We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.
Romans 14:7-8 (CEB)
When I started my job as a hospital chaplain, I walked the halls, visited patients, and felt completely and utterly alone. Virtually no one working in the units seemed to notice or acknowledge my presence.
I was new. I was unknown. And it was super uncomfortable for me to be ignored. I longed to belong to this new place that I was now calling my work home.
It seems that from an early age I longed to belong. I knew I belonged to my mom, my sister, and my daycare provider. But then I went to school, and I had to make new friends. And soon, I longed to belong there, as well.
As we Journey through the years, we belong to a variety of groups: schools, scouts, sports teams, dance companies, singing ensembles. And for each group we join there is this longing to belong.
Yet this is not truly belonging. This is just membership in a group. It is natural to want to belong to a group. More than natural, it is a matter of survival. You see we witness others in the group who seem to fit in. They are prettier, skinnier, wealthier, more talented, smarter, and we long to be like them.
While only a few really seem to shine, many in the group seem to be cast to the edges. That’s the place where I always seem to find myself. To belong in this way is to be constantly seeking approval from others in the group.
That’s what it seemed like growing up. I was always on the edges. It was a time when divorce was not the norm. My sister and I were the first in our neighborhood to be from a “broken” family. It felt shameful to me to be living in a single-parent home. It was the perception I had because that’s what society said about parents who divorced.
It was very difficult for me to be comfortable in my own skin. To be the person that God created me to be. What I seemed to lack was the self-love needed to truly accept who I was. I imagined that what everyone saw was this girl whose parents couldn’t stay married, and they missed the beauty I have that is inside.
In high school I found acceptance in the youth group at my church. The leaders and other youth seem to value who I was. I found community among this groups because I served in the church teaching Sunday school and vacation Bible school.
Yet even as I found a place to be myself, this did not reflect the way things were in society. My faith life had a completely different narrative than the wider world. I soon discovered that it’s a challenge to risk authenticity of self in the judgmental world. It meant I was vulnerable and might be cast off if I showed my true self.
To risk, though, is to really live. When I decided that who I am was enough, it is then that I found I truly had worth. To finally love and value myself is the place where I found true belonging. When I came to this place the longing subsided, and contentment set in.
It is comforting to come to a place of true belonging. To realize that I belong to God is liberating. I am reassured of this in Romans 14:7-8 (CEB) We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.
Still I struggle. The challenge comes when I find that I no longer belong to the husband I lost to death. The life partner I had hoped to journey into old age with is no longer with me. In the years following his death I felt like a boat without a rudder, aimlessly drifting at sea. It was as if I was a kite without a tail, swirling randomly in the wind.
So many times in the past couple of years I longed for direction; to be guided toward a person to whom I could belong. Not in a way that is oppressive, but connected to another at the heart level. Loneliness is real. Sorrow is tangible. Belonging is a fundamental need. In order to do that, I must really love myself. Belong to myself. Not sacrifice who I really am. And only the Creator can guide me on this path.
It is far too easy to look upon another and pass judgment based on outward appearances or political beliefs. We want to exclude another person because they just don’t fit in. As we do this we may even compromise our own beliefs so we are not the ones sitting in the judgment seat.
We must be cautious not to make assumptions about others so that we are not the ones being judged.
The Apostle Paul teaches this well in Romans: 9-19 (selected) This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God.
Because it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.
Look at the relationships in your life and consider whom you have judged lately. Is it because of how they are dressed, the piercing or tattoos on their body, the friends they keep? Perhaps it’s because of who they love or who they voted for? Could it be they just long to belong to the group you are in?
Whatever the case, God is the one who will pass judgment. The Creator is the one who guides us in our decisions if we just take the time to allow it. Spend some time reflecting on those in your life. Those whose work crosses paths with you. What is one step you can take to help they feel they belong?
Lord of Love, thank You for showing me my worth so that I know I belong to You. Guide me to be my most authentic self in all my interactions. I long to belong to others in a way that eases my loneliness, and draws me into a closer relationship with You. Show me the way toward those people who value who You created me to be. In Your loving name, Amen.