Upon the death of his mother, the Dutch priest Henri Nouwen wrote a little book titled “In Memoriam.” It is an intimate account of the power of a mother to influence a son. “From her,” Nouwen said, “I had come to feel an unqualified acceptance which had little to do with my being good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, close by or far away. In her I had come to sense a love that was free from demands and manipulations, a love that gave me a sense of belonging that could be found nowhere else.”
That phrase, “a sense of belonging,” reminds me how blessed I was as a child. I was the first child of my parents who would provide me with three sisters and a brother. We became a family, though the great value of “belonging” to a family never dawned on me back then. I was oblivious to the fact that millions of children are deprived of that blessing.
Keith Miller used to tell the poignant story of one such child. The story was shared with Miller in a small group setting by the woman who had been that child. When she was a little girl, her parents died and she was placed in an orphanage. She was not pretty and no one wanted her, but she said that as far back as she could remember, she longed to be adopted and loved by a family. She thought about it day and night, but everything she did seemed to go wrong. Then one day the head of the orphanage told her that a family was coming to take her home with them. She was so excited that she jumped up and down and cried. The matron reminded her that she was on trial and that this might not be a permanent arrangement.
Overwhelmed with joy, the little girl just knew it would be permanent. So she went with this family and started to school. She said, “I was the happiest little girl you can imagine and life began to open for me just a little. But then one day a few months later, I skipped home from school and ran into the front door of the old house we lived in. No one was home but there in the middle of the front hall was my battered old suitcase with my little coat thrown across it. As I stood there and looked at my suitcase, it slowly dawned on me what it meant. I did not belong here anymore.”
Miller said that when the woman stopped speaking, there was hardly a dry eye in the group. But the woman cleared her throat and said, “This happened to me seven times before I was 13 years old; but wait, don’t cry for me. It was such experiences that ultimately brought me to God. When I was having so much trouble finding a sense of belonging from other human beings, I was driven to God and there I found what I had always longed for — a place.” That reminds me of Isaiah saying, “even if a mother should forget her child, God will not forget you.”
If you have a sense of belonging, give thanks for it. And look around. You may see someone who longs to belong, someone who could be blessed by knowing you as a sister or brother in the family of God.