The following text is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of “Thriving by Following.”
“I don’t know about anyone else, but whenever I’m at the gym, I always feel like everyone’s watching me. Maybe I’m just too self-conscious or insecure. Maybe I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t want others to judge me. Maybe I just need to grow thicker skin. As it turns out, I’m not alone (thankfully). A study published in Current Biology found that we have a tendency to ‘perceive others’ gaze as directed toward us,’ especially in uncertain conditions (such as when someone is wearing sunglasses or at night). 
Regardless of whether someone really is looking at us or not, there is an innate need (and desire) in all of us to feel as though we belong, and it goes much deeper than feeling like everyone at the gym is watching us. The word for this is ‘belongingness.’ It’s ‘the state or feeling of belonging to a particular group.’  Just like we want to feel as though we belong at school or work, as humans, we want to feel like we belong in this world and are appreciated and valued by others.
This need to belong has evolutionary roots. Our ancestor’s reproduction and survival to create and maintain social bonds was vital.  Those same desires remain in us, albeit well beyond our ancestor’s needs. The need to belong is directly connected to our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical well-being. That’s why it’s important to create healthy rhythms in our relationships that help us thrive holistically. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says: ‘And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken’ (ESV). We need the love, support, and encouragement of others.”
We are hard-wired for relationship. That was what we were created for, after all: to love God, and to be loved by Him, for eternity.
It all starts with our relationship with God. Ultimately, we need to find our sense of being, belonging, and worth in our relationship with Him alone. To love and be loved are not bad desires in and of themselves. God ingrained them in us. The problem arises when we try to fill those desires that only God can fill with the wrong things and/or people. If we are to love well and thrive in life, then we need to be connected to the correct source. We need to receive the love of God that is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit by spending time alone with Him in the secret place, cultivating intimate relationship with Him that extends to all aspects of our life (cf. Romans 5:5). This usually occurs through worship, prayer, and studying the Word.
It is out of this place of approval from the Father that we learn to love ourselves. “Self-care” is such a buzz word today, and for mostly good reasons. We do need to love and take care of ourselves, taking care to promote positive, not negative, views of ourselves. But we must also make sure we do not find a false safety and comfort in trusting too much in our own strength. Sometimes, the answer to our weaknesses is not necessarily self-care or self-help, but actually leaning into relationship with God and depending on Him above all else. The Bible speaks of a loving God who gave everything so that we might know Him and His love deeply. Despite how family and/or friends may have treated us in the past, we are still worthy of love, and are more loved than we could ever imagine by not only the God of love, but the God who is love.
And ultimately, God’s love is not meant to stop with us. He pours into us not only for the benefit of our personal relationship with Him, but also so that we can share that love we have received with every other person He has placed in our life. Relationships are one of the primary ways by which God transforms and heals us. The great thing about healthy community is that it allows us to both be vulnerable with other people (be seen, heard, and known by them), along with giving us the chance to speak into others and build them up. Being in relationship with others has the power to bring great healing to our hearts, and there are plenty of communities or groups we can join and be a part of.
Here are some questions and example rhythms from my book that might get you started in this area. The point is to make it your own and do what’s best for you and the season of life you’re in. Try something out and see how it works. There’s always room for growth, change, and trying something new.
- Of the three categories mentioned (God, self, and others), which category are you having the most success in, and which category needs some improvement? Identify the specific things you are doing currently that do and do not work.
- What communities are you a part of? Are each of them life-giving? If they aren’t, consider what you can do to change that.
- God, Daily: Spending thirty minutes each morning singing worship songs, praying, and reading through a chapter of Scripture.
- Self, Weekly: Three times a week, I will go to the gym and exercise. On a fourth day, I will run with my dog around the neighborhood.
- Others, Monthly: I will join a book club that meets monthly.
- God/Others, Yearly: Every summer, I will go on a vacation to rest with the Lord and invest intentionally in my family and/or friends.
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, Thriving by Following. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did enjoy it and want to stay up to date, you can reach me here via email, or connect with me on Instagram. You can also find my book on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback.
Chapter Excerpt References:
 Mareschal, Isabelle, Andrew J. Calder, and Colin W. G. Clifford. “Humans Have an Expectation That Gaze is Directed Toward Them.” Current Biology 23, no. 6 (2013): 717–721. doi: 10.1015/j.cub.2013.03.030.
 Lexico. s.v. “belongingness (n.).” accessed September 6, 2020.
 PSYCH 424 (blog). “The Need to Belong.” April 13, 2014. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://sites.psu.edu/aspsy/2014/04/13/our- need-to-belong/.