I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a particular place (or places) that everyone of us feels like we don’t quite fit, and the places where we think we do we still have a nagging sense that we don’t. Just the word belonging feels like a nice warm blanket to me … and one I have to be cautious of lest I find my belonging in places of earth rather than places of ultimate rest. The New Testament writers under the inspiration of the Spirit wrote plenty about not having our hearts fixed here, being citizens of heaven, living as strangers here, and the language of being aliens. So there’s the theological foundation – God’s children don’t belong here. But there’s more, isn’t there? He created us for relationship and whether it be marriage, family, or friendship, He wants us to taste of the richness of real community. But why is that so hard?
A Distorted Culture of Belonging
Simply put, when being a “member” of something is so casual, a true sense of belonging is hard to find. Reflecting on this last night, my wife insightfully commented about how easy it is for people to be members of just about everything, and as a result it doesn’t mean all that much. You can join Sam’s Club or Costco, be a rewards member of just about every retail store out there, be a card-carrying Starbucks gold customer, and even your favorite credit card is eager to call you a platinum cardholder. When we are part of so much, how can that not reduce actually belonging to something? I mean just because you have your favorite rewards card to one store doesn’t mean you don’t shop at another store, so really what’s the big deal about a covenant commitment anyway? My armchair-quarterback purview of our culture is that we gorge on being “joiners” (in an effort to belong), but run from being “committers” (to avoid being truly known). Those two provide a tumultuous conflict of interest in our own souls … and for those around us who may truly want to love us, accept us, and make us feel like we really belong.
Our Sabotaging Efforts in Belonging
But the cards are stacked against us to an even greater degree. For as much as we want to belong, we fear the intimacy, vulnerability, and exposure we know it brings. Some of us are controllers, and every situation that starts to get a little “sketchy” we quickly try to manage so as to not feel on the “outside”. We control our environments, managing what we attend, who we talk to, and sometimes even where we sit, so as to not allow the slightest hint of hurt or isolation to effect us. I mean who wants to feel that stuff? Unfortunately, such controlling behavior to secure belonging only creates more isolation. Some of us are connectors, and we think belonging is up to us and we have to “work the room” to make it happen. If I can be outgoing enough, friendly enough, and engaging enough then how could I possibly not feel a part of something? We are the social butterflies who never are lacking for someone to talk to, but still wrestle with that nagging feeling of never really feeling known. We love the crowd, but later wonder if they loved me as much as I tried to love them. Still others of us are complainers, and for as much as we want to belong and feel accepted, the prospect of rejection carries an even greater weight and motivation to stay away. So we criticize the shallowness or superficiality of others. We complain about what others are doing (or aren’t doing) in order to feel better about our own fears of “putting ourselves out there”. We reason that belonging is an illusion, people will always hurt you, and the church will never get it right, so why try? It’s no surprise then that we bounce around from “community”, to “social setting”, to “worship service” looking for something that both our culture has distorted, and our own hearts have sabotaged, in search for what our soul truly desires.
A Two-Sided Approach to Belonging
There is a better way in the Gospel. True belonging has the vocabulary of commitment, forbearance, steadfastness, and covenanting together for mutual care. In other words, you cannot truly receive what you are unwilling to freely give. God came near to us (we call that the incarnation) giving freely and drawing us to Himself without respect to our “worthiness”. He committed Himself to His children, depositing His Spirit within, and making eternal promises to never leave us. In response, we fasten ourselves to Him, binding our hearts to His promises, and choosing to make Him our only place of rest. See how that goes both ways? His commitment to us, our commitment to Him. His calling us out, our calling Him in … His preparing a home, our making Him home … His acceptance of us, our delight in Him. At least this is how our Gospel-covenant ought to look. It’s a good model for human belonging. If we want to create belonging it must involve a mutual binding of ourselves together. Two parties saying, “I’m in, I’m here, I trust”. Yes, that’s hard for sinful people to do, but the best chance of it comes within the covenant context of a local church. The marriage of Christ to His Bride, as expressed and practiced in our little local assemblies until the great consummation of our marriage in glory. I know this much – my belonging will never come through the membership cards I carry in my wallet, never be untainted by my fallen heart, and never be fully realized until my Groom returns, but I refuse to stop trying … because I was created to belong, and so were you.