I only post one blog a month, because those are realistic goals for the rest of my life. More than simply a blog post, I try to make it a thick and thought-provoking article that will take us a month to chew on together. I usually start collecting and writing notes the month before it’s posted and post it some time during the first 10 days of a month.
I share those behind the scenes facts with you, because over the past couple weeks, reality as we knew it has shifted. And while reality has shifted for all of us, the theme that I’d been curating for this month was belonging. In a time where our best response to flatten the curve of the Coronavirus is social distancing, cultivating a sense of belonging has never been more important.
How can we cultivate belonging in the time of COVID-19 when we are distancing ourselves from the very people and places that oftentimes give us a sense of belonging?
To wrestle with this question, we must confront our cultural realities of social isolation, loneliness, and fragmented personas.
On some level, we all know what it is like to feel alone in a crowded room. We know what is like to suppress parts of ourselves from others. We know what it’s like to be alone with our raging thoughts at the end of a long day. We know what it’s like to fill every space of our lives with noise and distractions to keep ourselves in control.
In February, the famous Puerto Rican rapper, Residente, released a new song, René, sharing the stories of his battles with loneliness, depression, the emptiness of fame and fortune, and growing up in poverty. He calls this song: “the most important song of my life.” What we hear in the song is this longing to go back to the basics. A longing to go back to the days of his childhood, playing baseball and riding bikes around the streets of Trujillo, Puerto Rico. A longing to go back to a time in life before the arenas and the fame. A reflection on how all of it – the accumulation of fame and fortune – left him feeling alone, unable to sleep for 10 years, and on the edge of himself.
“Ya no queda casi nadie aquí (There is almost no one left here)
A veces ya no quiero estar aquí (Sometimes I don’t want to be here)
Me siento solo aquí (I feel alone here)
En el medio de la fiesta” (in the middle of the party”)
– René by René Pérez Joglar aka Residente
Earlier this year, in January, a similar story was told by Colombian artist, J Balvin, in his podcast, Made in Medellín. As J Balvin shares about the impacts of fame and fortune, in episode 3 – “La diferencia entre José y Balvin” – he talks about how “la depresión no discrimina. La depresión puede tocar cualquier persona, no importa cuán rico o cuan pobre.” Depression does not discriminate. He shares that even though he created “J Balvin ” and he may try, and others have tried, to separate the two, José and Balvin cannot be separated.
Earlier this March, Demi Lovato’s new song video, I Love Me, opens with a battle between her light and dark parts against a backdrop of these lyrics:
“Jedi level sabotage
Voices in my head make up my entourage
‘Cause I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself
But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else
I, me, myself and I don’t see eye to eye
Me, myself and I”
At the core, these stories reveal the reality of our social isolation, loneliness, and fragmented personas and of our human desire for belonging.
In the Solitude…
A couple of years ago, during a season of my life where reality as I knew it shifted, I was spending a lot of time alone. I went from a job where I travelled a lot for work and interacted with a lot of people daily to a work from home reality. I was finishing my first book and beginning to prepare to launch our church ministry, Living Stones.
It was in this time of isolation and loneliness where I had to confront the fragmented parts of myself that I could easily avoid when I was working 40-50 hours a week and coming home exhausted from so much social interaction. I could no longer use the excuse that I was too busy, too tired, or too burnt out.
In the wilderness, God met me with the question through a book I was reading at the time Desiring God’s Will by David G. Benner.
What do you desire?
Sometimes we condemn our desires, thinking they are impure or broken. But desires point us to the divine desires within us that reveal God. As beings created and designed in the image of God, our desires are fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s desires can be discerned within all us when we are oriented around Jesus as our Lord and Teacher.
But, when our desires are not ordered and oriented about Jesus, then we lose ourselves. We latch on to selfish and willful ways of controlling and forcing our desires to manifest. We become out of balance and alignment. We become distorted and disoriented. We attach ourselves to anything that will satisfy. And all that satisfaction is temporary and fleeting.
So, I was confronted with this question: What do you desire? What are the deepest desires of your heart? What do you long for?
As I reflected, prayed, and journaled, it became clear that my deepest desire is to belong. When this desire is disorder, I attach my sense of belonging to whether or not people accept or reject me. I attached my sense of belonging to my role and function in people’s lives. As I retraced the ways that I have moved towards others with a distorted desire for belonging, I was confronted with the fragmented parts of myself that I tried so hard to reject and exile. I was confronted with the ways that I blamed other people for rejecting me, when really I was the one rejecting myself.
Our human desire to belong unveils our human design to be with God.
From the beginning, we were designed to be together with God. God created a place for us to belong with him in the garden – to eat, to rest, and to steward creation. We were created to belong. In our belonging, we are seen and known, naked and unashamed. Yet, it was in that moment when we tried to fragment ourselves – to cover the shame of our mistake, of our sin, of our darkness, when we rejected part of ourselves. Where we felt we could no longer be exposed to God. But God, knowing the sin that was committed, still came for us in the cool of the day, to be with us because we belonged with God.
Maybe one of the most important lessons on my journey of cultivating belonging was learning that I would never be able to feel as though I belonged with anyone else, until I belonged to myself.
We cannot belong to others, until we gather up all the fragments of ourselves, and learn to belong to ourselves.
Cultivating belonging in the time of COVID-19
We must resolve in our moments of deep solitude to reject no part of ourselves.
While it’s beautiful that we’re finding ways to connect during these times of solitude, let’s not fill every second of every day up with so much busyness. We’ve been given an opportunity for solitude in a way that has never happened in our lifetimes. We are so busy. We are so addicted to busyness. Our addiction makes it easy to ignore the complex fragments of ourselves. The manipulative parts of us. The critical parts of us. The judgmental parts of us. The narcissistic parts of us. The vain parts of us. The list goes on and on.
You cannot belong with others until you belong with yourself.
All of the parts of you need to be reconciled. And the good news is that Jesus is the Great Reconciler. Jesus – God the Son – came to reconcile us to wholeness. Not just the “good” parts of us, but all of us, because we belong with God. We have a place with God. We were created to be with God.
“But until we are prepared to accept the self we actually are, we block God’s transforming work of making us into our true self that is hidden in God. We must befriend the self we seek to know. We must receive it with hospitality, not hostility.” – Desiring God’s Will
- Who will you become through this pandemic?
- Will you become a more whole person?
- Will you become a person who can belong with others, because you learned how to belong with yourself?
We all have parts of ourselves that we reject, for all kinds of reasons.
For me, I was the kid in every class that asked too many questions. I was deconstructing the world and trying to understand humanity. And many times, I was silenced or overlooked or looked at like I was “too much”. That travelled with me into workplaces, ministry settings, and relationships – always the squeaky wheel, always kicking up controversy, always offering the perspective from the margins. It’s no wonder, I became a lawyer!
But the rolling eyes, exasperated sighs, and defensive responses, made me walk away from a lot of rooms and spaces with this sense that I didn’t belong. I felt like those spaces silenced me, and they did. But over time, it was really me silencing myself. Checking the parts of myself outside the doors of meetings, conversations, and gatherings. Feeling like I never belonged anywhere. Yet, still with this desire to belong.
In the solitude, I learned and I’m still learning to belong to myself. To bring the fragments of myself to God who is with me and always reminding me that I belong with Him. To see the way God does reconcile all things to himself, including me. And including you.
Use this time friends…
- Get out your journal.
- Write down all the fragments of yourself – the good, the bad, the ugly, the complicated
- Show those fragments to God in prayer
- Ask Jesus, the Great Reconciler, to reconcile you to yourself, so that you can cultivate belonging with yourself
- Reconnect with others from a place of the wholeness you’re uncovering