A Place to Belong

Her words hung in the air. I have never heard a more poignant question that felt more like a statement. A verbal assessment of the condition of American Christianity.

I sat there and wept in conviction.

I’ve been in a lot of women’s prisons… and just when I thought I had heard the same things over and over, this woman blew my world to bits.

We were talking about being daughters of God. Pushing back the labels and choosing a different life because Jesus loves us and wants us. We were encouraging them to follow their Heavenly Father and pursue healing. We were also pressing the importance of being in community with other believers.

The Church is a big deal. It was designed by God on purpose for us to live in community with other Christians…that are redeemed and yet still flawed. There are no perfect churches and every gathering of believers will have some differences. However, as the Bride of Christ, we need to be meeting together and sharing with each other, keeping one another accountable and serving our broken world together.

It was in the middle of this talk about church community when her question split the room.

“Where do we go when no one wants us anymore?”

I choked.

The question seemed to stab me to the core. I sat there and watched this woman pleading with everything in her. She wanted to be free. She craved to belong. To be wanted by her own brothers and sisters in Christ. To be welcomed, even broken and empty.

I was totally stunned by her honesty and straight forwardness. Her question was not just a wondering of heart…it was also a statement to the condition of our American churches. She knew she wasn’t wanted by the typical Christian gathering. She could feel the wall between her and her fellow Christians…even though she was still in prison. Whoa. That was a hard pill to swallow.

It was obvious that the other women in the room resonated with her question. There was a low hum as her words gave them the courage to say what they were thinking. They were speaking out and pleading for a place to call home. They are making changes in their lives…but when they go home, they need a place to STAY DIFFERENT. When they can’t find a welcoming place, they often revert to the old friendships and places that led them to be incarcerated.

When did that happen? When did we start adding punishment to people’s current sentences? When did we become so self-righteous that we suddenly govern who can come through the doors of our churches?

I keep thinking… if these women aren’t welcome in the House of God, where on earth will they be invited? Perhaps our best candidates for church members sit behind prison walls…and we are too scared to invite them to join us. As if their belonging to us will taint us…when it will more often teach us. As if their stories are less palatable…when they are more powerful. As if they aren’t necessary to the Body of Christ when we actually need them desperately.

To belong is a powerful thing.

“Where do we go when no one wants us anymore?”

I don’t have a cookie-cutter answer for that. But I know this: we are all ex-offenders. You are. I am. Your pastor is. Every single one of us are undeserving of grace. So, what if we started living more like we are redeemed and serving a Rescuing God and less like we are the judge and jury?

That question still haunts me. I can see her face, tears rolling down her cheeks and the pleading in her eyes. “Where do we go when no one wants us anymore?”

What if YOU and I were meant to answer that question with the way we live our lives? What if we were the first person in our church to walk over to the new comer, regardless of their past…and tell them they BELONG. Welcoming the stranger, the ex-convict, the orphan and the broken-hearted into our churches is the heart of the Father. Jesus is about redemption, friends. I think it would be powerful if we started living like we believed it.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:35 NRSV

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