I am not sentimental or superstitious, and I don’t go in for the emblems of piety, statues and holy water and all that. But around my neck (don’tcha love contradictory statements?) is a jewelled cross and a little pendant with the word ‘belong’. The cross celebrates that I’m no longer wedded to the crucifixes of Catholicism that I grew up with, a crucifix above the bed, a crucifix above the table, another embossed on the cover of a Bible… you couldn’t move for crucifixes (fixi?) Christ suffering on the cross. Now, that image is no part of my faith. Christ died and is risen. The cross is empty.
The emptiness of the cross is the jewel of my faith – ‘It is finished.’
Complete, once and for all, finished.
But alongside my little jewelled cross is the pendant, and this means the world to me, even more than the imagery of the cross. It’s my most treasured possession, like a voice in my ear or a hand in mine, and it says that I belong to God, that I belong here, where He has brought me. And it says that I am acceptable and wanted.
Wow. That’s just amazing.
This little pendant has made a huge difference in my life, and a difference that I’ve found strangely unsettling. A difference I have to settle into. Am still settling into. It may take some time, but I hope not.
I’d grown used to not belonging. I hated it, but I was used to it. I knew how to behave in un-belonging. I longed to belong but I didn’t know what it might feel like. In fact, sugarplums, while I was a tad envious of those who belonged so easily to family, or society or church, I also didn’t want to get in there with them. There! I’ve said it. I am a bloody minded old trout and I am contrary and difficult. You all knew that anyway.
I didn’t want to join the ‘we belong’ crew because I just knew it would be messy and blood would be spilled, I would fall over things and wreak havoc as I blundered through, and two weeks in they would turn, askance, and say “Oh! It’s you! Oh, no, sorry, you have to go and stand over there, in the barely-tolerated area.” So, better not try, eh? Why embarrass everyone? Not belonging means you don’t have all the bother of trying to fit in. You don’t have to socialise. You can be there as a sort of dispassionate bystander, or an unpaid social worker, a professional witness to the foibles and needs of others. And I told myself that it was also because I am a writer.
As I sit here, my fingers occasionally touch the pendant and I finally finally, finally accept something. I may forget it tomorrow. It may slip away from me for a while every now and then, but for now, I realise that I belong. I belong to God. He belongs to me.
And that means I belong in His church.
Steady on! Me? I mean, ME? What a laugh. I bet God smiles when He reads this blog. I bet He sighs and says ‘Tsk’. I bet He gives my church an extra dollop of grace so that they can cope with me. How amazing. That I belong to a church. Like, people!
Do you feel that you don’t belong? I wonder where yours came from, this unbelonging? Mine came from the loss of my mother and years of living with people who didn’t want me. It came from shame and humiliation. It came from not having a place in the world. It came from fear.
My life was affected by unbelonging and fear. It made me hard and cold, unfriendly, aloof. It meant that when there was noise and loud voices, I became stoney faced, distant, unmoved. The panic was hidden, everyone was fooled. It was just Luce being anti-social Luce.
Here’s the thing, my friends, if you know someone who has panic attacks, or flash-backs, or PTSD or whatever else you want to call it (it’s just fear really) you have to understand, they do not volunteer for them. They do not ‘allow them in’. A good friend described the thing perfectly when he said that these fears ‘sideswipe’ me. One minute they’re not there and all is good and then suddenly, unbidden, terror rushes up unseen, full force, real and all consuming. Wham! Pow! Take that! Unable to think or pray or know anything except fear. That’s what happens.
The great thing (!) about fear is that it can’t last. It doesn’t last. Adrenaline rushes in, yes, but it doesn’t keep on and on rushing in. Eventually the heart slows, muscles begin to relax, vision clears, the pounding lessens, reason returns, the world slips back into focus. Nothing terrible is happening. The ghosts of the past are only ghosts.
Fear was what stopped me from belonging. The dread and fear of the flash-back but also I expected rejection and spent all my time trying to dodge it. If you live from the age of 6 to adulthood in the corner of the room, by the door, in the shadows, trying not to be seen, the habit is formed. You may not have fear, I hope you don’t. But you may have something else, some other habit, stopping you from the experience of God’s love. Whatever it is, it’s wrong.
So, what am I saying? I suppose I’m saying, as clearly as I can, that whoever you are, you are just the same as me. Just as He loves me, God loves you. You belong. Whatever you struggle with, whatever mental problems you have, whatever you’ve done or been, whether you’re broken and addicted or lost and confused, whether you’re a millionaire or a bankrupt, even if you feel that no one else in the world has an internal life like yours, you belong. You belong first of all to God, and then you belong to everyone who loves God. So I suppose you belong to me. Ooher. You poor thing!
I’m going to say something now that might seem totally simplistic and weird but I know it’s true. Whatever you’ve done, whoever you are, you can’t shock God. Nothing you think or say or do, or have done, will shock Him. He is the great unshockable. So, don’t kid yourself that you’re the exception to God’s love. You ain’t.
You belong to God. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, died for you. That’s how precious you are to Him. You are loveable. Fear and flaws and foolishness and all. You are loved and you belong.
You do. There is a place for you, a place where there is no private unspoken hell, no fear, where there is no threat, where there is no addiction, no shame or secrets, no darkness, no confusion, where there is only love. And that place is right here in the word ‘belong’.
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’
That’s Isaiah, that is.