Several years ago, I was conducting research related to my dissertation. I was studying the experiences of Latinx single mothers experiencing poverty, wanting to know what their lives were like so that the social services community could serve them better.
The primary theme I found over and over in talking with the participants was the importance of community in their survival. For many of the participants, their families of origin had marginalized them or shunned them altogether. They were then required to create a “family of choice”; people whom they selected to become like family to them. Repeatedly, I heard stories of giving to and receiving from these “family” members instilled a sense of connection and value to these women who had been set aside by their own families.
We live in a culture where technology allows us to be “connected” to people all over the world. While it is true that deep personal connections can be formed through technology, there is something even more profound available to us when we allow ourselves to form these connections in person. There was a time when people gathered in community regularly, most often in houses of worship. However, there is an increasing shift away from organized religion, particularly among younger adults. In 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that in 41 countries around the world, younger adults were significantly less likely to participate in any kind of organized religion. In the U.S., church attendance has declined in some areas to the point where churches that were once thriving are now closing their doors.
We are creatures of belonging. We are meant to be in relationship. Personal spiritual growth is a good thing. So is spiritual study and learning to rely on the inner wisdom inherent in each of us. These things are not enough, though. We need community. It is important to choose that community wisely- people who love us, support us, and are truth-tellers to us. It helps us to be connected to people who share our vision, our values, and our hearts. Giving and receiving is an essential part of feeling like we matter and community gives us a place to do that.
You can join a community, such as a church or spiritual group. Organized religion sometimes has a bad reputation. Spiritual wounding is a real thing and there are people who have been deeply hurt by organized religion. Still, it is important to avoid painting all religious communities with the same brush. There are faith communities that are warm, loving, inviting, and welcoming. They can be a source of connection and support. Groups of people who share similar interests or needs can also be a place to form community. Being a part of fitness groups, support groups, 12 Step groups, etc. are all ways to connect with others.
Last, if you cannot find an established community that is a good fit for you, you can always start your own. It is easier than you might think. Invite some friends over for a meal or dessert once per month. Make a commitment to stay in touch with each other. Lives get busy, but they also get better when we make the time to create and nurture relationships that give us a much-needed sense of belonging. So, find your community or create it and enjoy the support and growth that can come from being connected to others.
I have over 15 years of experience of working with individuals and families, first in child welfare, and then in mental health counseling. I have a Ph. D in Counseling, and am an Interfaith Minister. I work with clients desiring to include all of the aspects of the self in therapy-emotional and spiritual.