Theology 101

How Christmas Emphasizes Our Longing to Belong

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While visiting Oslo, Norway, I was pensively approached by a man wearing a University of Ohio t-shirt. He asked me in a broken voice, “Do you speak English?” Admittedly, being a tall Norse man made all the tourists, of which I was one, think I was a local. I responded in a quiet Midwest tone, “Of course, I am from Iowa.” Instantly, the grimace melted from his face, and was replaced by a warm smile of belonging. Even though we had never met, our instant connection allowed us to talk freely, trusting the other person. Belonging has a power.

This is the third of a six-part series exploring themes in Romans that I believe can act as a road for us to follow, on how the Christian faith can be lived out in the workplace. The six themes include, the gospel attitudethe mind of fallen humanity, embracing our adoption, understanding and honoring authority, respecting differences, and women in leadership. This post asks you to consider where you belong, considering Romans 8:18-30, where Paul declares that creation awaits for our adoption by God as his children to be revealed to all of creation.

The Search for Belonging

Knowing where you belong continues to motivate people. Over 30 million DNA ancestor tests have been taken, and it is estimated that the market will continue to grow and diversify. Social scientists have suggested that people are driven by a need to answer two fundamental questions about themselves: who they are, and where they belong, which these scientists refer to as social identity theory. These scientists would suggest that the way you determine who you are, that is, your personal identity, is decided in large part by the social group that you belong to. Life is full of examples.

Take any holiday family gathering for example. Many people who travel to visit family during the holiday season, do so with an eagerness because they have been separated from the people they understand, appreciate, and who embrace them. These people remind them of who they are and what is important. But for others, they avoid or regret spending holidays with family, because it only makes them feel like an outsider and makes them wonder who they are and where they belong.

This also helps explain why individuals move from job to job, what economists call “frictional unemployment.” While some move because of market changes, many move for personal reasons. Some people who are using their skills successfully and making an adequate amount of money in the workplace are only able to tolerate their workplace community because they don’t feel like they belong. These people long for a new place to use their skills and feel connected, supported, and understood.

And, while belonging helps us form our personal identity, belonging also fosters a commitment to preserve and enhance the group in which we belong; it creates an allegiance, a loyalty, a citizenry. The idea of allegiance to a group is also found in the work of the early church father, St. Augustine. His book, The City of God, argues that there were two places people could be citizens of, the city of God, or the city of man. In his work, Augustine says that those who identify as belonging to the earthly city or city of man are motivated by pride, while those who belong to and identify with the city of God trust God and give glory to him. Belonging is so powerful that it motivates, and in some cases, drives our actions.

Belonging through Adoption

We recently visited with our goddaughter who was adopted from Guatemala by longstanding friends. Our friends, some 15 years ago could not have children, so they decided to adopt. After years of searching, they were introduced to a young girl, and they knew in an instant she was the one. They adopted her without hesitation. And, when she was old enough, in keeping with their faith tradition, they had her baptized and asked my wife and I to be her godparents.

Over the years, we have had many conversations as a group about how we can best love and support her. During one of those conversations, our goddaughter told my wife that it was sometimes awkward being a dark-skinned Guatemalan and having two Caucasian parents. In fact, my wife and I have been out to dinner a few times when our friends introduced their daughter, and people responded with, “Is she adopted?”

This made our goddaughter feel out of place, like she didn’t belong, and she began to question who she was, and you could see her behavior change.

During this conversation, I told our goddaughter that “neither I nor my parents had a choice in who our family would be. Most parents had no choice. In fact, some parents secretly wish they could pick another child…But when your mom and dad met you, they felt an instant connection with you. They watched you for months, got to know you and decided that you were to be the one they would commit their lives too. It was very intentional. You were chosen.”

Her whole body relaxed, a smile broadened across her face, and she gave me a big hug.

Our goddaughter moved from self-rejection to belonging by feeling beloved. And, when she knew she was accepted, she could move forward with her life.

Adopted by God

Where do you belong?

During the holidays, many, many people feel displaced and wonder where they belong. And, the reality may be that the holidays simply make people recognize how alone they are, and they haven’t figured out where they belong. Not belonging, as Henry Nouwen writes in his book, Life of the Beloved, leads people to self-rejection and despondency.

Do not make the mistake and think your workplace is your primary place of belonging. You do not belong to your workplace; you belong to God, chosen and adopted as his daughter, as his son. This is the core of your identity. Your gifts that are used in the workplace, which have grown your business and advanced your career, are worth building and pursuing. But, they are given by your heavenly father as a means to bring glory to him, as a citizen of his kingdom. Work heartily, but as unto the Lord (Col. 3:17), because you are part of his kingdom.

This is who you are, because this is where you belong.

Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on Dec. 16, 2019.

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