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What Does it Mean to Belong?

 

Belonging happens when you identify with another entity - a person or organization, or perhaps a species, culture, or ethnic group.1

 

For some time in this season, I have been pondering this question: What does it mean to belong?   In the book, The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups2 explores four spaces humans use to live, move, and breathe.  He references the work of Edward T. Hall, and "proxemics" - the way we humans use space to "develop personalities, culture, and communication" 3.  While any framework attempting to describe human behaviour is partial and imperfect, the four spaces he outlines - public, social, personal, and intimate - have been helpful in shaping my ongoing questions and reflections.  "Could this mean that belonging is multidimensional?  Might people belong to us on different levels?" 4.  I sure hope so.   

First, let's take a look at the intimate - a tight circle with a few individuals.  Think hearth, home, haven, household.  This intimate space could include spouse, children, and other significant ones under our roof and near to our hearts.  What does it mean to belong in intimate space?  What fits here?  What kind of sharing and connections happen here? In my household, we are all changing regularly with age, circumstances, and roles.  We might connect through: Time. Forgiveness. Intentionality. Work and household chores. Thrifting. Adventures. Gifts. Meals, Laundry. Pets. The Ordinary.  Our homes are meant to be and usually are safe spaces, and yet this small circle, without the inclusion of somewhat broader spheres, can be isolating and lacking a bigger picture.

Next, we have the personal - a certain individual or individuals, chosen for sharing that which is select, specific, and private. I think of the concepts of friend, companion, support, crew.  It could include extended family, friends, mentors, church members.  What does it mean to belong in personal space?  What fits here?  What kind of sharing and connection happen here?  In my experience, the pandemic realities have shifted many things in this sphere.  We might connect through:  Snowshoe treks.  Skates.  Firesides.  Road trips.  Book studies.  Deep conversations. Requests for help.  Reciprocity. Zoom calls. Walks. Texts. Coffees. Chosen trusted friends can offer a place for belonging, and yet we all also operate in broader spaces.  

That brings us to the social sphere. Myers notes that this is "the space where we connect through sharing 'snapshots' of who we are"5. It could include our work colleagues, a volunteer team, a club, a church committee.  What does it mean to belong in social space?  What fits here?  What kind of sharing and connections happen here?  We might connect through: Hobbies. Clubs. Shared interests. Projects. Experiences. Social media platforms. Meeting places. Extending invitations. Making introductions. Asking someone to help. Generosity. The social sphere is important for the fabric of our nearby communities, and contributes to neighbourliness, safety, comfort, and connectedness. 

 The fourth and largest space is public - the circles where our world extends. This takes us beyond our homes, friendships, and chosen circles to the unexpected encounters of street, neighbourhood, town, province, country, and world. What does it mean to belong in public space?  What fits here? What kind of sharing and connections happen here? In my experience, connection with the public space takes time, effort, warmth, and openness. We might connect through:  Outdoor Concerts. Smiles. Graciousness.  Waves off the steering wheel. Online conferences. Festivals, Celebrations. Sporting events. Our public spaces may look and feel different in pandemic times, but we still want to belong and feel we are part of something bigger.

 

Myers notes that we all desire to "connect; commit and participate; and find the connection significant" 6.  I long to be more grounded in my places and invite others into them.  My language, our language, needs to "connect to an authentic piece of a person's community puzzle, so that when they see, hear, and feel our words, they see, hear, and feel welcome" 7.  In our church, we have been studying the book Faithful Presence by David Fitch8, where he explores "discerning the presence of Jesus" in all of life.  In conversation with Pastor Rod recently, we pondered that if we were able to do this - look for Jesus everywhere - then we would "properly re-orient our take on belonging."  May we all find a shift in the way we look for and create belonging.  I hope that you can enter into this with me.  

 


 

Lisa Braun is a member of Hepburn MB Church, and serves as the Chair of the Personnel Team. She is married to Rob, and along with two teenagers and a cat, resides in Hepburn.   She spends her time on mentoring, discipleship, recreation, volunteerism, poetry, education, letter-writing, and community development.  

 

 

 

Footnotes:

 

Myers, Joseph. The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups. Zondervan, 2003, p 25.

 

Myers, Joseph. The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups. Zondervan, 2003.

Ibid, p 20.

Ibid, p 20.

Ibid, p 46.

Ibid, p 39.

Ibid, p 28.

8. Fitch, David E. Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission.  IVP Books, 2016.

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