When I was in the sixth grade, best friend necklaces were all the rage – you know, those stain-your-neck pewter ones from Claire’s with a divided “BE FRI” on half, and an “ST END” on the other end. Katie and I wore ours with pride, staking claim to each other, to that secret bond we held in common, to the way we belonged to each other.
And whether you’re 12 or 73, at the end of the day, we all just want to belong. We want to find belonging in our friendships and in our families, in our marriages and in our singleness, with our children and in our churches.
We want someone to stake claim to us.
So we buy the shirts and we wear the hats. We show up to gatherings and we voice our opinions. We connect the dots in relationships new and old as we yearn for something deeper, something more.
You and me, we’re humans. And we humans have an innate need to belong, one to the other. We have a need to be told that we matter – that you, my friend, matter, deeply, to your core – and that life here on this precious earth wouldn’t be the same without you in it.
Lately, our older son Cancan, who’s two and a half, has been noticing humans. We’ll be driving down the road, and I’ll see his sticky toddler hand point toward his window.
“That’s a person.”
“That’s a person, too.”
“Well, because persons are humans.”
“Well, because humans matter, buddy. You and me, we matter. And every single person on this earth, they’re humans, and they matter just because they’re humans.”
And so our conversation continues, his curiosity growing with every person we see as we drive down the road. Sometimes the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I make up names for these stranger-humans – That’s Jane! That’s Bob! There’s Henry! – but usually we answer his questions with different variations of person, human, peoples, woman and man.
But as children often do to we adults, as I talk to my son about persons and humans and the simple fact of mattering, my heart softens in the process.
I see the kid waiting at the bus stop, his hair stained a deep magenta, more piercings in his nose, his ears, his mouth than needles in my mama’s pin cushion. And I think to myself, he matters too.
I see the older Asian woman, the one hunched over her cane, cloth bags precariously balancing on the wooden handle. And even though her wrinkled face seems to scowl at me, I can’t help but remember that she too matters, deeply.
Desmond Tutu calls it ubuntu, because your humanity is inextricably tied up in mine. You matter simply because you are human. And your humanness is tied up in mine – so because of that, because you’re a human and because I’m a human and every single Loved-by-God person on this earth is a human – we find our belonging. We discover and realize and grab hold of the simple fact that we belong.
Even without the best friend necklaces.
Even without the clubs and the churches and the private Facebook groups we subscribe to.
We realize that we belong simply and solely because of humanity’s stamp.
Truth be told, I’ve had belonging on my mind ever since I got my hands on my friend Erin’s new book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. You might remember her words just last week, how a C-shaped television tray becomes a nightly ritual in every right and hungry way. Because Erin took this concept – not of television trays, but of belonging – and wrote an entire book about it. Take this paragraph, for example, which is one of my favorites:
Middle-schoolers live close to the nerve of belonging. They can name its pain and pulses clearly. When popular research professor Brene Brown interviewed a bunch of eight graders about their definition of the word, they offered this distinction: Fitting in means I have to be like you. Belonging means I get to be me. Did you catch that little word “get”? To “get” to be ourselves means that belonging is both a gift we receive and a pilgrimage we make. To be our authentic selves requires some getting to, some working out, some travelling toward as we discern the “me” we get to be. Learning to belong is lifetime work.
So friends, let’s embrace belonging this year. Let’s embrace how we humans belong, one to the other, simply because of our humanness, and let’s embrace how we belong to God and to those we deem our people, to our churches and our communities and our places of work. Because, as Erin said, learning to belong is lifetime work.
But I’m up for it.
Erin, as you may know by now, is one of my favorites, and I’m STOKED to give away two copies of her new book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. She is witty and brilliant, unapologetically feminist and endearingly herself – and I’m telling you, this book will stay with you a long, long time. Leave a comment, win a copy! Winners will be announced on Friday, March 13th.