Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.
Forgive the alliteration, but I have come to understand that three primary spiritual yearnings are to belong, to believe, and to be loved.
Process theologian Daniel Day Williams wrote about belonging in his book, The Spirit and the Forms of Love:
…The fundamental human craving is to belong, to count in the community of being… If we begin here we can say that the root anxiety is that of “not-belonging,” of not counting. [Human beings] are not afraid of not existing nearly so much as they are afraid of not being wanted.
This confirms my own experience when I responded to an altar call in my Baptist church at the tender age of six or seven and was baptized. I did so because I wanted to belong to God and Jesus and my family forever.
Research of social scientists exploring the origins of religion reveals people who join a New Religious Movement (NRM) do so first of all because of a connection with someone in the group, a sense of belonging.
The same researchers have discovered that belief is secondary in associating with an NRM. But I would say that to believe is to the head what to belong is to the heart. For the intellect, shared belief is a way of belonging.
But to belong and to believe is not enough. We yearn to be loved. We all know marriages and families and churches that are based more on belonging than on love—and we now label them more or less “dysfunctional.” This dynamic is most radically manifest in hate groups where belonging is based on a shared belief of who is to be feared and hated and excluded. Unfortunately, that has become a litmus test for belonging to some religious groups.
That’s when a belief in yourself as a beloved child of God who belongs here is needed, one of the central messages of the Christian gospel. Daniel Day Williams wrote that sin can be “unbelief in ourselves”:
We betray our real self, with its struggling, its hopes and fears. We refuse to trust ourselves in our real relation to anything. We refuse to believe that life is good and worthy for us as we really are, that our small margin of freedom with all its risks makes the difference between fulfilling life and destroying it.
My spiritual mentor Henri Nouwen became known for an early book that describes the minister (every Christian) as The Wounded Healer. Yet later in life, he felt compelled to remind himself that “your true identity is as a child of God” in his journal The Inner Voice of Love, warning that people try to hook us in our wounds:
When you let your wounded self express itself in the form of apologies, arguments, or complaints—through which it cannot be truly heard—you will only grow frustrated and increasingly feel rejected. Claim the God in you, and let God speak words of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation, words calling to obedience, radical commitment, and service.
People will constantly try to hook your wounded self. They will point out your needs, your character defects, your limitations and sins. That is how they attempt to dismiss what God, through you, is saying to them.
To paraphrase Williams, we are not as afraid of dying as we are afraid of being dismissed.
Join Chris for an online seminar open to the public, “Sexuality and Christianity,” Saturdays at noon ET, Dec. 3 & 17; Jan. 7, 14, 21, & 28. It will be largely conversational, based on readings for each session.