For as long as I can remember, I never felt like I belonged. Instead, I felt like a lost, wandering child who was on a pilgrimage to discover her true country and kin. Like one day, somewhere, this child would find her place. Find her people. Find the place where she belonged.
I’ve always felt like a wanderer, waiting to be found.
I remember as a child how I’d pack my suitcase and run away. I wouldn’t do it out of spite like my 8-year-old son often threatens. I actually wanted to be found. I’d even draw a map leading to my hiding place once I’d run away.
There is just something SO wonderful about being found, welcomed and celebrated.
I think my heart was forever crying out to hear: “Welcome HOME!!!!! Welcome to the place where you BELONG. We finally FOUND you!”
All those fairy tales and movies where people suffer a hard life but then discover that they are actually royalty have brought me to tears over the years. Like Shasta in The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis, or Rosella in the Island Princess, or Mia in Princess Diaries. Each of these characters discovers their true place. They ARE wanted after all. They are loved and celebrated.
To belong is truly a wonderful thing.
I don’t remember ever belonging anywhere as a child. All I remember is being shuffled around indiscriminatingly to various relatives, friends, boyfriends and hired sitters who would tolerate us while my parents abandoned us in the name of work.
It was just normal that my doctor father lived at the hospital, slept in the spare bedroom, and only came home to do laundry. I never questioned why my flight-attendant mother would leave us for days at a time with hired strangers or sketchy relatives. It was just a part of normal life when my dad decided to leave our family in favor of a better one. It became normal that most of my family memories involved various boyfriends whom my mother never married.
It was all I had ever known. How could I know that things could even be different?
So I got used to never belonging. I got used to being the bouncy pinball that my parents would fling around to wherever they needed me to go. I lived in a place of chaotic transition. I settled into being the odd man out and acquiescing to everyone else’s wishes. Mine didn’t matter. My life was the epitome of inconsistency.
Inconsistency is a heart killer.
Consistency brings with it a sense of security, trust, and a belief that the world is somehow a safe place. Inconsistency breeds just the opposite: insecurity, mistrust, self-sufficiency, and fear.
These unhealthy emotions and lenses became rampant in my heart throughout my rocky childhood. I put walls around my heart in self-protection. I learned how to survive like the best of them. I learned how to finagle, strategize, and fight to get my needs met. But belonging?
Yah, I never figured that one out.
And so this lonely child turned into an awkward teenager who stumbled through her high school years, and then launched onto college, adulthood, marriage, and parenting without even pausing for a breath in between—yet all the while trying to find her place and figure out her identity.
I longed DESPERATELY to belong somewhere.
College brought me a few years respite from that lonely, haunting sense of ill-belonging that seemed to hover over my life. I found a handful of friends who embraced me in all my awkward, chubby years of self-discovery. I still don’t know what they saw in me. But they loved me and I loved them, and to this day I still trust these people with my heart. No question.
Maybe it was all the late-night trips to the grocery store in our pajamas or the bickering over annoying alarm-clock sounds. Maybe it was the fact that they saw me completely devastated during a bad breakup and loved me anyway. But somewhere along the way, these people became my people. These people became my family.
It was a taste of belonging.
Then college ended. We all shuffled off to our various states, marriages and new responsibilities. And I was alone with myself once again. Wandering. Lost. Alone.
I was now a certified, grown-up orphan. (I even had a diploma.)
But I wasn’t alone. Turns out the world is full of grown-up orphans just like me. Having actual parents doesn’t change this inner-heart, orphan dynamic. It just makes it all the more confusing to figure out.
“I HAD parents who took care of me,” someone might think. “Why do I FEEL like an orphan?”
Well…because orphans beget orphans. The emotional neglect of previous generations continues to perpetuate itself. These grown-up orphans that never had their needs met become parents who raise up their own children in like manner—barring intervention or inner healing.
So many orphans are wandering around, seeking to be found.
Take this little wandering mud hen in the picture above. I relate to him a lot. He lives at my neighborhood lake. His hardware must be faulty because he didn’t migrate with the rest of the mud hens a while back. Instead, he stuck around and now flounders about the lake by himself, looking awkward, and trying to fit in with the ducks. The ducks don’t pay him much attention—but that doesn’t stop him from trying to integrate himself into their ranks each day.
Poor little guy. I feel his pain. It sucks to not belong.
I’m not as much of a wanderer anymore. Oh, I still have my days. Those darn days still pop up where I feel unsettled and insecure about life, days where I wonder whether my loved ones will stick it out with me for the long haul. I’ve had so much abandonment and disappointment in my life that those weaker days often trigger those familiar fears all over again.
But I’ve discovered a GLORIOUS truth along the way.
I’ve come to experience in a very real way just how God sets the lonely into families. Because He does. He puts the lonely into spiritual families. He takes people with Type A wounds (see Redemptive Side of Pain for more on Type A wounds), and He brings just the right people who will help fill them up and heal those childhood holes.
God Re-PARENTS us. He doesn’t leave us stuck in our orphan-hood.
I have many stand-in people in my life now who I’ve spiritually adopted as family. I have friends who have become like big sisters, little sisters, brothers, and aunts/uncles in my life. I have mentors who have become like spiritual mothers and fathers to me.
I can share struggles and get wisdom from the ones who are upstream from me, or I can pour out my wisdom and mentoring onto the ones that are downstream. These relationships are incredibly beneficial for both parties.
The relationships do not carry the same dynamics as my family of origin. They are a completely different spiritual dynamic. I don’t go to these people’s houses on holidays. They don’t buy me birthday presents. Some have never met my husband or kids. But these people are there for me. My life is richer with them in it.
God sets the lonely in families.
I can never go back and re-do my childhood. I can’t force my family of origin to change and heal so that they can finally meet my needs. I’m an adult now. I don’t belong in my past anyway.
I belong in my present.
I think things started to change in my life once I took my eyes off of all the ways I had been short-changed. When I took my eyes off of the things I missed or did NOT receive—it was then that I started to discover exactly what it was that I DID have.
I discovered that I already belonged to Him—that I was completely and totally accepted.
I discovered that I was already loved and celebrated by certain people—however spread out on the Earth they may be.
I discovered that I had already found many of my tribe—people who think like-mindedly and “get” me. I no longer feel like such an oddball.
You already belong too. To Him. With others.
Sometimes it just takes a little while to work out all the details.
Hang in there.
“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…” (Psalm 68:6)
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us ACCEPTED in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).
“…For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).