At age 22, my supervisor asked me what I hoped to become. I said that I just wanted to get married, buy a house with a yard, have a few sons, and coach them in Little League. I've achieved my dreams. I am so grateful.
There are many goals I have yet to accomplish, influence to yield, and work to be done. However, my aspirations have now moved toward the second half of my life. My vision for the future remains simple. I want to be one of those guys who gather at a local coffee shop, breakfast diner, or gas station and meet together. They drink coffee, talk High School football, forecast the weather, bark about the next generation, and reminisce. Or, at least I think they do. I'm not yet included, so I am not certain. But, I hope to be a part of this someday. Another 15 years or so, I suppose.
Most of my dreams are rooted in being a part of something. To belong. Throughout most of my life I've been partially committed to many things, rarely "all-in" with any particular group or movement or circle. During my most selfish and isolated years, I lived by the mantra spouted in the classic move Heat where Al Pacino says something like, "don't ever have anything in your life you can't walk away from in less than 15 minutes if the heat rolls in." I thought that was cool, independent, free. It's desperately sad. As I matured, I broke down some walls and let those closest to me in... sometimes. There was always a longing to belong to this group or that and, at the same time, a fear of the risk involved when you really love those who belong with you, for you. The belonging not guaranteed.
I know many adults still carrying baggage from decisions in the rear view. At times, I share their story. Almost always those decisions were made in a misguided effort to belong. To a person. In a family. Alongside a group. As part of a movement. To be wanted. To be valued. To be known.
It's a search for identity, really. This arduous trekking toward our true identity is generationally ingrained, parentally instilled, environmentally influenced, and socially contextualized. But mostly, it's spiritual. What are we searching for? Comfort? Purpose? Peace? Simply to be known?
Author and Counselor John Eldridge writes, “The problem of self-identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.”
I believe that we only ultimately find our true identity listening to the small, still voice of our Creator, whispering through the Fall leaves for us to be still. To know. Calling us from the passing clouds to look up. To see. Through the noise of the forest, rustling us awake to His presence. To become.
I also believe God calls us, as fathers, to instill in our children, as imperfectly as we might, a sense of belonging. That they might know we're proud, our love unconditioned by sports performance or academic prowess. That they might sense, in the depths of their soul, that their is nothing they could ever do that we might love them less. I pray my boys know this. I pray that I know this.
Eldridge continues, “Without this bedrock of affirmation, this core of assurance, a man will move unsteadily through the rest of his life, trying to prove his worth and earn belovedness through performance or achievement, through sex, or in a thousand other ways. Quite often he doesn’t know this is his search. He simply finds himself uncertain in some core place inside, ruled by fears and the opinions of others, yearning for someone to notice him. He longs for comfort, and it makes him uneasy because at thirty-seven or fifty-one shouldn’t he be beyond that now? A young place in his heart is yearning for something never received.”
May you find your place this week. In true community with others. In deep relationship God. And may we be a springboard for that deep assurance of having a place, of being known, to others - looking them in the eye, letting them know they matter. Every. Single. One.