I Just Want to Belong

I Just Want to Belong November 10, 2015

So far in my life, I’ve moved 16 times. I’ve lived in 6 different states. And I just want to belong.

When I was 15, I remember sitting across from my parents as they announced that we were moving – again. All the previous times I was able to just roll with it, to be convinced and then convince myself that this move to this new place was going to be great, fantastic, awesome, better. Sometimes it was, like when we moved from a cult in Nowheresville, Texas to the east end of Long Island, NY. I mean, that has to be a step up, right?

But this time was different.

This time, I dug in my heels. I pushed back. I felt the anger of outright refusal rise from my stomach into my chest and then burn my throat before I blurted out, “When is this going to stop?! When will anything or anyone be good enough for you?!”

My parents sat stone-faced and resolute, reminding me that it would be great, fantastic, awesome, better.

I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to belong.

***

It has become the great goal of my life to find rootedness. Besides just being so damn tired of transition, I’m also yearning for the stability lacking in my life to be present in my children’s lives. They are young still. There is still time.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

It seems to me that belonging is a strange cocktail of the right place and the right posture, meaning that one is not going to find belonging just anywhere, but nowhere is going to be perfect either. The posture we bring to the place is just as important as the place being right. Once I assumed that the place I’d spent the most years in (Northern Vermont) was the right place, and for a time it was. Then it wasn’t. And now, the search continues.

I feel like we’re getting closer, like we’ve homed in on the general vicinity and we’re zeroing in on the precise target, to use a lame military metaphor. Speaking of which, sometimes it feels like my life up until this point has been a series of escapes, with my previous life bombed all to hell in the distance as I run looking for the next one.

Still, I just want to belong.

***

843176These personal revelations may have you wondering about any larger significance, and I think there is some of that. Erin Lane wrote one of my favorite books last year called Lessons in Belonging From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. And while I’m not really a commitment phobe per se, the book expresses the struggle many of us have in seeking and finding belonging in a local church. You know, a church where we can put down roots, where we intend to stay for the longer haul, come what may. 

If I could paraphrase Erin’s message, it would be something like, finding belonging in a local expression of church is a strange cocktail of the right place and the right posture. 

When I say “place” I also mean “people,” because that’s really what makes for belonging. The people of the place are the ones to whom we belong, and it has to be right. You know? But not perfect. And we must then bring the posture of commitment and sacrifice and long obedience in the same direction, to use a not-lame line from the epic Eugene Peterson.

The Nones and the Dones have something to teach us here, I think. I consider myself an honorary member of this group, having survived a cultish upbringing and all the ongoing damage that has caused. Most of them are not just quitters – they are realists. They have seen some things in our religion and refused to turn a blind eye, looking for their spirituality elsewhere. That’s what prophets do, by the way. They see.

So maybe there’s an even broader significance here. The American Church must face its demons, and accept its damage, and determine to become a place of belonging again. Judgment begins at the household of God.

***

When we had baby number 3 last March, born in the thick of transition, I was overcome with a sense of fulfillment, of coming full circle, a kind of culmination coinciding with the beginning of the rest of my life.

A homecoming, really.

Willa Pearl Hoag arrived, and in some mysterious way, so did I.

A few days ago the girls and I were sitting on the couch watching that Pixar short film about the volcanoes. I began to sob into my hands.

For my whole life, I had a dream I hoped would come true. All I have wanted is to belong. I never did, not before. In some ways I still don’t.

But with them, Kalen, Gemma, Pippa, and Willa, I do.

I have come home, and I belong here.


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  • Emmanuel, mate!

    I think belonging is curious. In the end, it comes from the inside more than the outside. I’ve found belonging within myself it is easier to know where I belong in terms of other people/places/churches, etc. And it no longer shatters me if I’m somewhere and I know I don’t belong to these people. I no longer feel that I’m the one at fault… just that the place and the people are wrong for me.

    xx

  • Yeah, I don’t feel at fault either – but desire belonging (not perfection). Agree that it begins with self-acceptance and peace though – thanks for adding that!

  • Yeah, I don’t feel at fault either – but desire belonging (not perfection). Agree that it begins with self-acceptance and peace though – thanks for adding that!

  • Mark Demers

    Something I learned about myself a long time ago – I am one of those people for whom WHERE I am is often more important that WHAT I’M DOING. What irony – that I would become an “itinerant pastor” in the United Methodist Church! But I think your generation is characterized by a different sense of place than mine. You all move around more. Thanks to cars and buses and airplanes – and social media – a latent sense of discontent can more easily be aroused now than it was 50 years ago. When Jan and I moved back to Burlington I most definitely had the feeling that I had “come home”. To belong takes two things – time, and commitment, or so it seems to me. In some ways I suppose one has to ask: Where do I WANT to belong? Your post suggests that you know to whom you do belong; that is not necessarily the same as knowing where you belong. The former has never been a problem for me. The latter has always been more of a challenge. And once the latter gets solved and one knows where “home” is, traveling takes on a different perspective. And it’s not a matter of the “perfect place”; it’s more a question of where are you going to put your roots down. What a wonderful blessing – that you know to whom you belong. The other will come, I think, when you make a commitment and stick with it – and I pray that you are close to where that will happen … if you haven’t already arrived.

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  • Good perspective, thanks Mark. I’ve often thought about your itinerancy as I consider these matters of belonging. I like the distinctions you’ve made here :).

  • Good perspective, thanks Mark. I’ve often thought about your itinerancy as I consider these matters of belonging. I like the distinctions you’ve made here :).

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