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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

We Belong

It’s a basic human need to want to belong.  From being picked for a team in gym class to being promoted to run a department, we all want to feel as if our presence is counted and desired among peers.

We might think that we are above wanting to be part of a group – our independent streak showing its brave face – but think back to elementary school and all the times you were in a group of students being chosen by team captains and tell me that you were never worried that you might be the last one picked, or worse, that the teams would be uneven and you were relegated to scorekeeper or worst of all, that the team who was “left with” you groaned in disappointment.

Oh, that’s just me, then?  Let’s move on.

I want to belong.  I hate being the only one left.  Even if my company is a group of misfits who defy being part of any homogeneous group, I want to belong.  I will conform myself to belong, grasp for a shred of similarity.  This sort of desperate need to fit in can have catastrophic consequences: we find ourselves in the wrong crowd, among the group from across the tracks, subjecting ourselves to ridicule, injury, or legal trouble.  This happens mostly when we’re young.  It takes a long time to find out where we belong, who we’re most comfortable around. 

These days, I’m not so eager to place myself within random groups of cool kids, but I show my desperate need to belong when friends are having a conversation away from me, butting in to say “Hey, what are you talking about?  I want in.”  It’s endearing.  Says me.

They usually let me in.  And even though I’m being a little theatrical in showing how much I want to be part of their conversation, and I wouldn’t be irreparably hurt if they asked me to back off if it was a private conversation, when they allow me to join, my fragile, needy ego exhales in relief.

As a Christian I’ve learned that the “in crowd” is never as meaningful – or as important – as the family of God.  When I believed that Jesus died for my sins and that God put me here to love him and my neighbors, I had a sense of belonging that was stronger than any other I’ve felt.  When I opened my life up to the possibilities that God could provide, being part of any other group just didn’t mean as much as it did before.  My perspective changed.

Being a part of God’s family means that I am part of a group that loves each other, encourages each other, leans on each other, and works together toward a common goal.  This group has a purpose – to build a kingdom alongside the creator of everything.

There’s no group on earth that can compete with that. And I’m part of it.

I may not ever know my contribution to this group.  I may not ever see the results of the work I started on this earth.  For some this is a huge problem.  We want to see the results of our work immediately, or at least feel the satisfaction of knowing that we completed a job well done.  Not knowing is almost like we haven’t done anything.  It’s frustrating, and we find ourselves wanting to do more.  To be more.  We want to be highlighted as a bright spot on earth for God, listed in the book of good deed doers when we get to heaven.

The thing is, God already sees us like this.  Nothing that we do can make our light shine brighter than simply being his child.  God can supply us with gifts that we can use in wonderful and prolific ways to bring others into the fold, but when our lives on earth are finished, we are as much an important part of his family to him as the newest believer who believed with his dying breath.  

There’s no cool kid code to unlock to get into God’s house.  When we believe, we belong.  It’s so simple. 

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Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15: 3-7 (NIV)

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’  Matthew 25:23 (NIV)

At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, ‘Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?’  For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.  Matthew 18:1-5 (The Message)