I avoid crying in public as often as I can. I don’t know when or where I felt this importance emerge in me, but since its’ arrival, I settle into its’ demand for solitude every time. And, still. There I was. Sitting on a row of friends, authors, leaders, and spiritual giants crying the ugly cry. The fog machines on stage were rolling out a thick, holy haze, and the swell in the overly-repetitious bridge of the worship team’s song was begging for my eyes to surrender their saline waterfalls. And, yes. I said, the UGLY cry. Why couldn’t it have been a pretty, soft single-tear cry? Why here? Why now? And, why, for the love, couldn’t I stop?!
I was wrestling with an internal question that was familiar as an old friend: Do I belong?
Just days earlier, I had been backstage promoting a new book on a national talk show. I was sharing a fruit tray and talking casually about the weather with an idolized musical artist that I thought I would never cross paths in a million lifetimes. Then, I found myself yet again, backstage. Now amongst spiritual giants of my faith, sharing yet another fruit tray. Fruit trays are supposedly the thing to have in a backstage environment. As a matter of fact, the only thing I felt belonging to both places with such ease was that fruit tray.
Tossing the stem to my last strawberry in the trash and heading to my reserved seat, I began to swell with a million familiar questions.
How in the world did I get here?
Why don’t I feel at home with either of these places and people?
What am I doing here?
Do I fit in best with the secular or spiritual crowd?
Wait. Do I even “fit” with either?
When will I feel like I belong?
Why am I still feeling like this after all these years?
I mean, do I belong…anywhere?
It was all too much to try to process within two worship songs, no matter how incredible the lyrics and melodies were. One of my row mates, a refined author and sought after speaker, saw the tears that were more than momentary, but seemed endless and inconsolable. She stooped down with her hand tenderly on my shoulder and asked what was wrong.
I spilled every thought and question I had been holding onto for years as I breathed vigorously between tears like a toddler calming down from a tantrum. She intently listened until all the feels were felt, and all the drama soaked onto my shirt and jeans. Then, she replied with three words that would become the reason I write this article to you today: YOU BE YOU.
Until this very moment, I assumed I was my most authentic self for most of my life. I was as honest and an open book as any other that I admired. Yet, there was something hidden within these three words that I felt I needed to unearth. How could I be my most authentic self if I didn’t know the fullness of who I was created to be?
As a Christ-follower, I often have heard and fully subscribed to the idea that God knows me better than I know myself. (After all, scripture tells me that I am known by my Creator well before I even was created from Psalm 139.) Here, in the aftermath of those three words, I was forced to reconcile a lack of sincere examination into who God says that I am.
I began to flip through the pages of my memory with all the descriptors I could remember of my identity from scriptures studied and sermons spoken. Quickly, I had several identifiers:
I am a sheep.
I am a child of God.
I am a part of the body of Christ.
I am the Bride of Christ.
I am a living stone.
I am a branch connected to Christ, the Vine.
And, as the list grew, I realized that these were more than descriptors for my identity. Like a switch being flipped from off to on, I saw a common thread in each one:
These were all intimate ways in how I belonged to God.
Somewhere, I forgot that my belonging and fitting in was way more important in the relationship that I held with God above my relationships with others. Somehow, I found myself trading the approval of likes and follows over the sacrifice of God, making me His very own possession a higher priority. Suddenly, tears of longing for belonging became lamenting the overlooking and undervaluing of all the ways I already did.
All my efforts to fit in, feel at home, and belong were already fulfilled in who God says I am.
“YOU BE YOU” would require more than doing and living out whatever felt pleasing or fascinating to me. It would demand a relationship with God. Instead of desperately trying to find my identity and belonging in experiences, performance, approval, likes, and follows, I began to unearth this beautiful paradigm shift:
I began to see God’s identity informing mine.
I am a sheep because I belong to the Good Shepherd.
I am a child because I belong to a Good Father.
I am the Bride of Christ because I belong to an Intimate, Sacred Love.
And, so on and so forth.
The list I wrote that day still has many more layers to be determined. It isn’t exhaustive. However, I do know that it has aligned my heart with peace as I continue to ask this question:
Do I belong?
Yes. Yes, we do.
Even more so, our joy depends on it.
Candace Payne is an author, speaker, podcast host, and a viral sensation whose Facebook Live video is trying on a Chewbacca Mask became the most-viewed Facebook Live video to date (176+ million views). Candace’s greatest joy is sharing life with her husband, two children, and ornery pugs in the great state of Texas. Connect with Candace online at www.CandacePayne.me