The Search for Belonging

Sam and Patrick looked at me. And I looked at them. And I think they knew. Not anything specific really. They just knew. And I think that’s all you can ever ask from a friend. – Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the most interesting and unsettling books I’ve read in recent memory. The story is narrated through the eyes of the protagonist, Charlie, who is beginning his first year of high school.

At the heart of the story is the fact that Charlie doesn’t fit in anywhere. He lives on the outskirts of his own life observing everyone else living and growing. Then he meets Sam & Patrick, 2 seniors who become not only his friends, but his connection to a world outside of his own thoughts.

It’s a classic coming of age tale. But what is so classic about coming of age tales? And why do they speak to us even when we’re way past our adolescence?

It seems that teenagers are in an eternal search for belonging. They will try on different personalities like hats as they attempt to find not only who they are, but where they fit in.

That’s why we have so many books, movies & shows that tell these tales of people growing up and finding their place. But while the experimentation and volatility of adolescence eventually slows down, I’m not sure the urge of belonging ever does. It’s why these stories continue to connect with us in powerful ways.

We are defined by our search for belonging. It’s the common trait we all share. It’s why a many in his mid-30s can connect with the story of a high school freshman. Because I want to belong as desperately as Charlie. To be known by others like he is known by his friends.

One of the amazing things about Jesus is how he met this need in everyone. His apostles felt it when he called them. (Why would a Rabbi call them?) The Samaritan woman felt it by the well. (Why would a Jewish man even speak to her?) Then there was Zacchaeus, the woman caught in adultery, the woman cursed with bleeding and on and on. Everyone left Jesus feeling more than tolerated, more than dealt with.

They felt like they belonged with him. Because they belonged to him.

I think this is why heaven is described as a big banquet table where you – yes YOU – have a seat. You belong. You’re a part. You’re family.

One of the greatest gifts you can give today is to make another person feel like they belong. Because we all feel like outsiders. We all want a place to feel like known. Like family.

The way Jesus made everyone feel.

So today may you be assured of your place at the table. And today may you help someone else find their place. Because we all want to feel like we belong.

2 thoughts on “The Search for Belonging

  1. This is an essential element of what it means to be created in the image of God. Before the beginning there was Community. This why God can self-describe as Love – not just loving, but love itself. Within the very nature of God there is both the giver and receiver of love, belonging, connection and meaning.

    What you’ve identified within Jesus is one of many examples of how Jesus was the new Adam and the new Israel. Jesus incarnated all that humanity and then Israel was intended to be from the beginning. Read Isaiah 56:1-8 – in the community of God, the outsider, the marginalized and overlooked are invited to find meaning, purpose, relationship… community.

    One reason we – myself included – connect so deeply with these “coming of age” stories is that we still try to exchange the intended experience of community for the American expectations of autonomy and individual pursuits. Think just in terms of where we choose to live and the jobs we pursue: it’s about what works best financially or fits within our individual career plans. Not that these are inherently evil goals – but they often seem to trump our commitment or connection to others. And then we spend great energy after the fact attempting to remain close to those who used to be across the street.

    I wonder what would happen if we inverted that paradigm?

  2. Bret, I love the way you pointed out the tension between our created need for community and our cultural expectations for individualism. These coming of age stories really put this struggle in the forefront. And perhaps the reason we connect with them so much is because this tension still exists every day in our lives. In essence, very few of us actually “come of age.”

    I doubt many of us have the courage to structure our lives around community. As much as I long to, I’m not sure I do.

    Awesome thoughts. Thanks!

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