belonging loneliness

When You're Longing for a Tribe

5:02 PMHeather

The details are foggy from that sunny day at recess, when I was a second grader at Fort Shafter Elementary School in Oahu, Hawaii. But I will never forget the feeling. Standing to the side, unwanted by either team for a lively game of Red Rover. 

Athleticism wasn't in my wheelhouse. A speech impediment didn't help my cause. Living on an Army base pretty much squelched any fulfillment of developing meaningful, long-term friendships.

A deep desire to belong is something most of sense within ourselves. The truth is that the Triune God created us for community, as he himself exists in the loving and perfect community of the Trinity. 

From the beginning, the Lord saw that Adam, the man created in his image, needed a helpmate. 

We were made to need each other. Deep within us lies an innate desire to fellowship and connect with each other. 

God calls followers of Jesus, "the body of Christ," and the Word describes how the body is to operate in a unified way, relying on each other. Rejoicing with those who rejoice. Mourning with those who mourn. Bearing one another's burdens. Loving one another. Being devoted to one another.

Yet over and again, I myself feel a longing that leaves me feeling raw.

It summons a familiar feeling. 

Like that day at recess when I wasn't chosen to play the game. Or the day in high school when someone in math class hissed just loud enough for me to hear, "Don't invite Heather. She thinks BYOB means Bring Your Own Bible!" 

Oh, I turned and smiled at them, as if I was in on the joke.

The words weren't untrue. I didn't party in high school. Partly because it felt ill-fitting to me. Partly because I was a bonafide goody-two-shoes. And partly because my daddy was a preacher and the police chaplain in our tiny town and there was no getting away with anything.

So it still feels strange that the memory of that comment brings such a sting. It's not because I was excluded from something I wanted to be a part of, but rather because I wanted to be wanted.

Stranger still is that nearly 30 years later, I can quickly be reduced to that insecure teenager who felt a belonging unfulfilled. How quickly I can step into a social setting with a pasted-on smile, all the while feeling like an imposter. 

This can happen at church. Or at my children's activities. Honestly, even when I blog. I wonder if this is my place and these are my people. I can quickly digress into thoughts about when the last time was that my company was sought out or I was included. 

Image Courtesy of Unsplash
Here's the problem. While we were made for community, we are falling short. And we live in an age where we can't go 2.7 nanoseconds without knowing what all our "friends" are doing in real time. We have the ability to know what they are eating for dinner, where they are traveling, and with whom they are spending their time right this very second.

Yet all this great and wonderful technology can morph into a real-life fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. We take a bite of it and chew on it constantly, and it reveals a knowing that does not actually fulfill us as God intended, but instead offers a substitute that can become our downfall.

The other problem with technology is that it lulls us into being desensitized to the fact that we expect from people what only God himself can offer us, in our deepest and darkest places. (More on some Biblical truths regarding loneliness on the next blog post).

If you are longing for a tribe, then let me tell you what that is and what that's not. Let me point you to some truths that hopefully bring some release to your captive soul. Let me challenge you (and myself) to a Biblical standard to which we are called to live. For while we cannot control the actions or attitudes of others, we can surrender ourselves to act on and live out God's commands in our own lives.

A God-honoring tribe is a community of believers who act as iron sharpening iron. It is bent on encouraging one another to a deeper, more authentic faith. It is honest and bold in holding one another to living out the truth of Scripture. It calls each other out in love and points one another back to the truest things of God so that we might grow deeper and stronger in our faith.

It does not just tickle our ears or seek to make us feel good about ourselves. It seeks to help us hone a greater God-esteem than a self-esteem.

A tribe is not a competition. It is not a one-up-each other environment that summons a sense of frenzy and insecurity. It is not a beauty pageant or a popularity contest. It should in no way resemble the drama and chaos of all the Real Housewives of Whatever City. It is not focused on conversation bragging about your achievements or your children's success. For if we boast, let it be of Christ alone.

A community of believers is authentic and honest and transparent. And, all of that happens in the context of a safe environment. The body of Christ should be gathering together, in small numbers and larger assemblies, with a shared and clear understanding that I am messy, I am broken, and so are you. And we are all covered by the grace of God alone.

A tribe of believers is inclusive. It is unlimited in invitations to join in and hear and see and know who Jesus is. The guest list is open-ended. There is no maximum occupancy within this kind of tribe. A tribe of believers is so rooted in the grace of God that it understands that grace should be extended to all and that Jesus died because God so loved the entire world. There is no room for an "us" and "them" mentality.

Those whose lives are centered on Christ and creating community for others understand that tribes are God-serving, and not self-serving. Biblical tribes choose to remember that Christ came to serve, and therefore it is non-negotiable that we must too.  

God-glorifying tribes are not steeped in consumerism in their mentality toward relationships. They do not use people or friendships for their own gain. Tribes that best bring honor to God are made up of people who know the joy of living out the Biblical command to give of ourselves because people matter. These people are quick to lend a hand and lighten the burden because they know that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4). 

Biblical tribes are 4:00 a.m. friends-- those you can call at all hours with a need. They do what's honoring to the God who gave it all, and therefore what's convenient is tossed out the window. Convenience has nothing to do with it. It was not terribly convenient for God to restrain himself within human flesh and be born as a baby whose purpose in life was to die a brutal death on a cross.

Patterning themselves, every one, after the God who made them, tribes are made up of people who do. Because love does (thanks Bob Goff)

God's love did the unthinkable. So, tribes show up in the hospital and hold shaking hands and offer Kleenex and shoulders to cry on. 

Tribes walk through muck and mire and the filthy trenches of life and dare not step away because they understand that God never does. 

Tribes bring meals during hard times and rock each other's babies. 

Tribes use technology to send quick words of Scriptures instead of creating a false reality built on self-importance.

Tribes care. They care when their words and actions cause wounds. And they care enough about bringing glory to God that they won't stand for any sin to dull the way he can shine through them. They are quick to apologize and offer forgiveness, and prayerfully seek to be slow to anger.

And tribes aren't perfect. Tribes fall short. Sometimes, tribes are for but a season. Some friendships and relationships change with time, as lives shift and grow and morph and evolve. 

But may we be mindful of those who have been left behind. May we care most about being the people whose love for others is so radical that it reveals the nature of God's loving-kindness shown to us. 

May our moments of longing to belong ever point us to a kingdom without end where we will belong forever. May that ache in our hearts to be fully embraced be, as my pastor says, a homing device to the better country for which we were made to dwell eternally.

May our loneliest moments point us to the only One who can actually fulfill us and "complete us" and love us perfectly. 

May we run to him and let him quiet us with his love and allow him to rejoice over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). 

May we preach to our hurting souls the truest thing about how we have an Abba Father who delights in us, his sons and daughters. May we refuse to believe the lies of the enemy who tells us we are worthless or not valuable.

Because the absolute truth is that we were bought with the ultimate price.

Let's ever remind each other of that.

For every single person reading this who longs for a tribe or who is thankful for the one you have, I offer this truth today.

The God who made you also set eternity in your heart. You were created for fellowship. May you seek to first linger long at the feet of Jesus, reading his truths and being freed by his love. Then, may you pour out your hearts to him and ask him to equip you to be the one who dares to look around and see and act for those you encounter every day.  

If you want to have a tribe, let's seek to BE the tribe. A tribe marked by the radical love shown to us, from a Savior who set himself aside to fulfill his Father's purposes.

Let's follow in those footsteps. To shine light into the darkest places and love to the loneliest hearts.

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