“Belonging. I think it’s a large part of what family is all about.” – Jonathan David Michael

I have been in pursuit of belonging since I was a child.

Growing up in a happy, functional family it seems irrational, or maybe a little ungrateful, to say that. But it is true. I felt out of place. Even though my family members can be experts at predicting me (especially Christa and my mom), they often aren’t that great at understanding me. I’ve found it hard to feel like I belong with people who don’t get me.

In elementary school, I decided that I was going to go live with one of my friends and her family because I felt like they understood me so much better. I packed up a little suitcase and planned out what I would say to my parents when they realized I’d moved out. As I walked down our lawn, it hit me that my “rational” argument would be crushing to my parents. I turned around and went back inside without them ever knowing the “sacrifice” I was making for their sake.

It’s a funny story now, remembering how serious and silly I was (my friend’s family was deeply dysfunctional so it really would have been a terrible swap). Even though I never physically ran away, I still didn’t accept that I belonged with them. From elementary school through grad school, I kept my parents at an emotional distance and treated my friends more like family. I rarely talked to my parents or sisters more than once a month and less than that during my final semester of grad school.  I wasn’t fully aware of the space I’d created between us until I moved back home (about two years ago now).

One of the things I hear often from my family members, even my brother-in-law, is that it’s ironic that I’m the one who moved back home: “You do the best on your own.” I think that’s why I had to come home. I needed to learn that I do not belong with my family, I belong to them. Even when they completely misread my actions, even when they seem like mysteries to me, we belong to each other.

In Jonathan David Michael’s blog post about being an involved Dad, he ends by telling a little story about a time when his son asked why he loved him. He said, “Because you’re mine… and that’s all there is to it.”

If he said that to his wife, I could see someone arguing that he is objectifying her, treating her like a possession. Since he said it to his son, I think more people probably understand that what he’s talking about is mutual. His son could just as easily say that he loves his father because he is his and the statement would be equally true. What they possess is a shared bond that can’t be rationally explained. I think it would be just as beautiful for he and his wife to say those words to each other. All of us want those we love to claim us. We want them to say that we are theirs and we want the freedom to say that they are ours.

I’ve spent too many years annoyed with God that He hasn’t given me a man that will claim me and who I can claim. All the while, I’ve been dismissing my family’s claim on me. Spending this year utterly single has helped me to appreciate and accept that we belong to each other. Reflecting on the value of family this season, I am incredible grateful for the belonging that I have. Even though it is not what I have looked for.

Feature image by Nathan Anderson.

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