How Belonging Creates Home

Longing is foundational

During my college years, I often found myself using a phrase that seemed contradictory: "I'm going home Friday, but don't worry, I'll be back home on Sunday night." It seemed strange to use the same word for two different places – my dorm and my parents' house – but my brain, in its word choice, recognized that I had come to feel that I belonged in both places. By contrast, one of my friends during this time lived in a large house of girls, but it never felt like home to her. She told me it was more like sharing space than living together. What is it, then, that defines and characterizes a "home?" A true home requires belonging - both people to belong with and a place to belong to.

Breaking down the word belong reveals the meaning of home.

To BE - meaning to find identity in, to derive existence from.

And LONG - to have a longing or desire.

The origin of belong is the old English word gelang, meaning "at hand, together with." So to belong is to be together, derive identity from one another, and ardently desire one another. To belong is to be welcomed, to know you are meant to be where you are. There is also a physical dimension of place. The dictionary says a person belongs when they "fit in a specified place or environment." A home gives this phenomenon of belonging the most permanence in the built environment. One friend described it as "love coming up through the floorboards." A country song describes it as "The House that Built Me."((Miranda Lambert "The House that Built Me." Sony Music. )) Or simply, "There's no place like home."

But this vision of home and belonging is fraught with the difficulties of a fallen world. What if you don't feel loved at home? What if you don't have time to be together? What if you don't desire to be together at all?

Feeling unloved by your family wrecks a sense of belonging and thus wrecks an experience of home. Those who live together need to practice genuine appreciation for one another. I recommend The Life Model,(( provides more information about Life Model Works)) an international healing organization, for learning what practical skills can foster this sense of belonging that comes from wanting to be together. These include things like being tender to one another's weaknesses, becoming attuned in empathy, allowing uniqueness, and kindly sharpening each other. Sometimes we are blocked by our own past, stress, fatigue, or insecurity. We have to make an active effort to overcome these obstacles. But if your family simply won't give you identity, you have to go elsewhere for home. It may be time to "leave home" but "receive a hundred times as [many homes] in this present age."((Mark 10:29-30: "Truly I tell you," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.)) Home is not relegated to the nuclear family unit you were born into.

Even in homes that do experience loving family relationships, there are many times in which the members may not have the time or desire to be together. Time seems to be constantly slipping by, impossible to find. For every task technology has simplified, modern culture has added another. With washing machines came more clothes; with cars came longer distances. People are spread out in different places for work, errands and hobbies, and at home, distractions from email and media entertainment abound. We begin to settle for less, contenting ourselves with rare moments together, thinking that a little quality time is enough. But quality time cannot exist apart from quantity time. In quantity is developed the foundation from which quality time can unexpectedly and joyously spring. There is, of course, a place for alone time, but a family cannot know what it means to be alone if they are never together. The key is to make common tasks communal: chores, TV shows, room sharing, cooking, and homework. You cannot belong if there is no time spent belonging.

But what if, after all, being alone is far more attractive to you because being together has been disastrous for your family? Without longing, belonging is not possible. So how do we create an environment where longing for one another can become reality? It starts with acknowledging that in the very act of not wanting to be together, we are still longing, feeling deeply that we wish the situation was different. In certain situations, once you realize this longing for restoration, you can begin to long for the person, regardless of whether they deserve it, as unconditional longing. Over time, your house could become a home once again, when mutual longing returns.

This restoration of longing happens in the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast.(("Beauty and the Beast" is a musical based on the 1991 Disney Movie of the same title, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice)) Trapped in the castle, Belle sings, "Is this home? Never dreamed that a home could be dark and cold…this tragic place…this empty space…home's a lie." But things change as Belle starts to long not simply for her own freedom, but now for the good of the Beast, as flawed and ugly as he is. She teaches him to read, starts dining with him, and nurses his wounds. She looks for ways to bring out his strengths and encourage the good in him. Suddenly, she finds that there is "something there that wasn't there before" as they begin to long for one another. In the final song she sings, "I finally see, I found home, you're my home, stay with me…I love you." And in the midst of this massive change, everyone around them in the castle becomes human again, finding their belonging there as well. Longing is awakened when one person transcends dark circumstances to reach out and seek the other's good.

The difficulties of broken homes, relational wounding, and cultural busyness have interfered with the deep longing for one another that home requires. Confronting those barriers means appreciating one another and then finding and protecting a place where you are often together. There will be no being and no longing when there is no place where it occurs. Yet where there is belonging, that place will be home.

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