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What to Do When You Sit Outside the Circle | by Kristen Strong

When my husband, three young children, and I had lived in the Midwest for a year, we attended a church full of abundantly kind people. After some time, I finally began forming relationships with a few of the folks there. One Sunday, when my husband was out of town for work, I managed to navigate all three little ones into church and Sunday school, as well as remember to bring my dish of garlic mashed potatoes for the after-church potluck.

I enjoyed the potluck immensely, downing long swigs of conversation with other grown-ups like I hadn’t done in a while. At one point in the afternoon, my daughter needed to use the restroom. Once we took care of business and returned to the picnic area, I looked around to see my table empty. Scanning the lawn, I noticed all the remaining picnic-goers sitting in a big circle, all laughing and talking like only a day with warm sunshine and longtime relationships could encourage.

Clear as church belles, I remember staring at the circle of people while my kids ran in circles around me. I sighed and said, “What does one have to do to really feel like she belongs anyhow?” Soon Afterward, I wrangled my kids into the minivan and headed home.

You may be thinking, Kristen, why didn’t you go up to that circle of people and ask if you could join them? I probably should’ve. Looking back on that now, I’m certain they would’ve welcomed me in the circle. But at the time, I remember seeing that cozy, connected group and realizing I didn’t share their history or stories. I believed that without a direct invite, inserting myself into their circle felt at best awkward and presumptuous and at worst, like an intrusion.

In this circumstance, I can give myself grace and know that it was fine to head home. But in general, if I gave into those I-don’t-belong-here feelings every single time by packing up and leaving, I’d never get to a place of belonging with anyone anywhere.

So what are some things you and I can do when those feelings creep close?

  1. Know it’s okay to feel that way. Jesus certainly identified with that feeling of being on the outside looking in. From His birth outside the inn to His death outside the city gates, Jesus knew what it was like to be on the outside. However, He wasn’t on the outside looking in. He was on the outside looking up.
  2. Be willing to cross the awkward bridge. Being the one to walk up first and make an introduction to an individual or a group of people is awkward; but, as my friend Holley Gerth says, “sometimes awkward is the price of admission for authentic communication.” Be willing to deal with a little awkward now because it may reap the benefits of authentic communication later.
  3. Remember that welcoming in creates belonging. One of the most powerful ways to expand our sense of belonging is to welcome another in. If you sense the Lord is putting someone on your heart with whom you may have a connection, ask her to meet you for coffee or at your house. She might say no, but she also might say yes!

No person is meant to be on the inside of every circle, but everyone is on the inside somewhere. God will make a way for you and I to belong where we are, and Jesus goes with us along the way.

. . .

Kristen Strong, author of Girl Meets Change and Back Roads to Belonging, writes as a friend who helps you see your current season of life with more hope and less worry. She and her US Air Force veteran husband, David, have three children. Together, this military family zigzagged across the country (and one ocean) several times before settling in Colorado Springs, Colorado. You can find her at kristenstrong.com and on Instagram @kristenstrong.

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