Belonging


We're gonna make it after all....

Last night  I was watching an old episode of  The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In it, she accidentally throws out the folder of obituaries the station collected to have on hand when a famous person died. She was assigned the task of replacing that folder – on her own time.

At first I couldn’t understand the drama and distress. After all, what’s Google for? Then I remembered… Mary Richards worked in a newsroom without Google, without the internet and without a single computer.

Such things come in handy. For example, today I found this article on aging well. The author looked at the qualities shared by those who reached 100 years of age. One of those qualities is belonging.

Whether belonging to a community, a religious organization, a professional group or a tight-knit family; a sense of belonging is central to aging well because you matter to others, not just to yourself. Belonging gives us a sense of purpose.

This caught my eye because it’s often an issue with which my clients wrestle. They feel disconnected. They may or may not be connected with family. But outside of that circle, they have few connections.

So here’s a few thoughts on fostering belonging.

1) You have to seek it out. It won’t come to you. Through the magic of the internet, we can have many things come to our door – food, books, clothes, etc. But to belong to a group, you have to get out there. You may even have to try several groups before you find one that has your name on it.

2) Find something you care about. It may be a faith group. Or an affordable housing group. Or a wildlife conservation group. Or a group that rescues animals. If it’s something that matters to you, you’ll have greater energy and commitment. Part of the power of a group isn’t just the connections with other people; it can be the sense of being connected with something bigger than ourselves. Part of our task as we journey through adulthood is to create meaning. What will be the legacy that we leave behind? Your legacy may be an organization that carries out a global misison. Or it may be a single life that was changed in some way because you were in it.

3) Invest. That’s right, you have to get in there and do something. Participate. Sometimes people will complain that they don’t know many people in their church. The fact is that they haven’t given themselves the chance to know other people – and for people to know them – because they haven’t invested themselves in a small group, a ministry project or any other group in the church. In order to have a return on investment you first have to make an investment.Not just in time and energy but the emotional investment of getting to know people and allowing yourself to be known.

4) Be willing to hang in for the long haul. I heard someone today say that when it came to news in this country, we have national ADD. We’re always on to the next thing. It’s hard to belong to a group if you’re always moving on to the next one. Belonging takes time. One of the functions of that time is that you become as part of that group’s story. And as a part of the story, you matter.

5) Be willing for things not to work out. I’m not really contradicting myself; sometimes the more you become involved with a group, the more you realize that it’s not for you. Sometimes people have the mindset that any step they take has to be set in concrete for the next fifty years. If they make a mistake, they’re stuck with it. Or if it doesn’t work out, it means that they are a failure. Well, that’s just rubbish. Both things. All it means is that this wasn’t the right place and right time. Move on.

How do you find a place to belong? Let me hear from you.

Life, Loss and Healing Workshop – March 23-25, 2012  Durham, NC

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