I wrote here about the importance of committing to a group in order to be able to contribute and receive a sense of belonging. “Join the group. Become a member. Commitment forges belonging.”

Now I want to focus on the importance of your presence in the group.

Having a “membership card” is meaningless of you’re not a regular participant in the meetings and activities of that group. (I’m obviously assuming that you are in good health and are able to participate in meetings and activities. If this is not possible for you, both you and the organization have to work together to come up with creative ways to make membership meaningfully accessible for you.)

It may feel meaningful to say, “I’m a member of _______.”

But if that membership doesn’t represent is a set of relationships with people who share your values and beliefs and the lifestyle that demonstrates those beliefs, then it’s ultimately meaningless.

If you’re a “member” of a group that doesn’t know your name, or where you live, or whether or not you were in the hospital, then you’re still lonely. And uncared for.

Membership means presence. It means knowing others and being known by them. It means caring for others and being cared for by them. It means sharing, and leading, and following. It means messes, and frustration, and yes, even anger. It means patience and forgiveness. It means reconciliation, friendship, heart-warming intimacy, and–God be praised–NOT dying alone.

So, I know this is hard, start showing up. And it will be even better if your raise the stakes on yourself, and sign up to help with something. Because then you have to show up. Because if you don’t, you’ll let people down and you’ll have to communicate why you couldn’t make it, and all along, you’ll be talking to people with names who will know who you are. If you keep doing this, they’ll eventually be friends. That might take 400 hours. You’ll spend those hours doing something. What if you spend them belonging?