September 7, 2022

The Beauty of Belonging

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

— C.S. Lewis

Part of being human is to sometimes feel like we don’t belong. Conjuring up memories of middle school might make us groan with the memory of feeling like we were on the outside, not sure where we fit. Introverts, like myself, may remember times when their quietness in a social or professional setting caused them to be overlooked or feel forgotten. Differences in race, gender, age, cultural or social-economic background can often feel like a barrier to belonging. And the truth is none of us really belong here. As C.S. Lewis suggests, all our longings and insecurities point to the fact that this fallen world is not where we were designed to dwell.

So maybe in one sense none of us belong, but at the same time we so desperately want to belong. Belonging matters. Being part of a healthy community positively impacts our well-being. It feels good to be accepted and appreciated.When we know that we belong we feel safer, more confident and secure. Belonging is beneficial to both our mental and physical health, it makes us more resilient and better able to handle stress.

John O’Donohue writes, “Our hunger to belong is the longing to find a bridge across the distance from isolation to intimacy. Everyone longs for intimacy and dreams of a nest of belonging in which one is embraced, seen, and loved. Something within each of us cries out for belonging.”

Belonging reflects God’s heart, and I have come to believe that our yearning to belong reflects a God-given desire for intimacy with the One who is Love. His kingdom is a place of belonging. At its core, our earthly need to belong is simply a shadow of a kingdom reality.

During the last three years, our family has had a precious experience of belonging. My husband, who was adopted shortly after birth was reunited with his birth mother in 2019. Illinois had only recently opened its adoption records, and my husband felt prompted by God to request his original birth certificate. There was no guarantee it would contain enough information for him to locate his birth mom, but he filled out the form, prayed, and waited.

A few weeks later, the document arrived. Not only did it reveal her full name, it also contained an address in Illinois. It didn’t take us long to locate her father’s obituary from several years ago that gave us her married name. From there, we were able to find her current address.

My husband opted to send a handwritten letter, introducing himself as her son, Bruce. He had no idea what, if any, response he would get. But the events that followed changed our lives forever. The way his mother, Carol, and her family, including her husband and two sons, welcomed our family into their lives was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced.

We would have understood if they had responded with bewilderment or suspicion. After all, apart from her husband and one cousin, no one knew Carol had another son. Suddenly, that all changed as Bruce was introduced to extended family, friends, neighbors, and church members. It still makes me cry to think of that radical welcome.

We lost Carol to cancer just over a week ago. Although we are devastated, her funeral was yet another reminder of how blessed we are to belong to her beautiful family. Throughout the last three years, they have continuously embraced us as their own. I see it as a reflection of the welcome God has in store for each of us, a picture of unconditional love. Even in our grief, we can rejoice that Carol is now experiencing perfect belonging in her heavenly home.

Opening our lives to others is risky, and sometimes messy, but God blesses us when we keep our hearts soft to the people he places in our lives.

God always intended for us to belong to families. Why? Because our earthly families (large or small, biological or otherwise) introduce us to the idea of belonging. Granted, when it comes to reflecting God’s unconditional love, all earthly families fall short, and some fail miserably. Only in God’s kingdom will we experience perfect and eternal belonging as children of our heavenly Father.

Nevertheless, true belonging is a gift we are called to share within and beyond the Body of Christ because it is a foretaste of God’s kingdom. We can do this within our families, churches, and communities when we become intentional about loving one another well.

Communities of belonging are defined by vulnerability, transparency, and an absence of shame. They operate with a spirit cooperation rather than competition, providing fertile ground for individual gifts and talents to grow. Healthy belonging changes us for the better as we step into greater freedom to be who God created us to be, while also creating an environment in which we can learn to love and be loved, preparing us for the life to come.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

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