When I was little, I had an addiction. Not a dangerous one, but one that had a social stigma to it nonetheless. As a baby, I never took to a pacifier…instead I preferred my thumb. And since this habit went beyond my toddler years…boy oh boy did I hear about it from my extended family. When I was about four years old, my grandfather used to tell me that if I didn’t stop sucking my thumb he was going to put duck poop on it. Ewww….right?. But since we lived in the city and I had never seen a duck wandering around, I was pretty sure that he was bluffing (smile). It was a habit that brought me comfort. I had it so bad that when I was in kindergarten I would go over to the water fountain to get a drink, but instead would sneak a quick “hit.” Like a smoker going out for a smoke break.
Now breaking a child from the habit of using a pacifier is tough…I did it with both of my kids. But a child who sucks their thumb…even tougher because let’s face it…it’s not like you can cut their thumbs off to stop them. I eventually got to the point where I was able to go all day without sucking my thumb (no more sneaking to the water fountain). Bedtime was really hard though. It was how I was used to falling asleep. When I was six or seven years old, my aunt was babysitting me at my house with her boyfriend. It was time for bed and she tucked me in for the night. She asked me if I still sucked my thumb and I assured her that I was a big girl and no longer needed to do that. I guess she didn’t buy it. She went downstairs and waited a few minutes before sneaking back up the steps. The next thing I knew she burst into my room, turned on the light, and exclaimed, “Ah ha!” She had caught me in the act and I immediately began to cry. For one thing, she scared the bejeebies out of me. Secondly, I was embarrassed. The last thing I wanted was for my aunt to think badly of me so from that day forward, I never sucked my thumb again.
I didn’t need anyone to tell my five-year old self in kindergarten that sucking my thumb in public would not be a good idea. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that I might be made fun of, or might not have friends because of it. My classmates weren’t doing it, and I wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong, and I knew that belonging was important. It wasn’t something that I was taught…the sense of belonging was just a natural part of me.
As human beings, we have a strong desire to belong. I’m sure it’s because that is how God wired us. We, of course, belong to Him…He created us…but we have a deep longing to belong with people too. As I reflect on the holiday season, I am reminded how important belonging really is to us.
This Thanksgiving was really tough for some of my friends with gay children. Decades of family traditions have ended because their children were no longer welcome and so they in turn were not either. Can you imagine not feeling a sense of belonging in your own family? Recently I’ve learned of two teens that have been kicked out of their homes because they are gay. Rejected so easily. No one to belong to in an earthly sense.
This deep desire to belong is one of the reasons that suicide is so prevalent among the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, when I speak with people about this they attribute it to the person not knowing God and turning to evil things. It is quite the opposite. Most of the suicides that I know about are Christian LGBTQ people. They know God and have a deep love for Him, but the ostracism they face from fellow Christians is too big a burden for them to bear. They have no sense of belonging. Has someone ever said to you that they are a Christian, but they don’t feel the need to belong to a church? What have you been taught to say to that person? Are we taught to tell them that being part of the body of Christ is important? That’s what many LGBTQ people that have grown up in the church have been taught as well…and then suddenly they find themselves being turned away from the very thing that they are trying to obey.
This desire for belonging is not to be taken lightly. It’s in our DNA. The church needs to get better at this. I have found that there are churches that are welcoming to the LGBTQ community, but there are conditions. No one feels welcome when there is a “but” associated with it.
Welcoming with conditions does not give a sense of belonging…it gives a sense of being tolerated…and that my friends is completely different. My heart goes out to those who have been separated from their families…especially during this holiday season. We may belong to God, but we need His people to show up and love as He calls us to do.
Belonging matters…love matters…but how we love matters even more.