Little A just adores her name tag at our church. We have a wonderful woman in our congregation who calligraphs beautiful name tags for anyone who wants one. They are so much nicer than the type you find at workshops or events, where everyone scribbles their name with a marker onto a sticker. We do have those available for first time visitors, but then if they put a request in the book, the next week (usually) there will be a calligraphy name tag available for them in a protective sleeve with a string to loop around your neck. Little A has put a pink chalice sticker on hers to personalize it even more. She stares at it adoringly when she first puts it on each week. It brightens my heart to watch.
My two middle daughters both played soccer two years ago when they were in 7th and 8th grades. One of the other moms arranged to have hoodies made up for all the girls with their last names and their player numbers on them in the school colors. My girls (since they share a last name) also got their first initials to better differentiate them. I nearly cried.
Why does this evoke such a strong reaction from me? What is the big deal about having your name on something? I had to think about this for a while before I could find my answer. Like most things, the root cause lies in my childhood. Having a permanent name tag or your name on a team sweatshirt gives a sense of belonging. Little A belongs to our church. She was born into the church, she has grown up in the church, and the adults love to engage her in conversation and give her sweet little nothings.
The sweatshirts also convey a sense of belonging. The only students who got these hoodies were the ones on the soccer team that year. They spent the season training and playing together, which built bonds between the athletes. My 7th grader (that year) isn’t particularly sporty. She would rather get lost in a book or write a novel than go for a 5 mile run and do push ups. She joined the team as a favor to her sister (who is passionate about soccer) to make sure there were enough players to field a team. I do believe she enjoyed the season, but she chose not to play again this year. The other girls readily accepted her onto the team, and she became one of them for those two months. The sweatshirts are a tangible symbol of that.
A name tag on a uniform, such as for work, doesn’t evoke the same emotion for me. Perhaps this is because a work name tag is intended only to identify you, rather than as a symbol of belonging. There is no community feel to it for me. No sense of close connection and bonding. I would not be at all surprised if others can feel a sense of belonging at work, particularly if management encourages and promotes it. But none of my name-tag-wearing jobs did that. They never became even a small part of my identity. I punched in, did my job, got along well with my coworkers, and punched out.
I mentioned that this is rooted in my childhood. Or perhaps I should say unrooted, since I had no roots. Let me elaborate. Growing up, I moved a lot. I packed up all of my things and moved residence 14 times before I was 18 years old. Four of those moves while we were homeless and living in an RV for two years. I attended three different high schools, and three different churches. When I mention this, people often ask me if my dad was in the military. No. We just didn’t have stable housing. When our lease was up at one place, we often had to find a new rental. I did have stable family, which I think is the more important of the two, if I am forced to choose. Both is ideal.
All of my adult life I have sought to provide stability for my children. By the time I was finally in a position to do so, my oldest was a month shy of 18, having moved 19 times herself (13 with me, 4 with her father, and 2 on her own). At 21 years old, she has moved 21 times now. I wanted to give my children the sense of belonging that I never had when I grew up — to be able to stay in one high school for all four years. I didn’t want them to develop the mindset that there was no point in decorating the house since it would all be taken down again in a few months time so we could move. Why unpack the boxes if we will just pack them up again?
In my high school yearbooks, I appear in many group pictures for clubs and the like, but I never really felt like I belonged. I was temporary — next year I would be somewhere else. My classmates had mostly all grown up together, they knew each other well. I was an outsider, hanging around but not belonging.
This is a little different from fitting in. I think one can belong, but not fit in, as well as fit in without belonging. When one fits in, they have found a group of people with similar interests and character traits. I was able to do that at each of my schools. With belonging, the place is yours. It has a sort of claim to you, and you feel a sense of ownership for it. You are accepted for who you are. You are part of a greater whole, but you are also still just yourself. It is inclusion without assimilation. When you are there, it whispers in your mind, ” I love you. You are home. This is where you are supposed to be.”
This is how I feel about my geographical region and about my church. I can live in any of the surrounding towns and feel like I belong. I may not belong to the specific town, but I belong to the forests and mountains and rivers of this corner of my state. This region calls to me and I have no desire to live anywhere else. My church is my second family, and I and my children will always have name tags there.
Where do you belong? Is it a community such as a church or club? Is it a location? Perhaps a job or career?