When was the last time you felt like a stranger? Maybe like you were on the outside looking in. Like a child whose nose is pressed against the window of a beautiful shop full of toys and candy with no money to buy. Or like a child on the playground who longed to take part in the game but never got picked to be on the team. Have you ever felt like a foreigner who can’t understand the language or traditions of the strange land you’re traveling through or are now living? That sense of being lost and lonely?
The whole concept of being a stranger is one of being different and not belonging. I’m sure most of us have vivid memories of feeling like we didn’t belong. That horrible sense of being alone and scared. It doesn’t take moving into a new neighborhood or another country to feel like a stranger. In fact, we can feel like a stranger in just about any arena of our lives.
What I have come to discover is that a sense of belonging is one of the deepest needs we experience as humans. We all possess the need to be connected because we were created for community.
The Bible verse that comes to mind for me is from Leviticus. Leviticus is not one of your more readable books in the Bible. It’s full of Jewish laws and customs and commandments. Not user-friendly at all. But there is a great verse that speaks to me:
When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat them. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (19:33-34).
What this passage teaches me is that there are no strangers among us because we now belong to the same community. We are to love others as ourselves.
That’s what I love about God! God makes it so simple for us: love others as yourself. When we love others as ourselves, there are no strangers and everyone belongs. It doesn’t get any simpler.
The question we must ask ourselves is, if it doesn’t get any simpler, then why do we make it so hard? Why do we continue to be afraid of our differences rather than allow the diversity to enrich our lives? Why do we attempt to exclude others rather than widen our circle to embrace them? Hmm. Given the heated debates around this subject, I don’t think it’s a popular concept.
Many years ago when my sons and I lived in Massachusetts. They were the only Asian children in their pre-school/kindergarten. In fact, there were very few non-Anglo kids. One day, a little four year-old African-American classmate of my youngest asked him, “What’s wrong with your eyes?” His response? “Nothing. I can see out of them just fine!”
I tell this story because it has not always been easy for them to respond to such questions. There were times my heart ached because of the hateful remarks (even by adults at the church I served!), ugly names, and bullying just because they had different physical characteristics and an unusual last name from the majority in the community.
We laugh about it now, but we still get the “that’s your Mom?” or “those are your kids?” comments. Must we look alike to belong to each other?
What if we looked beyond our external earth suits (aka bodies) and looked into the hearts of each other? What do you think you would see? We’d probably see another person who struggles with the same kinds of things we struggle with. We’d probably realize that we all have similar dreams and desires for our lives and the lives of our children. We would learn that we all experience that sense of aloneness and not belonging even though the circumstances of our lives may not be the same.
Most of all, we would know that we all belong to the same community…God’s family. God’s family is creative and diverse. God’s arms are open to embrace each and every one of us.
God changes everything. We are all native-born. We belong. God has stopped the game and come over to you and me on the sidelines and has chosen us to be on the team. We are welcomed into a new land and we are all citizens. There are no strangers among us.