I Belong (and So Do You)

In the fall of 2016, I embarked on an intimidating adventure: the search for a new church home in Los Angeles. I told myself to be patient, and I steeled myself for the discomfort of walking into buildings full of strangers. I prayed that God would lead me to the right place for me and my family. And He did, but not by the path I would have chosen. My path would have led me directly to Cornerstone’s door on week one - in other words, I would have chosen the path that got me what I wanted, right away. His path was longer, more painful, and far superior to mine; His path taught me about Him, and who I am as His child.

Prior to Cornerstone, I visited a church at which I felt lonely, despite attending regularly for nine months. The people at the church were nice; they just didn’t seem very interested in a new person. I forced myself to hang out on the patio after the service each week while my daughter ate a donut, and most weeks no one talked to us. I went to a women’s Bible study and sat awkwardly while people made plans to go out to lunch together afterward. I met a staff member who seemed really friendly, and she asked if I wanted to get coffee sometime. We exchanged information, and I waited. After a week or so, I reached out to her, but got no response. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being an outsider.

It’s important at this point to make clear that my purpose is not to badmouth that church. Yes, my experience there wasn’t great, but I am one person who witnessed one short stretch of that church’s history. For all I know, my experience was an anomaly. And, though it took me a while to recognize it (which is maybe why I needed to stay there a while), I was actually participating in my own exclusion.

I don’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough, or that I should have forced myself to be more outgoing. What I mean is that my whole approach to finding a church was grounded in a flawed understanding of what it meant to “belong” at one.

At that church, I felt insecure from the start. I was in a pretty different socioeconomic position from most people there, and it was hard not to look at the outward trappings of wealth and find myself wanting. I knew it shouldn’t matter. I knew that cars and houses and private schools and designer clothes are ultimately just things – but I sometimes felt a bit shabby, a bit envious. Then I’d feel guilty for being so superficial and self-pitying, especially at church. I kept asking God if I should head elsewhere, and I kept getting the sense that He wanted me to wait a little longer.

One week, I headed to a Bible study, feeling down and anticipating rejection. As I pulled into the parking lot, I thought, “What am I doing? I just don’t belong here.”

And then He impressed upon me: If this is my house, and you are my child, you belong here. Walk in knowing that you belong here.

So I got out of the car and started walking.

I slowed down as I approached the door, realizing just how afraid I was of not being loved and accepted.

And then there He was again: How about you walk in ready to love and accept other people, and go from there?

Think about other people? Mind-blowing!

It may sound odd, but I think that that 30-second walk across the parking lot was the central purpose of the whole nine months - and it was worth it. I needed to learn that when I walk into my Father’s house, I already belong. If my Father says I belong, I don’t have to wait for someone else to tell me that I do. If my Father says I belong, a painful experience at a church can’t change that. If my Father says I belong, I am free to stop worrying about fitting in and I can turn my attention and love to my brothers and sisters.

In the Bible study that day, I had some good conversations with other women about II Corinthians, and I left feeling at peace. And I was at peace when, a few weeks later, I realized that it was time to move on. I’d been disappointed and hurt in some ways, but I was still grateful for the experience. God used that time to teach me about church: the attitude I should bring to it, the ease with which any of us (even the very nicest people) can miss opportunities to welcome and befriend, and—most importantly—whose house it is. I didn’t know exactly what I’d find when I walked into Cornerstone, but I knew that my Father would be there waiting for me.