Every Tuesday night a large group of ladies gathers at my church. We study a book, we pray together, but mostly we laugh and cry and bond . It is a safe space to articulate whatever is going on in our lives. Deep friendships are made. We “belong”. It is not an exclusive group by any means, new people join at every new session, and folks come in and out based on schedules and commitments. Still, you don’t just come to the Tuesday night group, you belong to the Tuesday night group.
Belonging is important and it is the next step from Matthew Swartz’s list of ways to cope with anxiety and stress. Belonging is the opposite of loneness. Step 4 – find a group and belong.
Belonging, feeling accepted as a member of group is a basic human need. When we feel like we belong, we feel valued. In a place where we “belong” we can share our joys and our pain. We can talk through the things that trouble us. That in itself helps us cope and more often than not there is someone in the group who has been through what we are going through. Belonging lets us know that we are not alone. There is comfort in that. So what keeps us from finding a place to belong? Often we fear that we will not be accepted. Sometimes we are not accepting of those around us. We may find an activity or a troup where we have similiar interests but find ourselves judging others in the group. It is a defense mechanism. “It doesn’t matter if they like me or not; I don’t like them, first.” Many psychologists and therapists suggest that we just launch out and say yes to opportunities to be with others. Then we let go of judgements and focus on the activity and on the people. Understand that the connecting is far more important than petty annoyances. We may try a new group; maybe the group meets at a restaurant. The restaurant is noisy and we don’t like the food. We need to remember that the food and the place is not the goal. Connecting and belonging is far more important.
When we are in a space where we are critical of ourselves, we are often more critical of those around us. We stay away from groups because we find fault with the people who gather. My teacher and mentor, Mildred Thomas once told me that we should always “love people for who they are.” There is great power in that statement. We begin to see those around us as God sees them, seeing the good. We come into a group, not looking for faults but looking for ways to encourage, ways to show love. There is power in community; we find God in community. From the Apostle Paul:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24, 25
Grace and Peace