August 2016

Two weeks ago, my husband and I found ourselves on a high ropes course.

Please note, this is not something of regular occurrence in my life. I was the child who could not even ride on the Skyway gondolas over Disney World. Heights? No, thank you, I prefer the ground. As my grandfather always claimed, God said, “Lo, I am with you always.” So be it.

But the ropes course had me face and conquer some fears, some not even associated with being far from the ground. We were a team of six (some pretty much strangers to each other), attempting some impossible feats as a group. No one could advance to the next round until everyone reached certain goals along the way. At one point a guy on our team yelled out to one of the ladies, “You belong…remember, you belong!” Out of complete terror and concentration she voiced an ungrateful, nervous laugh.

When we got off the ropes course, the “encouraging” fellow asked me if I knew why he said “you belong” to the other person on our team.

I said no, and this launched into a very interesting 45 minute discussion answering how he and his wife started hosting and cooking dinner for over 50 people every week in their home. Funny thing, he never technically got around to answering the question of why he said “you belong.” But he didn’t have to. He was too humble to go on too much about it, but my interest kept him talking. Basically, he told me he got to the point where the leaders of this community group would say to the church, “Bring me all the people who don’t feel like they have a place, who don’t fit in, and we’ll be their community.” Not, bring me one person—not bring me the adult in the family.” But “Bring them all—here. We’ll be that for them.” What a calling; one that truly mimics our Lord, I thought.

He shared stories about how this community dissolved deep-seated problems for people – how teens started coming and eventually brought in the parents. Amazing miracles.

I mentioned the guy was humble, and he admitted this was a hard calling, one to which he didn’t always have the answers. He said he once called a family friend, Larry, to ask him how to handle a certain issue. I quickly discovered he’s causally talking about Larry Crabb. At that point, this guy and his mission went up several notches in the legitimacy ladder.

It’s been a few weeks since our discussion, and thoughts are still marinating within me. The idea of this fellowship are so raw and simple and seem to be laced with pure discipleship.

How powerful is that single concept of “belonging?” Just that?

I want to challenge you to consider the magnitude, the weight, of the treasure of when someone knows they belong.

  1. As a leader in ministry, or a leader of your own family, and just as important, as a person, identify what belonging means to you.

Whether you feel like you have this together or you are still yearning for this, exploring this question will highlight an empathetic spirit in you. You’ll either remember how it felt before you had it all together, or you’ll walk alongside someone else who shares this burden and move swiftly together towards the cross.

  1. Have in the forefront of your mind how you can specifically send the message to those in your sphere of influence “you belong?”

Not tell them, but show them. What can you do that is a tangible representation?

  1. Try to see the people you encounter who are struggling through this lens of simply lacking belonging.

Acknowledging this as a root of many problems changes the way we see the issue at hand.

As in Erikson’s stage of development, Identity vs. Role Confusion, we understand adolescents are searching for their place in the world. We shake our heads at times at the great lengths they will go to just to obtain a place—even a place that seems to lack any appeal of association whatsoever.

Sometimes I think we get this with children and teens, but as a minister told me a few years ago as he was encouraging wives on how to love their husbands said, “Deep down, men are just boys in bigger bodies with similar needs just like they always had.” The same is true here for children, teens, for older women and men and everyone in between. Everyone at every stage needs to know they belong.

Learning how to correctly handle this need is harder than facing your biggest physical fear on any ropes course.

And, by the way, going through a ropes course for hours (no exaggeration) just might be the quickest way to go from acquaintance to community.

“Next week is lasagna,” the guy’s wife said to me, when our feet finally touched ground.

Right then, I knew it didn’t matter that our kitchens were separated by thousands of miles…she wanted us to visit the community group.

What if…What if…“belonging” was at the threshold of every victory?

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

Courtney Strong lives in Houston, Texas, and is a licensed professional counselor, author and speaker. She and her husband, Josh have been married for twelve years and love raising a young superhero and charming little princess.