Sometimes they say it plainly, in so many words. “You don’t belong here.”
That’s how it happened for my son.
But more often, it’s implied, insinuated. It’s a subtle treatment that wears a person down over time, like a frayed rope. And a frayed rope eventually breaks.
It doesn’t only happen to special needs families. It happens to anyone who doesn’t “fit” just right, anybody who’s a little different, anybody who makes the others fidget in their seats with discomfort.
And so the special needs families or whoever the “different” ones may be, they hear the message loud and clear, even if it’s only hinted at:
You don’t belong here.
It’s a lonely feeling when you know you don’t belong.
Most of us can recall incidents in our lives when we felt pushed aside, when we were left out. Times we didn’t belong. And those memories are always painful.
When my little boy was only six years old, we were told he didn’t belong.
After one week attending children’s choir at our church, he was removed and placed in a different room with another “difficult” child. When questioned, the leaders said he “needed more personal attention” and that he was a distraction for the other children.
In other words, he didn’t belong.
When he was eight, it happened again. We brought him to church for a Bible memorization program on Sunday evenings, along with his twin sister. But only a couple of months in, we were told it “wasn’t a good fit for him.”
In other words, he didn’t belong.
That’s when our whole church world began to crumble. Everything we thought we knew was shaken. All of a sudden, we — as a family — didn’t belong.
There was some backpedaling on behalf of the church staff. “Of course we want your family here,” they said.
But the implication was there: “You belong, but your son does not.” The unspoken, but nonetheless clear message was:
“Your child doesn’t really fit into our mold of what we believe good kids look like. He’s not the norm. He makes us squirmy, like an itch we can’t scratch, and we don’t know how to deal with it. What’s more, we aren’t willing to try. We’ll just stick to how we’ve always done with things, because that’s what keeps us comfortable. If you can conceal him a little more, push him to the back burner so he doesn’t affect our church image, then of course, we want you here. After all, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice the needs of the few for the needs of the many.“
The rest is history.
We left the church after a grueling, anxiety-riddled couple of years.
Because if one part of our family doesn’t belong, then none of us do.
Listen carefully special needs parents and individuals: if a church sends you the message that you don’t belong, then get up and go. Shake the dust off your feet and move on. They are wrong, but fighting will only make things worse. Trying to push for inclusion in a place where you’re not wanted is an exercise in futility. Accept it for what it is, feel the pain, and walk away.
There are greener pastures ahead, I assure you.
There are churches and faith communities who will open their arms to you and say, “You belong here.”
Isn’t that what every human being — disabled or not — craves most?
We all need a place to belong.
We need to know we’re welcomed, wanted, loved.
In a well-known passage of the gospel of Luke, a “sinful woman” brashly enters the home of a respected Pharisee during a dinner party. She breaks a jar of perfume and anoints Jesus’s feet with it, and all the guests are shocked and appalled.
“She doesn’t belong here!” they cry.
But Jesus refutes their claims and blesses her for being right where she is.
Because every single person belongs at the feet of Jesus. He never turns anyone away.
Repeated Rejection Takes Its Toll
Being rejected time after time can take its toll on a person, on a family.
You can start to think you don’t deserve to be included. You can begin to believe you aren’t quite human, only fit to hang out in the periphery of society. On the fringes. Too subpar to expect a place of belonging.
What the Old Testament Hebrews would’ve called “unclean.”
You can start to feel like an outcast. Repeated rejection makes you want to give up, to just stay home in your own comfort zone, away from all the people who tell you over and over, “You don’t belong here.”
Have you ever heard of Mephibosheth? He was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul — Israel’s first king. Mephibosheth was disabled, both of his feet useless. He would’ve been — in those ancient days — an outcast, a mistake, a person who didn’t belong.
And yet, there’s this gem of a story in the book of 2 Samuel where King David summons Mephibosheth and invites him to bring his family and eat at the king’s table.
Mephibosheth responds the way so many of who’ve received multiple rejections might:
Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?” 2 Samuel 9:8
Rejection had done a number on him.
He didn’t think himself worthy to be acknowledged, let alone invited in.
And this is the dangerous situation we find so many unchurched special needs families in today. They’ve started to believe the lies that they don’t belong. That they don’t matter. That the “church” will never have a place for them.
And yet King David, the man after God’s own heart, was not deterred. He insisted to Mephibosheth: “You belong here.”
And so the story goes:
Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table. He was lame in both feet.” 2 Samuel 9:13
Christians, churches, people of the human race — this must be our attitude toward the disabled, and toward any person or group whom society has deemed “less than.” The fringes of society. The ones who are rejected, turned away, and told they don’t belong.
We must — like King David — insist otherwise.
Because if you are a human being, then you are indeed an image-bearer of the Most High God. So hear me when I say:
- You belong here.
- You belong on this earth.
- You belong at the King’s table.
- You belong at the feet of Jesus.
- You belong within a community of likeminded believers.
And you deserve to be loved, simply because you are alive. Please don’t let the rejecters and the naysayers tell you different. Please don’t buy into their lies.
You belong here.
Don’t give up. Don’t stop searching for a place of belonging. It’s there, I promise. Trust God to lead you wherever it may be.
Because all are welcome at the Lord’s table.