Belonging is the innate human desire to part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown, 2010, Hazelden
Human strength admires autonomy; God’s mystery rests in mutuality. . . We admire needing no one; apparently, the Trinity admires needing. . . Needing everything – total communion with all things and all being . . . We’re practiced at hiding and self-protecting, not at showing all our cards. God seems to be into total disclosure.
The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr, 2016, Whitaker House, pp. 59-60.
Like much in life, the obvious eludes me for a long period of time, and then it becomes clear. I have known for a while that much of my existence is a process of working out where it is I belong. Brené Brown’s quote, causes me to reflect on my past professional existence in higher education. I wanted to be part of a team, but with egos, including my own, there was not an interest in team play but only maximizing individual benefit – what tenure track jobs in higher education demand. So, I spent years trying to fit in, but realized if I were going to align with True Self , I needed to go down a different road.
But the belonging of which Brown speaks remains – and where my life in recovery comes into play. I have long known and thrived on the understanding that in 12-Step meetings, I do belong. No one is turned away at the door because they have not done a 4th Step, met with their sponsor, relapsed 100 times, and so forth. In fact, regardless of an person’s sobriety/abstinence, the most common refrain is to “keep coming back.”
Which is where the Richard Rohr quote comes in. As a practicing addict, I believed I could do it on my own – so long as I could get everyone else to behave according to my plans. I well recall in 1971, when dropping out of my B.A. program for the third time after accumulating a whopping 0.7 GPA, I told my academic advisor how I did not need his “bourgeois” education, that I would make it on my own. In 1984, I had enough of my autonomy and made a decision to enter the mutual existence of a detox center for 30 days.
Looking back over the past three decades of 12-Step recovery – of mutual existence – I have begun to learn to live life on life’s terms. In fact, that simple goal is the primary thing I have in common with the people sitting in 12-Step rooms. Other than that we are a diverse lot. The ability to live into that goal has little to do with any piece of demographic data such as age, race, gender, or academic degree. I experienced a similar common goal when participating in medical or house building missions in Central America. When I look around the room of those participants, we don’t have much in common beyond the goal of bringing medical care to the underserved. As an autonomous person, I never got sober nor did I even consider medical care issues in Honduras or Panama.
I recently joined a faith community that nourishes and thrives in that mutuality with a rather simple mission of “Shining the Light of God’s Love and Grace.” The congregation “is a community of faith and love representing, celebrating, and embracing all God’s children as persons of sacred worth regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, culture, tradition, sexual orientation or gender identity, personal and family history, or station in life.” So, we do not need to debate all of that. Rather, as mutual community, we can live into the mission. There is no debate about the mission, rather consideration of how best to practice the mission.
Mutuality of community around a common mission seems of critical importance as we go forward in the world today. Gaining debaters points on who did what and who won in electoral politics assures only that we will continue in a quagmire of inaction and decay where innocent people are slaughtered, the environment becomes more toxic and human dignity has no value. Mutually agreeing on common goals around these issues and working toward the ends seems a more productive path. The paths may be many, but they will only be accomplished through belonging within a mutually committed community.
Again, Richard Rohr (pp. 80-81):
. . . virtue of hope applies first of all to the collective before the individual . . . It is very hard for individuals to enjoy faith, hope, and love, or even to preach faith, hope, and love – which alone last – unless society itself first enjoys faith, hope, and love in some collective way. This is much of our problem today; we have not given the world any message of cosmic hope, but only threatening messages of Apocalypse and Armageddon.