by: Paul W. Sharkey
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I recently saw a young woman wearing a T-shirt with the words “I belong to God” written across the front. I was not about to get into a discussion with her about just what her shirt’s message might mean, or who exactly was the God to whom she belonged, because I have found that discussions based upon T-shirt theologies are rarely if ever welcomed or constructive. However, I did find myself wondering if in earlier years she might have been one of those little girls I have sometimes seen wearing T-shirts that say “I belong to Daddy” or “Daddy’s Girl”? Perhaps they all pretty much mean the same thing, although the message “I belong to God” sported by an attractive young woman of “courting” age might also mean “Back off!” or “Don’t bother unless you belong to God too,” whatever that might mean?
That same week I also saw a billboard with the word “BELONG” emblazoned across its entire length. As I read the small print, I found that it was an advertisement for the YMCA and listed reasons why one should join and “belong to” that old and venerable organization.
It is apparently a pretty basic human need or at least a very strong desire to belong to something. The problem is, there are many different meanings of “belong” and consequently many different ways of belonging, including being “owned by” being a “member of,” or just being “comfortable-with” what, where, or with whom one “belongs.”
To be a person with a sense of belonging is evidently something we all long to be. We all long to belong. A lot of fairly profound stuff could be written on this theme but I won’t attempt to do so, at least not here (even if I could), except to say that perhaps many of us “join” this or that organization or “identify” with this or that cause, movement, or ideology, or even see ourselves as “owned by” something we view as “greater than ourselves” because we really just can’t quite bring ourselves to accept and be really comfortable with ourselves unless we do.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that self acceptance just doesn’t seem to come easy for many of us and without something to “belong to” we just feel like we just don’t belong and just can’t quite stand being ourselves. Seeing oneself as belonging to something - whatever it may be - seems to help ease that discomfort. The danger is that it can also be a way of putting off and actually preventing one from finding and experiencing the kind of real self-acceptance for which we all seem to long, even -- and perhaps most especially seeing onself as belonging to a God one can neither know nor understand, still worse one we have created out of our own imaginations in order to have something to believe-in.
Just as we all seem to have a need to fulfill a sense of belonging, so too do we all seem to have a need for something to believe in. But if we can’t first and foremost feel comfortable belonging-with and believing-in ourselves, then nothing else we belong-to or believe-in can ever ultimately fulfill the completion of what we all really long to be ourselves. Perhaps in the end the real question isn’t what one “belongs to” but rather what one “longs to be.”