The Longing for Belonging
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to fit in. In elementary school, as teacher after teacher butchered my name on the first day, I secretly wished that I had a more “normal” name that wasn’t so hard to pronounce. In middle school when kids were wearing name-brand clothes and shoes and I was still rocking whatever my mom could afford from the cheapest discount retailer, I secretly wished that we had more money (because I thought that’s what brought friends). And in high school, when everyone who I perceived to be popular looked a certain way (and it wasn’t brown like me) and did certain things (that I had been taught in church were wrong), I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t belong.
That longing for belonging is real, and I believe it is not isolated to grade school or adolescence or even being a minority. Whether it’s our looks, our beliefs, our religion, our marital status, our salary, our sexuality (and the list could go on and on), we’re constantly looking to fit in to what society has defined as normal or acceptable. We’ve come to believe that there is a way to fit in and belong, and if we don’t, we’re ostracized. We’re outcasts. We see it in our schools. We see it in our neighborhoods. And sadly, way too often, we see it in our church circles and congregations.
What are your first thoughts when you see a person covered in tattoos sitting in the church pew beside you? How do you respond to the pregnant, unwed mother sitting alone in the back row of Relief Society? How do you speak of the family whose loved one recently came out as gay?
We have to start doing this “love one another” thing better
I’m an observer. I don’t talk much and I rarely speak up, but I do pay attention to people. I’ve personally observed the scenarios I described above play out in church. And the responses have not always been good. In fact, some of the reactions were so judgmental and detrimental that some of those back-row sitting people I referred to above (loved ones of mine) are no longer active participants in the Church. They didn’t feel like they belonged. They didn’t feel like there was a place for them in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
What a shame. We have to start doing this “love one another” thing better.
As a parent, I worry about whether or not my kids will fit in or be ridiculed or shunned for how they look, believe, or act. It’s why I found great comfort in the messages shared by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in the video “Is There a Place for Me?”
I like how Elder Christofferson validated this need that we all have to belong. He didn’t dismiss that there are times when people make us feel unwanted or unloved. But he shared the remedy that can make all the difference in how we fill this longing for belonging. He said, when you’re in that space of questioning your worth and whether or not there is a place for you, remember this:
“Jesus Christ died for me. Jesus Christ thought me worthy of His blood. And He loves me.”
That’s it. That’s what I need to remember. That’s what I need to teach my children about who they are and to whom it’s worth belonging. That’s what I need to remember when I see someone who is different from me and I don’t know how to respond. Jesus thought them worthy of His blood. Jesus thought me worthy of His blood. All of us are literally His because He paid for us in Gethsemane and on the cross.
As Elder Christofferson reminded us in the video, our Savior has hopes for all of us and He can make us better. His power can transform us. He has chosen to be our literal Savior. It’s up to us to accept Him as such, to choose to have a place in His kingdom, in His Church, and in His loving embrace.
I think of “thyself” as my children, my husband, my parents, and my sisters. They are all literally a part of me, and I would do anything for them because I love them. And that’s how we need to start seeing our “neighbors” in this world. None of us is perfect. None of our families fit a perfect mold. All of us could be ostracized for something. So have some empathy and compassion, and as Jesus taught, let us not be the ones to “first cast a stone.” Our imperfections are what give us the opportunity to turn to the Savior and to be one with Him. They’re what give us the opportunity to become more and to belong to something and someone who will always make us feel loved, valued, and wanted.
Yes, my children may be ridiculed and shunned one day because of how they look, believe, or act. Yes, people in church may still hear a remark that hurts their feelings and makes them not want to return. But if in those scenarios we remember to whom we belong and that Jesus thought us worthy of His blood, I believe He will give us the power to shake off unrighteous judgments and to feel His loving embrace.
The longing for belonging is real—for all of us. And if we all do the “love one another” thing a little better, we’ll all help each other remember that in God’s Church and in His everlasting love, there is always a place for you.
Irinna Danielson is a Florida native and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in print journalism. She is a wife and mother to four beautiful children and embraces all of the craziness that comes with that.