I sat in my car and stared at the looming building in the distance. I watched as women, Bibles in hand, poured out of their cars and headed toward the entrance. I said a prayer for peace and trust one last time then stepped toward the people I hoped would become my next place of belonging.
On my way to the door, I strolled behind a woman walking with a light-footedness that emanated joy. Then I saw two women converge and gleefully hug as though it had been ages since they had seen each other.
My shoulders relaxed. It was already feeling familiar.
After claiming a seat in the auditorium, the leader on stage declared her happiness at being back in person after the long year and a half of virtual meet-ups. Her exuberance bubbled as she spoke of “the feeling that there’s room for me here.”
And I knew. There was room for me here.
Desire to Belong
On that day when I stepped into a new church with a new set of women for a new Bible study, I did so as an act of faith and hope. After years of deep connection in a church, with women who eagerly studied Scripture, prayed, and worshipped alongside me, my desire to belong to another group of women had grown. Yet I took that step with as much trepidation as thrill.
I fretted I’d be disappointed, but what I discovered were welcoming women who gathered with hearts full of gratitude. Not one in that room would ever take for granted the gift of gathering.
I feared I wouldn’t fit in — no longer a leader, not of their denomination, genuine in my desire to go deep in my faith. But what I found were women who came from a variety of places and experiences yet hoped with a similar anticipation.
I worried — and this is true confession — I’d be among shallow, smiling faces who hid behind “I’m fine” masks. But who actually sat before me were women hungering for authenticity and true connection, for depth and transformation, for all the things I wanted.
In other words, I’d been needlessly anxious. Instead, everything that thrilled me about stepping into all the new came to fruition on that first Tuesday of fall Bible study.
Why Belonging Matters
However, I must admit I disappointed myself for having all those worries. It felt faithless. Sure, I had taken those worries to God, naming them and giving them to Him, so they didn’t rule my heart or my decision to attend. But, they hovered in the background nonetheless.
Funny thing, though. The first person I sat next to was a woman who hadn’t been in any church for years and had decided to attend only an hour before coming. God in His grace put a woman next to me who needed more assurance than I.
In that moment, truths about belonging became real to me. For all the chapters and articles I read about our human need for belonging, their facts and stats had felt more like textbooks during my undergrad than real life. But God in His wisdom handed me a firsthand opportunity to see and experience just how much we all desire to belong.
Research shows that belonging is a primary human need (Gospel Coalition). In fact, a study at Florida State in 1995 states that the single quality most identified with satisfaction and well-being is having a place to belong (Roy Baumeister). Even God says in Genesis, after creating Adam, that it’s not good for man to be alone, so God created Eve (Genesis 2:18). Friends, we need each other. It’s not good for us to be alone. We need people in our lives who love us, who challenge and encourage us, who will explore the world and work to make it a better place alongside us.
Belonging as a concept is not lofty or unattainable. Our need for it is as real as the air we breathe and the food we eat. Yet, we’re proving to be one of the loneliest generations ever. Disappointed and disconnected. Deserted and desolate.
Brene Brown, a writer and speaker who has taught much about this basic desire, calls belonging an innate need to be part of something larger than ourselves:
“Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.”Braving the Wilderness, 31-32
Isn’t that the truth? How often do we settle for “fitting in” or subconsciously work for approval instead of being ourselves and doing the real work of belonging? When we fail to live in authentic relationships, comparison, envy, and resentment become our realities.
Seeing the three words above brings to mind a movie, Mean Girls — a story of the “popular” girls who make life miserable for everyone at their high school. One girl’s desire to belong to this group leads her to cave-in to the ploys of forcing herself in. The result is embarrassment, misery, and a loss of true self, not to mention the loss of the true friends she’d once had. While a movie, the reality it represents captures our truth. Too often we manipulate, force, and attempt to “please” our way into a place of belonging.
But that way of “belonging” is counterfeit. As a result, our desire for true belonging only grows stronger, and we keep trying harder.
Jesus has a better way.
The same Gospel Coalition article offers insight on what Jesus’ way looks like:
“When we’re secure in Christ, we’ll be established and rooted in how he has made us, and we will belong to him and, in a sense, to ourselves. We can become who we were meant to be–fully adopted and secure children of God.”Jeremy Linneman
Being “secure in Christ” is key. If we’re to find a true place of belonging where we feel loved by and safe in the people God has given us, we must first be secure in our relationship to Christ — we are His beloved daughters, adopted into His family by His act of love and His offer of grace — and in Christ because He will always be for us, never against us. We will always belong with Jesus.
This security in Christ also affects how we view ourselves. When we recognize we were created on purpose for a purpose, we can step into the world secure in how God has made us. (I highly recommend Psalm 139 for assurances of this). When we embrace this truth, we live more like the person God intended us to be. And, we’ll be drawn to others who live the same way.
If we think back to our study of John 17:1-5 last week, there is yet another element of our proven, collective belonging to Christ — our givenness. We’ve always belonged to God, and He intentionally gave us to Jesus to love and shepherd and protect. We belong to Jesus!
Say it with me — I belong to Jesus!
Sisters, if we can rest in the truth that we belong to Jesus, we can deepen our roots in His love and be able to move into authentic relationships, discovering a true belonging here on earth. We need it. We were created for it.
Despite my searches to detect how the pomegranate might be a motif for belonging, my investigations have only unearthed the same references to its symbolism of fruitfulness and eternal life, of fertility and holiness, even of power and royalty — but not, specifically, belonging.
But, now, as I read over all my notes about this odd little fruit that packs about 1000 juicy seeds per orb, I see the pomegranate as a cord woven through the whole of history, making its appearance in Greek myths, ancient medicinal journals, highly acclaimed artwork, and in holy books like the Bible. I’m no fruit aficionado, but I suspect there is not another fruit so fully threaded throughout the ages. The rough feeling, not-quite-apple-looking fruit that is thought to be the “forbidden fruit” of Eden has even become the promise of all that is life-giving in today’s get-healthy culture. It turns out the pomegranate is steadfast, a constant over centuries. It binds our stories together. It offers us a link to other people. So, we could say, the pomegranate helps us feel part of something greater than ourselves.
Hence, the pomegranate becomes our symbol of belonging. Just as Jesus describes our truest belonging in John 15 as the vine attached to the branch, the pomegranate hangs from the tree of God’s purposes for us. Like the pomegranate, we’re connected to our Branch, and His love flows through us, filling us with our source for security in who we are and how we’ve been made. And that security is what enables us to bravely seek the true belonging we crave.
So. Take a look around this tree. There’s room for you here.
- What hit your hot button as you read? Depth of desire to belong? People-pleasing as a substitute for true belonging? Not believing God’s hand in creating you on purpose, for a purpose? Or something else? Journal about the thing thing that raised your heart rate or made your stomach twist, asking God to reveal to you what you need most in this season of seeking true belonging.
- Here’s a great practice I’ve been doing since JD Walt suggested it: as often as possible, say the words, I belong to Jesus. Really. Out loud and in your head. As you wash dishes or drive the car. Make it a prayer, I belong to Jesus, over and over and feel how your heart starts to change — and how your head starts to believe.
- Another way to keep our heads and hearts focused on the truth of who we are is to soak in the music that says so, like on the Belonging playlist: “You Belong” by Francesca Battistelli will cheer you on!!!