Although our purpose in life is to glorify God and live for Him and
for others, the latter can often be quite painful if you don’t actually
feel you belong.
If you don’t have any family in the church where you worship, weren’t brought up there, or come from a non-church background, you can easily feel like an outsider. In some particularly long-established fellowships, it can be years before you finally feel you fit in.
Perhaps you don’t know the choruses or hymns, don’t know when to sit or stand, or find the socialising over tea and coffee uncomfortable.
I’m sure many of us have experienced the excruciating painfulness of being in a situation where no one appears willing to go over to talk to us, or when everyone seems to be having animated conversations over tea and biscuits – except us! I can certainly recall several occasions where I’ve either longed for church to end, or the earth to swallow me up!
Such bitter-tasting experiences can leave us feeling like a jigsaw piece whose edges don’t quite fit, because we don’t really feel we’re in the right place. Perhaps one of the reasons I like putting things down on paper is because it gets them off my chest. It also gives me a voice and makes me less invisible.
A middle-aged friend once said: “It’s hard being part of a fellowship where everyone knows everyone else, and the vast majority are either married or related to one another. I even considered changing my name by deed poll, so I at least had that in common with all the other interrelated families.” I know how he feels!
But, rather than feeling sorry for ourselves or remaining uncomfortable, perhaps we should be the ones to seek out those to whom no one is talking.
Although some people can hide it quite well, it isn’t usually hard to spot that ill-at-ease person who’s clearly feeling self-conscious. They’re usually the ones pretending to look at the order of service, the church noticeboard or their phone.
It’s harder, of course, if we’re shy or nervous but, however uncomfortable we may feel, let’s not forget what Jesus – betrayed, abandoned, forsaken and in agony – endured on the Cross:
‘our light and momentary troubles’ paling into insignificance compared with the ‘eternal glory that far outweighs them all’.
Because Adam and Eve sinned by eating fruit from the one tree God told them to avoid (Genesis 3), Jesus – the second Adam – was hung on a very different ‘tree’ (Galatians 3:13), so the redeemed might eat from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7).
So, whatever difficulties we encounter in life, rather than being rootless (Matthew 13:6), fruitless (Ephesians 5:11) or ‘weedy’, weed-choked Christians (Matthew 13:27-30), sowing dissent, gathering moss or going to seed, we should labour diligently in God’s vineyard (Matthew 20) – bearing much fruit (John 15:8) – rather than sowing sparingly and reaping little.
Walking the earth for about 33 years, Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, befriend ed the outcast, calmed the storm and called His disciples – making His presence graciously known.
His was the same divine presence that confronted Adam and Eve whilst walking in the garden (Genesis 3:8-13); commissioned Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3); appeared beside Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fire (Daniel 3:25); comforted the disciples in the upper room (John 20:19-23); convicted Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), and enabled Stephen to face death by stoning (Acts 7:54-60).
Though Jesus left His home in heaven and the closeness He’d had with His heavenly Father, He made His home on earth – with Joseph and Mary, His siblings, disciples and followers all part of His earthly family.
Instead of licking our wounds over the times we’ve felt invisible, unloved or uncared for – or waiting for others to meet our needs – we should unselfishly seek to meet the needs of others. To be present in their pain, loneliness, discomfort or distress.
This is particularly true in times of illness, loneliness or isolation, when Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype or emails reassure people they are not alone. As a writer for missionary aviation organisation, MAF, which reaches remote and isolated people in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, I’m acutely aware of how important contact is.
Just as Jesus was physically present while on earth – and continues to play a part through His indwelling Spirit and intercessory prayer (Romans 8:34) – let’s serve those around us, follow Christ, glorify God, advance His Kingdom, and spread the Good News.
In doing so, like Moses, Paul, Stephen and others, we’ll not only serve God and bless our neighbours, but – jigsaw-like – will find our correct place and role among God’s glorious family.
Gary Clayton is married to Julie, the father of Christopher (16) and Emma (13), and works for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). To learn about MAF’s work in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region,