We were at a memorial for a friend this week. These events are always bittersweet for me, and I’m sure for everyone else.. We celebrate a life while at the same time mourning the loss. They grab our attention and trigger all sorts of feelings. Perhaps the younger people don’t fully comprehend the shortness of life, and the value of not wasting energy on things that don’t matter. But many who attended surely do.
As I looked around the room and recognized so many old and new friends I was struck by an intense feeling of belonging. These are my people. This is my extended family. Many of the folks that were in that room would care if something happened to me, just like they cared about our friend. The feeling was “We lost one of ours.”
People who isolate, whether physically or emotionally do not experience the “belonging” that I am talking about. There are few intimate stories that can be related about them. But those who have risked being known will have many who can speak about them in detail.
“These are my people”
I think the “anonymous” groups like AA are successful because they create a sense of belonging. It doesn’t matter that the reason for being there is the result of pain and error. What matters is the acceptance and the sense of belonging. Like it or not, these are “my people.” Often there is a fierce loyalty that is created.
I have spent many of my years in shallow relationships, afraid to be known. It took a lot of intentionality to break free from operating defensively. Perhaps you can relate. I am not saying that we should develop intimate relationships with everyone. Far from it. Not everyone is safe and worth the risk. But we must find a place where we can belong and seek out the connections that will hold up under stress.
Some people believe they have no relational need outside of their nuclear family. I have seen too many very unhealthy families to agree with that position. Especially when we come from a broken family we need to belong to an extended, supportive group. I am not suggesting that we abandon family (except under dire circumstances), rather just not make the family our exclusive relational world.
Some groups that we belong to are temporary or transitional, like school or work related. Others are more permanent like our church or career. I was in several bands in the early years, but mostly one career. The intensity of the feeling of belonging in each was related to my investment. The more I invested (risk involved) the stronger the sense of belonging.
I believe that the church (God’s family, not the building) can be the most genuine expression of belonging that is available to us. Yes, belonging to this family can sometimes be challenging because it is made up of people. However, the underlying stated values, when followed, will be self correcting. These values include love, forgiveness, humility, peacefulness, patience, kindness and many more. When these values are held as essential goals, who wouldn’t want to belong?
Dedicated to Dan Raymond