I was sitting on the deck at my parents’ house in late September or early October, crying, and the only thing that seemed to help was reading John O’Donohue like a prayer. I skipped around in his book of blessings, reading out loud, hoping to bless myself.
Some words I’ve come back to over the months since then are these, the first stanza of For An Exile:
When you dream, it is always home.
You are there among your own,
The rhythm of their voices rising like song
Your blood would sing through any dark.
The idea of belonging haunts me. I think I was too serious for my own good as a child, and I remember feeling that I did not fit anywhere. The feeling intensified in adolescence, growing into a dark dream of ending the life I didn’t belong in.
By the grace of God, I’ve left those days behind me, though the longing for home always stayed, and the feeling of being somewhat an outsider, no matter the crowd.
Lately the sense of unbelonging has doubled, perhaps because of the necessary uncertainty of adult life. I had planned out my life as far as the end of the summer. Now I have no plan. Since September, I’ve been winging it.
It’s a frightening thing to graduate from college and abruptly realize you’re not sure you have any goals or purpose. To make matters worse, friends are scattering or have already scattered. All the questions begin to set in: What am I doing with my life? Should I be here, or somewhere else? Is this job right for me? What do I even want to do? Am I wasting precious time?
Back in September, I wrote a post about how, despite this uncertainty, I intended to live and invest in the place that I’m in.
So far I have failed miserably.
I’ve obsessed over the idea of belonging and purpose until it became my whole world.
I wanted to write about this, because it’s tricky. Belonging and purpose are good things. I think God made each of us to function better in certain environments. Certain places, certain communities, and certain types of work make us hum, or they don’t. I think we are made to do things that make us feel alive.
But it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole there, and lose sight of the bigger picture. I think that’s what I’ve done.
With do-I-belong-here? do-I-belong-here? breathing down my neck every second, I think I forgot other people exist. Maybe I even forgotten that God exists in my grand quest for personal fulfillment. Then I found myself crying every day last week wondering why I felt so out of place.
When your world has shrunk to the size of yourself, it’s no wonder you feel a bit stuck in it.
Over the weekend, I spent some time with my friend Fern, naturally going to our favorite place–Mennonite country. We went to a hymn sing, and while our friend Shane was practicing for a men’s group, we sat around the table with his parents and little brother. They told us about their recent family vacation and fed us sandwiches and egg nog. It felt like being home.
That simple act of hospitality made me remember something I’d forgotten–that I already belong. The Creator of the universe made me and chose me. He is throwing parties for his sons and daughters who have squandered all his gifts every time we turn our feet toward home.
It’s also true that we live in a broken world. Communion we were meant to enjoy with our God and each other is broken, so that feeling of missing something, of not belonging–that’s real too. I think that’s why we need to be kind, to keep reminding each other that we have a home and a Father, that we are welcome in our lives, the universe wouldn’t be the same without us here.
I’m still sorting out that idea of purpose, though. I don’t think it looks the way I think it should. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It probably doesn’t require me moving to a specific place or having a specific job to fulfill a specific destiny. I suppose it could. Maybe the place is here and the job is the one that I have. I don’t really know.
What I do know is that it’s not all about me. When Mennonites sing hymns, they sing them acapella, and two hundred voices raised to the Lord sound a lot better than one.
I still have a lot of questions. I’m not sure what I should be doing with my life. I’m not sure what church I should attend.
But I think that grace–the grace of belonging and the grace of purpose–they’re here. They’re free. Perhaps, sometimes we know them by the longing for them, and sometimes we know them by the fulfillment. Each time, they’re much bigger than my sense of them. My desire to fit in or feel accomplished is nothing compared to the grand and magnificent things God is doing in the world.
Maybe we take part in those things most by doing acts that feel small–welcoming each other, for instance. Singing hymns together. Giving thanks for all we have been given, and praising our good savior who will lead us home, to a place we know like a long forgotten dream. The rhythm of our voices will rise like a song.