Shedding Labels to Find Belonging in God’s Family

Out of Place – Shawna’s Story

“What are you?” he asked nonchalantly. 

The solid wood bookshelf behind him provided an intimidating backdrop as I thought curiously how to answer. He occupied the coveted position of Partner in our New York City firm. Between his Brooklyn accent and abrupt demeanor, it resembled a scene from The Godfather. Clearly, I was a mystery to him.  

“What do you mean?” I countered cautiously. 

He replied without pause, “I mean, are you Catholic or Jewish?”

Despite my attempts to explain that I simply believe in Jesus, it seemed I didn’t fit the framework in his mind. I watched his puzzled gaze as he attempted to discern which category best described me. 

A barrier to belonging

At 24, I arrived in New York City as a newlywed, and brought with me the one label that most defined me. As a conservative Christian from Texas, it was clear that what seemed acceptable in the South felt incredibly uncomfortable in the Northeast. 

Many discussions with co-workers and clients alike began with, “She’s from Texas”, in order to provide an appropriate context for my accent, my love of queso, or my faith. I tried to hold onto my badge of Southern pride, but soon enough the labels felt limiting, and at times condescending. Desperate for friends and family, I searched for a label that fit, but that left me feeling more alone. 

This experience forced me to realize how often I allow labels to build a barrier to belonging. 

My sense of belonging could not keep up with the shift of seasons in my life. As life in the corporate world transitioned to life as a stay-at-home mom, relationships shifted. Our children were homeschooled in New York City, then went into public school in the suburbs, so relationships shifted again.

Over time, it became more challenging to fully belong in any one group. As relationships deepened, however, I noticed the labels of geography, preference, and stereotype fade away. We discovered relatable areas of life, and I watched as a family began to form united in something beyond dividing lines. 

The only label we need

A few years ago, another shift occurred as our family moved back to my hometown. 

Saying goodbye and re-entering Texas life after thirteen years away was not as I had imagined.  Now living closer to my biological family, I find my heart longing for the family forged through friendship and faith across the country. What felt conservative in New York, now feels liberal for Texas. Life once again feels foreign even in the familiar. 

What group of friends do I belong to now?

To be honest, I don’t know, but I am reminded that labels given or received only detract from the one label we are meant to carry as children in God’s family. 

In scripture, for example, we are introduced to countless labels:

Meet Rahab, a prostitute, whose faith paved the road for God’s children to enter the promised land. She enters God’s story as a woman willing to let go of a limiting label to create a lasting legacy. 

Meet Paul, a Jewish Rabbi, who experienced a powerful conversion after leading persecutions against the early church. Through an encounter with Christ, he was invited into a new family. His label as a redeemed child of God propelled him to take great risks for the gospel, and denounce all other prideful identities for the glory of the One who called him. 

Meet Matthew, a tax collector avoided by most, but who is invited into the inner circle of Jesus. He is called away from that which defined him, and in turn sets out on a new mission with a new family. 

Meet the widow, the orphan, the adulterer, the Gentile, the Pharisee, the unclean, the lame, and the blind – who were stereotyped and labeled, possibly even dismissed, yet all forgiven and adopted into God’s family once and for all.

In each story I see a Savior who loved beyond dividing labels. He came to give each of us a new label, a new identity, and a new family. 

In this season, my heart longs to live under a label that is freely and consistently ours in Christ. The fact that I am adopted has reminded me that I’m a part of a larger family despite where I live, I am accepted despite what I accomplish, and I belong despite my assigned labels. 

The year 2020, while characterized by many things, was a year of unremitting divide within the church. As we enter this new year, what would it look like for you to live under the one label that you are simply and beautifully God’s child? 

As we enter this new year, what would it look like for you to live under the one label that you are simply and beautifully God’s child? 

What cultural labels need to be shed so that you can fully embrace your identity in Christ, and how might that affect your feeling of belonging where you are today?

As we go forward, may we remember that finding belonging in the kingdom of God means that we also belong to a family of believers. Because of Jesus, we are adopted not only into the family of God for eternity, but also for the here and now. 

May we shed the labels, find our belonging in His family, and invite others to join us. Prayers to that end.  

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet Shawna Sullivan

Shawna is a mother, home educator, and chauffeur to four children. She and her husband love encouraging others to live intentionally, embrace adventure, and find joy in a life surrendered to the mission of Christ. 

Now back in Texas after 13 years in New York, she will never take a backyard, time with family, air conditioning, or her own laundry room for granted. Shawna writes regularly on her website, sharing truth-filled encouragement for practical ways to connect with your Creator and those under your roof. She is passionate about reminding women there is purpose in every season because of a faithful God. 

You can connect with Shawna on her website, Instagram, or Facebook, and be sure to download “Seasoned with Grace: 5 Guiding Principles for Using Winsome Words in a Combative Culturehere!

*Feature Photo by Raphael Rychetsky on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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