Belonging. Of all the needs shared by mankind, I believe the need to belong is one of the strongest.
This powerful essential is the foundation on which gangs are formed, friendships are forged, families are created, churches are built, and towns and cities are incorporated. We all desire the security that comes from knowing we are part of a greater whole.
There really is strength in numbers. The opposite is also true—we are weakest when we are alone.
Dale preached a powerful sermon a week or so ago. He pointed out that most churches teach principles for right behavior. Right behavior is a good thing, but it is often taught in the form of a mathematical equation—behavior + believe = belong. If you behave in an acceptable manner and believe as we believe, you get to belong.
Jesus, however, teaches exactly the opposite—Belong + Believe = Behavior. In other words He wants me to know first and foremost that I belong. He hopes that as I spend time with Him I’ll come to believe and then my behavior will reflect my beliefs.
We definitely see this truth played out again and again on the evening news as it relates to gangs and gang activity. Kids find a place where they belong, they get acquainted and indoctrinated into a certain way of acting and thinking, and finally their behavior reflects what they know.
I definitely grew up in an environment where behavior came before belonging. I was raised in a church whose practices were extremely legalistic. We worshipped on a certain day, ate certain foods, and didn’t wear jewelry. There were a lot of “don’ts”. Don’t go to the movies, don’t dance, don’t eat shellfish, and don’t go out on Friday night dates…just to name a few.
One day I got a letter from the church elders. I was no longer considered a member because they’d “been told” that I attended another church. My behavior meant I no longer belonged.
I was hurt.
You know, the unfortunate thing about behavior-based belonging is that you really do feel that you unconditionally belong, until you don’t. I mean, I knew what the church taught, but I had no idea that attending another Christian church was on the “don’t” list.
I was the oldest of four kids (a little sister came along MUCH later), and I was always confident of my place in my family. We first-borns are given very defined roles and the expectations placed on us are often crazy high. In the past several years I discovered that I was no longer able to successfully live up to all the familial expectation. I found that I was no longer able and available to be the mom-of-kids-in-crisis/wife/employee AND a sister/daughter/hostess.
My family did not react positively to my inability to do all that was expected of me. I discovered then that my belonging was in serious jeopardy because my behavior had changed. Performance-based relationships seldom survive the long haul.
Despite my intense desire to never, ever attend a church that put legalistic rules ahead of grace, I ended up in just such a church for many years. Dysfunction can be comforting when it’s all you know. I really did feel I belonged. I know I believed, and my behavior reflected my heart. My behavior, however, was deemed less than perfect and I was booted from my church family.
I’ve written about some of the “sins” I committed while attending that church (working in the theatre is the most egregious), but being accused of saying and thinking things I never said or thought was the most personally offensive and heartbreaking.
I really hope and pray that each one of you belong. I hope you unconditionally belong to a family, a group of friends, a church body, an employment community, or a neighborhood.
Do I belong?