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To Belong

I didn’t wake up feeling anything out of the ordinary. As I took my dog outside, I wasn’t thinking that today I would be considering what it would be like to return to my home town; when I made a cup of coffee I wasn’t thinking that in an hour I’d be missing a critical community to my life from a year prior.

The yearning all began with an email, but more on that later.

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Wanting to belong is a funny thing mostly because it is a misunderstood thing. These days, many people feel embarrassed to admit that they want to belong somewhere. To them, it might seem to communicate weakness, or an unhealthy dependency upon what someone else thinks. Because of this, many of us go through our lives trying to shirk or escape the appearance of this when in fact it might actually be a good thing to want to be accepted. It might be a good thing to want to belong somewhere.

I’ve spent around half of my life wanting to feel accepted in some way (I vaguely posted about this recently). In grade school it was for girls to notice. In junior high it was still for girls notice but also for friends who skateboarded to accept me too. In high school it was to be noticed by my teachers and to be accepted by my peers as a leader. In college it was for my girlfriend’s love and to impress my pastor by going to Bible college.

I am not naive, and so I know I am not the only person in the world with ulterior motives for making the decisions that I have. In fact, I can think of plenty of well-respected people who’ve decided to do something because they cared what another thought of them. As generic examples, a boss will praise an employee because she wants him to know he is doing a great job. A father will attend his son’s baseball games because he wants his boy to know he loves him. A wife will encourage her husband because she wants him to know she believes in what their family stands for. 

But, if desiring acceptance and wanting to belong somewhere is our highest motive (or the only), so much so that all other motives pale in comparison, then I think we have uncovered something actually unhealthy. 

If the only reason we show up is because of how it makes us feel, then we are stifling the meaning of acceptance. We are, in essence, making community into a one-sided game. If the only reason we come to church is to feel accepted, or if the only reason we show for Tuesday game night is so people will make us feel worth talking to, then we’re forgetting the needs of everyone else who have shown up too.

In an ideal world, everyone would show up in order to give, and it would be a beautiful surprise to also get to receive. 

This morning I received an email from my friends over at In The Vine Anglican church, a community that I would say I belonged to for the last six months that I lived in Orange County. I always like to read about what the church has been up to, but one specific announcement in this email caught my eye. It wasn’t anything astonishing, at least not to anyone who doesn’t know In The Vine. But to them, and to me, it was news worth rejoicing over. In The Vine has finally been able to secure a location in downtown Fullerton, which is something they’ve wanted and have heard God pointing them toward since their beginning over a year ago. 

I felt a rush go over me. Mostly, it was because I was happy for my former community. No more moving chairs and tearing down backdrops after the service! 

Then, I felt something else. I began to feel lonely. I started missing all of the friends I’d made there and all of the ceremonies and traditions I’d grown to cherish. This second feeling made me think about what it was that I was missing the most. After typing out some thoughts it started to surface: 

I was missing the feeling of belonging. Specifically, I was missing the feeling of belonging to In The Vine. No church is perfect, but at this one I was given a chance to share my story and to learn other’s stories as well. In my mind, no amount of realigning chairs or handing out pamphlets can compare to knowing another person’s life. When a church can offer you that—a setting that is actually hard not to be known in—then I think a rich journey of belonging can begin. 

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