How to Recognize Where You Truly Belong

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.

Or maybe, for the moment, I’m just feeling humble enough to hear the answer. Either way, on a random Sunday afternoon, I ask my oldest son, Aidan—a teenager with plenty of insights and opinions about our family—what is the most unbearable thing about having me for a father? His answer:

All the sighing.

family belonging

Photo Credit: GeorgeRudy (Bigstock)

My wife corroborates his report. She says I’ve been walking around sighing a lot. I know there’s some truth to it. Plenty. So, I start paying attention to myself. For the rest of the afternoon, I catch myself sighing more than a dozen times. In part, I’m trying to relax, but more often than I’d like to admit, the sighing is communicating something.

It’s communicating that I feel burdened, not by the stress inside of me, but by the stress around me.

So, here’s my son, in the midst of his adolescent search for a place to belong—a place where he is embraced, not because he is easy but because he is worthy—and hoping to find that place with his father. Instead, all too often, rather than finding belonging, he hears a sigh.

How can we recognize the places we truly belong?

We belong where our worthiness is not dependent upon our easiness. We belong where we can be a burden without feeling like a burden. We belong where we can be needy and still feel wanted. We belong where we can be messy and loved, broken and embraced, complicated and celebrated.

In other words, the place we truly belong is where our humanity is not met with a sigh.

Five days later, I see Aidan quietly tinkering with the family printer. I ask him what he is up to. He says, meekly, that he needs to make approximately a hundred pages-worth of copies for his a cappella group. I tell him our inkjet printer will take approximately a hundred years to get through that job. I pick up the phone, call a local drug store, and locate a Xerox machine we can use. I tell him we’ll stop by there to make the copies before his voice lesson.

And this kid gives me a bear hug with the strength of an adult.

He’s grateful for a hundred copies but, even more, I think he was grateful for the absence of a dozen sighs. He got to be inconvenient, without being treated as an inconvenience. He got to shift some of his burden to me, without being treated like a burden himself.

He got a place to belong.

Of course, true belonging is always a mutuality—if our humanity is met with an embrace rather than a sigh, we must be prepared to open our arms to the humanity of those we belong to, as well. In places of true belonging, sometimes, we are the unburdened one, and sometimes we are the one doing the unburdening.

A week after we stopped at the drug store to make the copies, Aidan’s younger brother is in tears. He’s been tasked with bringing an oar to school as a prop for a play, but when I hand him the oar and it’s taller than he is and he pictures himself walking across the playground with it—like a lightning rod for elementary school teasing—he panics. He wants to fulfill his obligation to the class, but he can’t bring himself to carry it to school.

So Aidan does it for him.

The unburdened one becoming the burdened one. No sighs. Just help asked for and help received. Worthiness not dependent upon easiness.

Our family has a long way to go to become a place of true belonging. But for a week, we found our way to something like it, and I hope we’ll keep finding our way back there. Indeed, I hope this great big family we call humanity can find our way there, too. After all, this planet is home.

We may as well make it a loving one.

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Loveable is about the process of finding true belonging. It is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

24 thoughts on “How to Recognize Where You Truly Belong

  1. So yeah. THIS ARTICLE, is me. Me in a nutshell, and definitely me, the one who needs to share and receive some love today (particularly at my home when I return). I’ve been waiting for another pointed observation that brings what I’m dealing with to the surface and today’s article has us (you and me Kelly) skimming the wavy ocean of life with a SPEED BOAT!
    I have my own example of wrongness to share that I hope I can turn into something right. Two nights ago I was stressed by everything around me in the house, particularly my children, but including my wife. My oldest, probably the one who needs more of me at my best than anyone else right now, got my worst as I unleashed verbal hatred at him for a typical child sized naughtiness that was the straw breaking my emotional back. Because this has happened before, it didn’t stop the evening, but I did get called out by my wife for my own behavior. She explained to me that he is a child and the way I was yelling at him sounded like I hated him rather than a father disciplining a respected and loved son who needs correction. I sat, arms folded and reflected on my actions and as I did I could see my son’s face during the moments I was “putting him in his place”. In my mind’s eye, I recalled seeing this nasty, angry, spiteful, and bitter expression on his face and instantly I realized that I was not seeing my son’s face. On the typically pleasant and carefree surface of that child’s face was a mirror reflecting what his own eyes were witnessing; me, a horrible, mean, ugly, hateful bad-guy.
    So, I’m taking your thoughts, using them as direct advice, and I’m going to apply them very thoughtfully this week. I will try to bring “Worthiness not dependent upon easiness,” to my home. And because I’m the adult, I will bring it with no expectations for myself. Hopefully, in my effort to unburden my family, I might find a happy result of my own burdens being lifted.

    • Thank you for sharing what is unfortunately a too common story. Good luck with your self observation and improvements. Here’s to lifting of the burdens!

      • I second Joyce’s sentiment, JC. I can recall specific times when I’ve been in exactly your situation. It is challenging and humbling, but ultimately, with the determination and resolve you are showing, it is transforming. My best to you as you go into this evening and the days ahead looking for worthiness rather than easiness.

  2. Such a great message. This is right up there with my favourite posts from your blog. My husband and I have been having a bit of a rough time with our son lately and I think this post explains why. We are not recognizing our son’s worthiness because he hasn’t been easy lately. This quote struck a note with me: “No sighs. Just help asked for and help received. Worthiness not dependent upon easiness.” There have been too many sighs (and louder, angrier sounds) in my house lately. And my young son, going through whatever he’s going through, knows deep down that we’re not seeing his worthiness right now because he’s not easy right now. As my husband pointed out to me after one particularly difficult evening with our son, our son is asking for help in the only way he knows how when he’s angry and can’t find the words or courage to ask for help. We see that he’s asking, but we’re having trouble answering because of our own anger and strong hold on how wonderful our son is when he’s easy. This post has opened my eyes and given me something to work on. As always, with deepest gratitude, thank you.

    • Your sharing here makes me feel less alone, Nancy. Our “strong hold on how wonderful our son is when he’s easy.” The image of releasing that is an encouraging one. Thank you, and you are most definitely welcome.

  3. SO much this. I too am a sigher. And lately I’ve begun doing what my husband calls “motor boating.” This is, apparently, my stress release valve allowing pressure to escape. (Maybe).

  4. This post speaks to my heart, one month after an accident where i broke my ankle followed by a breakup. Your post helped me identifying what went wrong and I believe this is the first part of a learning and healing process. Being in physical and emotional recovery, reading this post now gives me some peace. Thank you Dr. Flanagan!

  5. One of the best things about your very enlightening posts is being able to see that you and others join me in my “humanity”! Oh my. Another sigh. This was a great reminder that my “moments” have lasting effects of my reactions/actions. Today I am mindful of having those effects be loving ones. Lord help me. Thanks Dr. K!

  6. Thanks for your honest and sharing of your life accounts reminds me to stop to take a breath and reflect the moment. Blessings and Grace

  7. This is brilliant….the ebb and flow of life, loving and belonging. And the beauty comes form getting to be both, the burdened and the unburdened. For it is in becoming unburdened that we are better equipped to pay it forward. Thanks Kelly!

  8. Ohhh… yes. Thank you so much
    After a tough couple of years, after family break-up, living alone with my young daughter, even though I’m naturally sociable and outgoing, I found myself withdrawing more and more from my friends and loved ones.
    A month ago, I was diagnosed with eye cancer, and have just had an eye removed. Facing months with an empty eye socket, before getting a glass eye, I was literally thinking… I’m going to hide away, I’m not going to see anyone AT ALL!
    You know what? My friends just haven’t let that happen. Every single day, there’s been someone there… dropping in for a coffee, helping with things I can’t yet do.
    I know I’m a burden, i know I’m broken, I’m messy, I’m needy… and yet I just feel so loved and cared for, by those very people I’ve been trying to avoid.
    Sometimes maybe when things go a bit off course, it takes a big jolt to simply remind us that OF COURSE we belong with those we love, and who love us.

  9. As a difficult child to parents who sighed a lot this post fits well into my journey of self love and self care. And I think it opened up a place in my heart as both a daughter and now a parent who sighs.

  10. I love this post. I am in a very busy week, not too much time to elaborate a comment but thank you for sharing this. Bear hugs, Cris

  11. Thank you for sharing that things are not always perfect in your home and giving us some strategies to make home life better. I read this after a difficult evening with my angry teenager and his happy middle school brother. I’m glad my older son knew he could be unreasonably blustery and rude without being rejected or lashed out at in return. He did the chore I set as punishment in anger, but he did it. He shared, still angry with me, his seemingly unjustified anger at someone else, apparently trusting me to listen while he thought things through. He came out to dinner without waiting to be called, and he cleared the dishes, still grumbling and banging things around. This morning, he was polite, and let me know when hugging me goodbye on the way out to his pre-dawn bus that he had unloaded the dishwasher while I slept in. I’m glad for the reminders both in your blog and in my son’s choices that acts of service and kindness and sharing confidences show acceptance and love. In the midst of my older son’s storm, my younger son and I celebrated his perfect test score and the great bike riding weather. We cooked together, and he planned some after dinner fun. The joys and struggles of family coexisted, and there was love in both.

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