Family and Our Need For Belonging

As humans, we are social creatures. We need to belong, to fit in, to find acceptance and love from others around us. It’s in our nature to join and find satisfaction within groups. Pledging a college fraternity or being tattooed into membership of a street gang, at a deep level the motivation is the same – to belong. Opportunities to satisfy this need abound. Any type of human organization, formal or informal, offers us a way of finding acceptance and belonging. I’m sure you can think of many different examples, but businesses or employers come first to my mind.

Americans are a hardworking bunch in general, and a large fraction of our time is spent at our jobs. While there, we work together with others and find camaraderie among the tasks. The particular job isn’t so important. Either the excitement of being part of a dynamic creative team, or the shared suffering of working in a dreary or hostile environment, can give us a sense of belonging. (To be clear, employment may also fill a need to create or achieve, but I am not addressing those here.)

Over the years, this acceptance and “membership” at work has been important to me. I have found belonging as an officer in the Navy, a partner in my medial group and a leader in a healthcare system. It was nice while it lasted. Unfortunately (or fortunately) jobs end. Then where is the belonging? I have felt this as a major loss in my job transitions. Sooner or later, my current employment will end. Am I going to be back to zero on the belonging meter

No, I’ll be fine. I’m learning not to get overly attached to the acceptance and belonging at work and also to find belonging elsewhere, in addition to that from my job. Work is still a significant way of being part of a group, but participating in church, community groups, clubs, and spending time with friends, and family are also important to me in this regard.

Yet nothing is permanent. We’ve moved to a new community before. The old church was left behind. Contact was gradually lost with old friends. In the absence of a geographic relocation, interests change and community groups dissolve. Even families can suffer from estrangement or “break ups.” There is no permanence to anything here on earth.

As a Christian, my ultimate sense of belonging comes from belonging to God, but that doesn’t mean I no longer need human contact. Quite the opposite. As the Holy Spirit works on me I am becoming a much better “belonger” to human groups. I am more prepared to give love and acceptance to others and more appreciative of that which I receive (at work or elsewhere) even as I am less dependent upon it.

Now let me come back to family. Membership in human organizations may come and go, but family is different. I was born into a family. I am responsible for joining with my wife and bringing two new children into the family. As I get older, or perhaps wiser, I am finding family membership to be much more significant that I have in the past. It’s a deep relationship, beyond just biology or emotion. Somehow the family connection is also spiritual in ways that cannot be measured. I don’t claim to understand this, but I am becoming convinced of it.

God has made families for us and us for families.  Not one of us has come into existence apart from a family, even a dysfunctional or estranged one. Jesus was born into a family. Can a family ever really “break up?” I’m not so sure. So, I’ve been focusing on my family. I’m putting new time and energy into my relationships, and it’s time well spent.

Here’s the thing – I don’t think I’m that different from most people. As I’ve talked with others about the new book on marriage and relationships, I’m hearing some of their family stories. Some are heartwarming and some are heart wrenching. Some are both. Either way what comes though clearly from their stories is the centrality of our families in satisfying this need for love, acceptance and belonging.

I encourage you to work on your family relationships this Christmas season. I know it will be of great value to you.