As a parish priest or pastoral counselor, one of the saddest things I heard people say was that they don’t belong. They felt so utterly unconnected to others and from the world around them they would often talk about not fitting in, like they don’t matter, no one would miss them if they were not here (NOTE: this is often code for someone with suicide ideation and would be pursued. For this post, let’s not get that dramatic.) Often, these unconnected people felt invisible and not valuable, unimportant in the wider world.
I’ve heard it said that people who have some connection to a group (club, church, family, neighborhood, etc.) experience better overall health and vitality. This is especially true of older adults. It’s as if being connected, belonging, to a group keeps us going. This is hard to believe sometimes when it’s your sibling or spouse driving you nuts. I guess that’s part of what it means to be in relationship – gotta love ’em, even though they drive you nuts from time to time. It’s a process of shaping one another. We learn how to set boundaries, stand up for ourselves, while at the same time bend, learn flexibility, compromise. I’m reminded of those clothespins my grandmother used. The kind that are simply wooden, no springs. They way they get smooth is by tossing them into a machine that tumbles them until the rough edges are gone. It’s only then that the clothespin becomes truly useful. Likewise, it’s in relationship with other people that our rough edges are smoothed out and we can apply our giftedness in meaningful ways.
This is why I believe sports are so important, especially for kids. Something happens to us when we focus on our team over-against ourselves. We see a community of people who matter to us, whom we support and care about. Interestingly enough, that care and concern comes right back to us. They see us as part of THEIR community. And the cycle continues. Having moved across the country multiple times, especially when our kids were young, we wasted no time in hooking up with some community. Usually, it was a church since that was my “business.” But we also connected with school activities, found out where to register for sports or other kids’ activities. And we got plugged in. Although we had the usual feelings of missing our old friends, we would always make new ones.