A Sense of Belonging


Being a high school teacher, I hear a lot about belonging and not belonging. Kids take more action to belong than they take for just about anything. They buy the i-want-to-belong clothes, get the i-want-to-belong jobs, change their class schedules if they feel like they don’t belong… but I’m not sure that what they really want is to belong. Belonging to others is really difficult.

Most of my life, I’ve belonged to those people who wanted me. It didn’t feel like there were many people who wanted me, so who was I to be picky? Over the past few years, though, I’ve started feeling a bit more wanted and more cautious. The trouble came when I started realizing that people don’t always offer up friendship because they want closeness or that sense of belonging. Most of the time, people’s motivations are perfectly good, but I occasionally have to wonder what’s going on behind the i-want-to-belong moments people have with me. Sometimes, I get the feeling that their motivation is me belonging to them, which is a horse of a different color, isn’t it?

Belonging to someone means entrusting myself to him or her. In a sense, it means I’m allowing him or her to possess me. I’m trusting him or her to make decisions that affect me, to talk about me and shape my reputation, and to shape little bits of who I am.

When I think of excruciating vulnerability, it isn’t the connection to another person or being honest that scares me; I’m scared of belonging and of what another person might do if I belong to him or her.

This weekend, I saw my second family, spent every moment with friend Shasta and discussed holiday plans with Lauren – all of which got me to thinking about the people I belong to.

I belong to the Johnsons. There have been times when I had to trust Dave and Lisa over myself, because they get a say in this life. Because I’m their daughter.

I belong to Shasta, and it still catches me off-guard when I hear someone say I’m her best friend. It’s weird, because other people know that I belong to her, and act differently because of that.

I belong to Lauren, who probably wouldn’t think for a moment that she possesses me, because she doesn’t have a clue how wise and wonderful she is, and that of all the people I could belong to, I choose her.

There are other people I belong to (so don’t feel left out if I didn’t name you up there), and between all of the people I entrust myself to, there’s a common denominator that’s very telling about belonging: none of those I’ve entrusted myself to ever tried to possess me.

Isn’t that crazy?

I desperately want to belong to others, but those who get every part of me are never those who seek possession. One reason for that is the independence my parents raised me on, but there’s also a part of me that mistrusts those who seek ownership/control over others. Of course they don’t do it overtly (or probably even intentionally), but I’ve recently been taken aback by how quickly people can be to tell me what I should wear, who I should talk to at social gatherings, how I should view the world I live in, which books I should read, and what I should pray.

One of my favorite parts on the show Smallville is where Chloe finds out that her friend, Clark, is really pretty super. Clark doesn’t know that she knows, and she isn’t sure whether she should talk to him about it or not. When she asks her cousin what she should do, her cousin says something like, “I think I’d probably try to be a true true friend to him so that someday he’d voluntarily trust me with the truth.”

That’s how I see the sense of belonging. Rather than trying to force me to belong to them, the Johnsons, Shasta and Lauren were true friends that I entrusted myself to voluntarily. The trouble with that is we start seeing it as cause and effect, and it isn’t always that. There isn’t always a payoff. Sometimes, people are true friends to me for a really long time, and I never entrust myself to them. The question isn’t whether there’ll ever be a payoff for being a true friend. The question is: am I going to be a true friend to this person regardless of the payoff… because that’s what true friendship is. I hope and pray that the people I belong to (and other people in my life) feel safe belonging to me. I don’t know if they do or not, but one of my pursuits in life is being a true friend to as many people as I can.

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2 thoughts on “A Sense of Belonging

  1. I need to think about this because I believe you have hit on some important distinctions, between friendship and true intimacy, where the risks and rewards are both higher. I like your possession criteria (if you want to own me, you can’t.) This is valuable to consider from both sides, as the possessee and the potential possessor. So wise!

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