Ever since I was a little kid I’ve felt like I didn’t ‘belong’ and that there were certain things and activities that were not meant for me.
I remember being in kindergarten and there was a play kitchen area with dolls. Most of the little girls hung out and played in that area. But something whispered to me that I wasn’t allowed over there. That those things weren’t for me.
Even certain books felt like they weren’t ‘for’ me. And I don’t mean that I didn’t see books that had little mixed girls in them. I just mean that there was a lie being whispered that books, like Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, weren’t for me. That I wasn’t part of The Club so I should just keep walking because we don’t want your kind here.
This thought has followed me my entire life: “You don’t belong here.”
I’ve always been horrible about the belonging side of Christianity. I remember when our family decided to walk up to the altar one Sunday to profess our belief in Christ and I felt so ashamed and bad and scared. I was embarrassed that we were asking to belong to this group and terrified that they might not want us there. I laugh now because nothing gets a group of Baptists excited like AN ENTIRE FAMILY walking down the aisle to say they love Jesus.
But feeling like I fit in has been a forever problem, and like most of our deep issues, we bring them everywhere we go. Our marriages. Our parents. Our church.
I have bopped all over the church map looking for places I might feel like I belong. The church plants. The big church. The mega church. The teeny tiny church. The Black church. The hipster church. The living room church. The time we just met at McDonald’s regularly with some close friends. I’d find people that I belonged to, but rarely did a church feel like a place where I belonged.
I’m getting better about the lie about not belonging. I recognize it for the spiritual attack it has always been. The things that grew out of the seeds it planted: “You’re not lovable” “You’re too weird” “You’re too much” “You aren’t wanted here” “You aren’t needed” These were not fruits of the Spirit. Even though I don’t belong to a church, I most definitely believe that I belong to The church. The body of Christ here on earth. The Church that has been tasked with ushering as much of God’s presence in the middle of a spiritual warzone as possible.
Spending most of my life feeling like I don’t belong and then joining an institution that, on the surface, doesn’t always align with my values means I have spent a lot of time defining what I believe a Submitted Christian is. Full disclosure: my flesh wants to tell you what a Submitted Christian isn’t. I want to tell you we aren’t racist. And we aren’t hateful. And we aren’t judgmental. I want to write an entirely too long defense of why we, actually, can’t be any of those things AND profess to be followers of Christ. But instead of telling you what a Christian isn’t, I thought I’d share what a Submitted Christian is.
What I’m about to describe is not the experience of every church going person. It is not the experience of every person that describes themselves as a Christian. It is not the experience of everyone that thinks being southern equals being Christian.
First, a Submitted Christian has had a very real conversation with Jesus about sin. Specifically, her sin. She has been confronted with the ways her behavior has consistently ‘missed the mark.’ And it isn’t just the confrontation of the ‘big 10’ sins (the lying, the cheating, the fornicating). God has shown her the ‘little’ sins. The gossiping. The jealousy. The hatred. The pride. A Submitted Christian has looked at her very human approach to the world (the looking out for #1, the unforgiveness, the anger, the self righteousness) and been absolutely horrified by her true self. So horrified that she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she needed Someone to save her from herself.
This full awareness of how disgusting she is when left to her own devices brings so much humility. Like, an avalanche of it. My absolute favorite parable, and the one that consistently keeps me in check, is the one about the man that can’t pay his enormous debt. The king forgives him. Joy! Then the man goes out to find the man that owes him. He grabs the man by the throat demanding payment. The king finds out and is furious. How on earth can I, after being forgiven so much, go out to my neighbors and demand payment for their perceived sins?
After spending some time looking down at the assortment of sin, the Submitted Christian slowly looks up. The sky looks bigger. Farther away. Almost dangerous. Then you realize that God is bigger than the sky. The moon. The sun. Anything in this natural world that has ever taken your breath away. God made it. A Submitted Christian realizes instantly how small she is. How insignificant. How absolutely powerless.
There’s something about that smallness. There’s immediate relief. You’re not the center of the universe. You know that your ability and power mean nothing and… it’s… amazing. The freedom that surges through your soul. You can’t screw anything up anymore. It’s all been fixed. It’s all been forgiven.
A Submitted Christian gets to rest.
Rest in His big and powerful hands. The hands that hung the stars and keep the sky in place and tell the ocean to stop. Those hands are holding her . She is safe in a way that transcends this world. This world almost doesn’t feel real anymore. Yes, her natural world may be a disaster. She may be sick. She may be poor. She may be heartbroken. But she is standing on something firm. Something… Someone is carrying her.
Then she realizes she is alive in a new way. A way that she has never experienced before. She has access to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which provided the power to bring Jesus out of the grave. That power is alive in her now. A very personal and real connection between her and the Source of everything has been made. This power, this electricity is flowing between her and God.
A Submitted Christian has supernatural powers.
These powers have value in a spiritual world, not a material one. A Submitted Christian has a supernatural ability to forgive. The desire to hold on to grudges and offenses begin to lose their hold when her eyes are fixed on The One That Forgives All. Submitted Christians have the supernatural power of gratitude, joy, peace. The ability to be grateful for the big and the small. The joy despite the circumstances. The peace that surpasses all understanding.
A Submitted Christian is in a relationship with God. Sometimes that relationship is close and she feels like she has the Creator of the Universe on the line ready to answer any question or thought she has. Sometimes that relationship is distant. She aches for Him or she’s running away from Him. Either way, things don’t feel right. A Submitted Christian cares about this connection. Craves this connection. Depends on this connection. She does things that keep the relationship alive and electric. She is meeting with God in His word, in prayer & fasting, and in fellowship with other Submitted Christians. She is humbled by the power of being in relationship with the Almighty, not grasping for more power (there isn’t any!) or using it to dominate others (because in God’s kingdom He reigns, not me!). She is joyfully kneeling at His throne.
I don’t fit most places. Trust me, I’ve tried. But the Church, where the Submitted Christians are, is one of the only places I’ve truly belonged. I get these people because I am these people. And I’m totally fine with you believing whatever you’d like about the church, but I just want to make it clear what I mean when I say that these are my people lest anyone try to ever put words in my mouth or beliefs in my heart.