconditionally. This is how we know that we belong in Him.
When it comes to loving us, God cares about who we are. He rejoices when we are obedient to His rules and when we respond promptly and completely to His call. Regardless of how many times we’ve sinned or passed up opportunities to love Him through charitable acts toward His other children, He welcomes with open arms.
Many people go through an entire earthly existence without experiencing unconditional love, making God’s love difficult to grasp. Children grow into adulthood without knowing personally and feeling deeply the love that has no strings attached, regardless of behavior or our response to that love — the true love patterned after God’s love for us.
While some were blessed to experience it early in life, we are all equal in one sense — God loves us. Warts and all, individually and without reservation, He wants the best for us. Missing this sense of God’s love often turns into feelings of lack, of rejection or not being good enough.
The best example comes from asking for something that we don’t get. When we’re not chosen in a hiring decision or passed over for a promotion that we feel we deserve, we’re prone to negative feelings.
If we’re not careful in learning why things didn’t transpire as we had hoped, we reach unwise conclusions and react harshly. Just like children, we might ask why repeatedly, then feel unloved or unworthy when we don’t get what we want.
We need to be reminded that we’re totally and completed loved where we are right now, regardless of what we get or don’t get, or what we accomplish or don’t accomplish.
When we don’t get what we’ve requested, it may be that the time isn’t right. Once we hand over our timing requirements — for arrival of employment, promotions, increased compensation, even our own children accepting age-appropriate responsibility — we give those to God, doing all that we know to do. Then it’s our turn to trust that God loves us so much that He’ll provide exactly what we need at the right time. If never is the answer, He’ll deliver that message too.
At the end of all that asking, especially when we’re feeling unheard and unloved, our Father beckons with open arms and the consoling words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
God’s ways are not our ways, as we learn in the Book of Isaiah. And, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, in the marathon of virtues where faith, hope and love endure, the greatest of these is love. For His divine, unconditional love, thanks be to God.
John Earl Carroll is an entrepreneur based in Mount Pleasant. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.