The Risk of Embrace
After arguing with God for a month, I gave in.
“Okay, God,” I said. “I will go.”
So, I joined this new church, like God told me to do. I went reluctantly, and with good reason. I was in no hurry to become invisible again. I spent the first three months listening to people with intention, trying to understand them. I did my best to remain as open as I could. Then, I went home each Sunday and cried tears of frustration. And, prayed. I asked for clarity.
Why was I here? It still made no sense.
One day in the midst of my searching, God spoke again. And, I realized. The Spirit had placed me amongst a group of people to whom I did not wish to belong and then had said, “Embrace them.”
My initial reaction was to ready myself for rejection.
I was not sure I had the strength to do this. But, maybe it would be worth the risk. Maybe this is what it would take for me to learn how to love boldly.
See, here’s the thing. I find myself constantly fighting against an urge that many of us have – this subconscious impulse to dehumanize people, to interact with them as though they are objects to be possessed or leveraged to fulfill a need or an end goal. This is how I was trained to view relationships. This is how I learned to view me. I am dispensable. I am replaceable. My worth must be proven. My usefulness must be shown. This is the warped foundation upon which I once tried to build a love for myself. In this way, I allowed the fear of rejection to redefine my identity. I thought this would only impact how I treated myself. But, we cannot love others completely detached from the impact of how we love ourselves.
We all have known the feel of rejection.
It is always deeply personal and it leaves few people unchanged. To me, rejection is the sound of praises that came too late and with too little power to save the part of my confidence that had already been ripped away. For me, rejection is the smell of vinegar in a clean and emptied apartment I left behind to board a plane to some place new where I might be able to breathe again.
Rejection taught me that I was a commodity.
As a result, I functioned with a caution that did not allow for full connection. I lived weighed down with an unvoiced anxiety; sometimes painfully obvious, other times unconscious.
The fear of rejection has shaped so many of my interactions. At home. At work. At church.
In many ways relationships became transactions.
Reciprocal exchanges. Avoiding shame was what mattered most. Do not dishonor the family. Do not embarrass the boss. Do not appear as anything less than highly competent and completely in control.
Yes, it is possible you can fail to do enough.
Yes, it is possible you can fail to be enough.
In my eyes, life rewarded those deemed most worthy.
People loved those who were most worthy.
These were the principles that drove how I measured myself and the benchmark I used to evaluate who I was willing to allow into my life.
But, perfect love is more powerful than this fear of rejection and this false standard of worthiness (1 Jn. 4:18).
Choosing love is the only way to reclaim who we were created to become. If we allow God, who is love, to work within us and to become the driving force behind our thoughts, words and actions, we will find a new freedom to value ourselves and each other on deeper levels, to recognize our unified identity as image bearers of God.
When the Spirit placed me amongst a group of people to whom I did not wish to belong and commanded me to embrace them, I was terrified. But now I find myself filled with gratitude and hope in the midst of my fear.
This process of embracing others has begun with learning to accept myself.
To feel every frustration.
To sit in the moments of being overwhelmed.
To recognize when I am too afraid to speak.
To be patient with myself when I need to rest.
To allow myself to receive good.
To acknowledge my imperfections.
To practice love inwardly.
Then, with joy, to begin to open myself up to love others outwardly from a place of full connection instead of objectification. Maybe God has been calling you along a similar path to mine. And, if God has, I wholeheartedly say, “Take the risk!” It’s worth it.
Tiona is a native Floridian who is growing to love the rainy days and cozy coffee shops of her new Oregon home. Tiona is passionate about exploring the intersections of faith, race and identity, finding purpose in learning to recognize God imaged within culture. Tiona seeks to follow God’s calling to become just and loving people who honor God and truly value others. Tiona holds a master’s degree in social work. Her current ministry roles include working as the associate director of community life and academic advising at Portland Seminary and as a diversity and inclusion consultant.