Where do you belong?

Who do you belong to?

What belongs to you?

I wrestle with these words. As I ponder and wonder about true belonging, some thoughts come to mind that I believe have significance in sharing today.

I don’t belong to anyone. I do belong to someone.

I don’t belong there. I do belong there.

This doesn’t belong to me. This does belong to me.

The pattern here is that I feel like I don’t belong, yet know that I do. To think I don’t belong as a valued contributor to a person or community, is a false perception; yet sometimes I err and fall into this belief. To assume something doesn’t belong to me — yet to eventually and graciously acknowledge that it does, is common for me. Self-deprecating has been my go-to for too long (I’m working on it). Such is the conundrum of this term — and I know I am not alone in this paradox of belonging. Not quite fitting in, feeling degrees of awkwardness, second guessing a kind gesture, etc. This confusion of belonging can hit a tender heart hard; while habitually choosing to play it safe — means more seclusion, more isolation, less companionship and the dreaded FOMO.

At epic levels of isolation for many people during these dragged-out months of social distancing, being alone (or with few personal contacts) can be a positive, productive time of strategic networking, expanding your worldview and renewing your mind (see Romans 12:2). Or cleaning your house, your car or the hundreds thousands of emails in your inbox you didn’t get around to reading. But for people who were already struggling with abandonment, loneliness or discouragement, the tendency is to disappear a little deeper into the hole of faux acceptance, fearing being seen and continually making excuses. Hiding behind screens is “safer”, but what cost to your current emotional well-being and future? What happens when it’s time to rejoin society in public outings, assuming you don’t belong? There is a problem in feeling “accepted” by what is actually harmful, where the false sense of security isn’t obvious, but can be dangerously enveloping.

Since I decided to increase my visibility earlier this year, I’ve had many conversations with people who have been appreciating my expressed vulnerability. Yet, it has been mostly controlled openness. I think self control is a powerful, important virtue that should be understood better. In the Greek, it is egkrateia, which means temperance. Voluntary self-restraint. Typically, self control refers to keeping lust under control; temptations that are harmful to many facets of your life, including lust for excess, popularity and influence. Of course, many people find no fault with wanting and accumulating more. When it turns into an obsessive or unhealthy lack of temperance, a line has been crossed. Not ironic to this discussion is the related word “temper” and how quickly inflamed the temper can become, when the discipline of self control is nonexistent. The “fruit of the spirit” is literally food/fuel for each individual; imagine a world in which we all partake of that daily soul nutrition. Throw in the daily virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness to balance your soul’s diet. When any of these virtues are missing, you will be spiritually sluggish (sorry for the too-many cheesy Sunday school-esque phrases).

The fruit of the spirit reference of self control, is in Galatians 5:23. In Micah 6:8, there is an OT counterpart to the term. As I expound on the scripture a bit, the Hebrew tzniut is the discipline of mastering self control (usually in terms of modesty). As I have been thinking about self control a lot in recent days and how to better line up my attitude and behaviour with my intentions, I keep coming back to realizing how I’ve failed to model self control. Because of this, many things in my life are not as they should be …. which then adds to insecurities, doubts and worries. If I had really good habits of self control over the years, I’d feel more structure, more stability, more …. belonging.

Back to belonging! You belong. I belong. I know this because you and I are forces for good in this world. We can be empathetic helpers, kindness ambassadors, earth caregivers and humanity problem-solvers. We can breathe, love, serve, bleed, dream, dance, create, fix, share, cry, etc. The whole human experience is right here, in you and me. Don’t keep all of this powerful, life-giving essence to yourself — or just people who look like you and talk like you. Labels, tribes, ill-suited categories, conspiracists and preferred population demographics need to go. All people belong and need to feel like they do — including me. This is why I started to write today, not knowing the direction the words would take me. There is deep relief and invigoration in my spirit from how God has been gently guiding me, putting these words on my heart today about belonging …. and I praise and thank Him for the opportunity to share them.