The interior of the house is dim and quiet. A stray light from a side table lamp illuminates the living room; a tiny bulb on the refrigerator door, the kitchen. I’m on a scavenger hunt for my phone when I find my son standing slant on his hip, holding a cup to catch ice cubes as they tumble out of the door. Tags swing underneath his armpit and on the waist of skinny jeans; back to school clothes purchased hours ago on our road trip while in Virginia. He turns toward me with a smile of resignation underneath the black frames of his glasses. Only a mother knows the definition of the eyes on that kind of smile.
It isn’t what he envisioned, coming back home and connecting with friends online after two weeks of silent internet at the cottage on our favorite lake in Canada. “We’re just going back to the way things used to be,” he said.
I nod in empathy. I spent twenty hours in the car looking out the blur of my window, silently resigning myself to what he just discovered, perhaps for the first time.
There is a vast difference between belonging and fitting in.
A week ago, we gathered around the cottage table when H randomly asked the kids to define the words belonging and fitting in. My son nailed it. With one bare foot in the kitchen, the other on the porch, he pushes the screen door open wearing damp swim shorts, chewing the last bite of a cookie and says, “Belonging is being accepted for who you are and fitting in is changing who you are to be accepted.” Then he jumped in the lake with his cousins.
In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown describes it this way: “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”
For two weeks at the cottage, we wake up late, sit in our pajamas under the spell of a shimmering lake and the distant call of loons, and change into swimsuits when the sun takes her high and lofty place. We shower when we want to, talk to neighbors in yesterday’s clothes, walk to the store dripping wet and indulge in high calorie snacks before dinner and dessert. We forget what day it is when asked, don’t think about looking in the mirror for the ideal shape and leave self-doubt on the bedside table with our phones. Only aware of the time when the sun begins her descent and the breeze tickles our skin, signaling twilight and a change into sweatshirts.
We’re surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins who accept immature mistakes, forgive the proclivities of childhood and relish our differences.
I used to think that two weeks of vacation away from the crowds on the internet was a necessary respite. A return to our hidden state: our true selves emerging when cast away from life’s busyness. Now I think differently. Its two weeks of remembering how it feels to belong.
And thankfully, when I think about these definitions I realize my kids choose friendships based on belonging before fitting in. But sometimes, even when in the grasp of community, we feel like misfits with brief stints of open windows blowing the warm breeze of belonging.
Home is not people or a place; it’s a state of being. We are part of something that is bigger than us, something beyond living up to expectations, being popular or acceptance. We belong to Christ.
When we long to fit in and forget we already belong, homecoming feels empty. And sometimes that realization is required to welcome hope, invite courage and press in to wherever you find yourself . . . so you can flourish right where you are.