My best friend and I recently spent a long weekend getaway in Michigan. We stopped by a local vineyard to sample the wine and ran into a married couple on a Sunday outing of their own. The husband immediately cracked a joke with the hostess, before pulling up a spot alongside us in the tasting room.
They were funny! He had a quick wit and a hearty laugh, while she interjected to finish the punch line to all his jokes. I imagine they are the kind of couple who make friends easily and throw good parties; someone you’d want to have as your next-door neighbor. It was easy to make conversation with them, and we found a common connection with our travels across Central America. They had lived all over the country and recently retired in the area where we were staying.
“What brought you to Michigan?” we asked.
“We have a son who died, and our only daughter lives not far from here. We didn’t want to miss seeing our grandchildren grow up” he replied.
To be honest, I didn’t give his comment much thought at the moment. We each told a few more stories and savored a last sip of wine. As they got up to leave, he turned to us one last time. “Thanks for making me laugh,” he said. “I really needed that … today would have been our son’s birthday.”
My friend and I looked at each other as the couple walked away, recognizing that we had inadvertently become vessels of God’s grace. You never know what someone is carrying. We all desire to belong, and every part of us – including our grief, disappointment, and hurt – desires to be noticed.
We are designed to be in relationship with one another. Belonging might begin with a set of common interests or shared experiences, but our relationships expand when we find true acceptance and emotional safety with one another. What happens when you belong in a relationship – whether with a friend, relative, or complete stranger? How are you different when you’re in a place of belonging?
Belonging brings a certain freedom. There is freedom to be exactly who you are at that very moment. I can be angry or sad or resentful. I’m free to express my joys, hopes, and crazy dreams for the future. I don’t fear being judged or worry about how I’m being perceived. Tears flow as freely as laughter. Everything is OK (even when it’s not OK!) because I belong here.
Belonging evokes gratitude and generosity. I think about the sense of belonging we attribute to certain institutions – the places we went to school, our church community, a favorite sports team. Often, we repay that sense of belonging with our gratitude and generosity. The same could be said of our relationships. There is a desire to express my thanks, and my belonging turns outward by sharing this gift with others.
Belonging invites us to be vulnerable. Who is that person with whom you can be most fully yourself? Vulnerability is likely hard for many of us. It requires us to take off the mask of self sufficiency and dismantle the walls of perfection. We aren’t as fully put together on the inside as it would appear. Those who are able to be vulnerable with others have likely spent some time being vulnerable and honest with themselves. When we know we belong, we can risk sharing the deepest parts of ourselves, including those less than glamorous moments.
Of course, our true belonging comes in our relationship with God. It is the place of ultimate belonging. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, God proclaims, “I have called you by name, you are mine! You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you!” (Isa 43:1,4) In God, there is a deep interior freedom – freedom from fear, which gives way to freedom for following God’s call. Our belonging is expressed in gratitude for all that God has created and given to us. As we allow ourselves to become vulnerable in God’s presence, there is forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance knowing that God sees our deepest selves.
I often think back to the couple we met at the vineyard. Why did they choose to be vulnerable with us, in sharing their laughter and their grief? How do we create a space where people can belong in our homes, our society, and our faith community? It begins with a smile, a laugh, a simple hello, and maybe even a glass of wine. The old adage holds true – be kind for you never really know what someone else is going through.
- Pray with the song “Belong” by Chris de Silva: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6NApVut9Ag
- We subsequently learned that the couple from the vineyard lost their son to suicide as a result of bullying at school. They’ve spent a significant amount of time ensuring that young people experience a place of belonging. If you or someone you love is struggling to belong, know that resources are available – You Are Not Alone: Resources and Support for Those Affected by Suicide
- Promise of God: We Are Never Alone by Becky Eldredge
- Praying When You Feel Like You’re Not Enough by Kathy Powell
Photo by Amer Mughawish on unsplash.com