A man has two sons, both of whom are entitled to a portion of their father's great wealth as inheritance. The younger of the two sons desires to see and experience the world around him, so he asks his father for his portion of the inheritance. His father grants his request, releasing his younger son to pursue his carnal desires and dreams. This younger son lives it up, exploring life to the full in all of his dreams of what he thought it could be. His thrill ride comes to a crashing halt though, once his resources for maintaining his dream run out. At the end of his rope, this younger son finds himself simply surviving instead of living into the dream of his youth and so decides to reunite with his father for the purpose of returning to where he had once belonged. In his mind, this younger son would be willing to exist as a less than equal bi-partisan of his father's house. Instead of claiming his birthright and full son-ship as he had previously done, the younger son would become a servant in his father's household so that he may not only survive, but once again return to the place where he found true belonging.
As the story continues to unfold, the younger son is embraced by his father upon his return and although he is willing to become like a servant, his father restores his son-ship and celebrates his incumbent return to his place of belonging. The elder son, however, stands against the welcoming return of his younger brother. Although this elder son did not chase after the empty notion in the way his younger brother had, he too wrestles with embracing his place of belonging and rejects the overtures of love from his father because of his inability to rationalize the seemingly unequal demonstration of love from this father and his two sons. The elder son claims that the younger son is loved in a more profound way than himself only because his wayward ways are seemingly overlooked by the welcoming return this father embraces his younger son with. Having lived up and into the expectation of what a "good son would do," this elder son is left hurt, bitter and confused by the loving response of his father towards his younger brother. And as a result the elder brother refrains from entering into the celebration of belonging together with his extended family.
There are three facets of belonging that are stirred up in me as I immerse myself in this biblical story.
We belong because of who we are, not because of what we do. We so often believe the lie that what we do makes us who we are. The truth is that who we are informs what we do. This elder brother struggled with understanding what is meant to be a son to his father. He believed a good son was someone who did all the right things. But it was his younger brother that truly understood what it meant to be a son. A son is someone who knows where he belongs and who he belongs to. Even in the midst of mistakes, our sense of belonging is not severed. In fact, it’s in these darkest of times that we rediscover who we really are and where we really belong. It takes great courage to admit what our needs are, including our desire to belong to someone and to something.
We all need to belong somewhere. We as humans were created for connection. We define ourselves by who we are to others: so and so is my friend, this is my dad, this is my cousin, they are someone I went to school with. This sense of belonging and the need to be connected lies at the core of who we are. We become restless when we don't have a clear understanding of where we belong or who we belong to.
When we belong, we are not only loved, but we are also inspired to live. When we find our place of belonging by answering the question of how we fit in this world, we find that we are not only loved, but we become inspired to live in and out of belonging. We know who we are when we know where we belong. And knowing how we fit gives us the platform from which we are able to build things like reputation, legacy, commitment and endurance.
Because we live in a society that struggles with the concept of long-term commitment, it makes me wonder if we have lost sight of our ability and need to belong. Perhaps if we generate the courage to rediscover how we are connected and why we are connected, we might identify our place of belonging and in turn help others to discover theirs.
We are all living in this unfolding story belonging. Ignoring the reality that we all need to fit somewhere isn't going to help us discover who we are and what we are made for. Find the courage to create connection and rediscover how you belong.