The Power of Belonging

by Stephen W. Smith

Last night I watched the Denver Broncos play football. It was a thrilling game but as the cameras panned the sold out stadium, what I saw was the power of belonging—most fans were wearing the orange and blue colors of the Broncos! Dressed alike there was solidarity in the cheering and victory.

But the night before last, I witnessed one of the most powerful sights of belonging that I have seen in years. A modern monastic order came together—men and women—married and single to welcome three new members into their community. I was invited to witness the event but my witnessing of what happened deeply moved me to tears, sober realizations and soulful longings.

Every human being longs to belong. This is why standing in a circle or sitting a table in a few days at Thanksgiving will be so good for our souls. There at the table, we will sit or stand in a circle; perhaps we will hold hands and bow our heads but one other, very important thing is happening. We are moving in that time from the “me” to the “we.” We are brought together to share together; to experience together; to taste together the goodness of our Thanksgiving meal.

This modern monastic order had worked with three individuals to teach them their ways, expectations and values. The three very ordinary, novitiates, who longed to belong stood ready to be accepted. One after one was called to the center where they stated their intent to belong to something greater than merely belonging to the me. They wanted to belong to the “we.” They desired community. They wanted to live out their lives with a few other like-minded men and women and experience church in their midst.

The drama increased for me as each novitiate was recognized, blessed and celebrated. A novitiate is anyone who is a beginner at something that wants to get better at something. Aren’t we really all novitiates in life? I know I am. Then, a beautiful yet simple cross was placed around their neck. It was the symbol that everyone in the room wore but me. I had no cross but I sure had the desire. Everyone moved to hug and embrace the new members of the “we”. They now belonged.

My desire was not so much to be given a cross as it was the amazing realization that I, too, wanted—no– needed to belong. I wanted to stand with a few people who wanted the same things I wanted; who would die for the same cause I would lay my life down for. We see such marvels at belonging in our military, sports, clubs and family events. My wish these days is for this power of belonging to draw the church into more of a “we” than just a gathering of “me’s.”

This Thanksgiving, we will perhaps sense this urge that swelled up within me. The power of belonging will rise up within us. Gather with what friends and family you may. Form the circle at the blessing or around the table. What will be more important than the feast before us, will be the feast of our lives—the power of belonging to one another! The power of “we.” For me, only one of my sons will travel 1,000 miles and leave the “me” to become the “we.” But though not all together, we will pause with a circle smaller than what I’d like and bow our heads to the One who lets us be both “me” and “we.”

Take a moment here and use the “reply” piece here to express your Thanksgiving for the people you belong to and then forward this to your “we.”

(This theme is explore more indepth in one of the Eight Ways in my new book, The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Re-discover Authentic Christianity. But this blog is new and does not appear in the book’s content). Copyright: Stephen W. Smith, 2011. You have permission to forward, print and use.

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6 Responses

  1. Steve, as you described the ceremony I could see it in my mind, not only because I’ve been in the midst of that particular group before and was blessed beyond description with their love for each other and the Lord but because that longing is still very alive in me–for real community. Real community, not the kind of community that so many churches talk of. I think it’s become a buzz word rather than a reality or even geniune intent.

    I long to belong to something greater than myself. I long to be valued and encouraged, to be cared for and even carried when needed. I long to see the body of Christ BE the Body and I want to be a contributing member of that for the sake of and to the glory of Christ, not a church. But I do want to be part of the church…sometimes it feels that is fully and completely incongruent.

    The mental picture of the cross placed around the neck and the loving embrace of the whole is beautiful. I will hang on to that today, and keep longing.

    • Deanne, thanks for your good note here. You’ve expressed, for all of us, the power of belonging. I’m glad to be with you on this journey. Glad you experienced the same thing as we did. We’ll compare notes and thoughts on this sometime! I’d like that!

      Blessings,
      Steve

  2. Glad to play a small role in your “we”. Looking forward to the new book …. and working on it with ya.

  3. Enjoyed your post about “belonging.” Living in a convent, I understand the “we” that is a part of belonging to a community. I belong in one sense, because 1) I live here and participate in their lifestyle, and 2) because I am an associate (like an oblate) of the community. But in another way, I do not belong, because I have not joined them through vows. The need to belong is a very powerful, god-given human trait….I believe He put it into the DNA of our souls.

    • Kathy, you’re expressed this beautifully. A paradox, isn’t it. Interesting that even within movements like this there is still the insider/outsider dynamic. Let’s keep exploring!

      Steve

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