Power and Belonging

Since the decision I made two years ago to return home to my daughter and trust my mother into the care of others my family has experienced some major relational shifts.  When I told my dad I was leaving, he stopped returning both texts and phone calls.  The only communication I have had with him since that day has been angry written communication clearly expressing his disappointment in me.  For my part, I have accepted this loss of belonging as necessary for my own mental health.  He says I abandoned him in his time of need; I would say that he made it impossible for me to belong.

In Brene’ Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, I gained some vocabulary for what happened when I made the tough call of having a strong back and soft front.  First, let me explain what that means to me.  I practiced having a strong back when I dug deep inside myself, through prayer and contemplation, to make my decision about whether to stay with or leave my mom on her deathbed to return to my daughter laboring away for days in a hospital bed. (And I asked all my loved ones and friends what to do and they told me to go home.) I took responsibility for deciding what the right decision was for me.  Second, I opened up my heart and was vulnerable enough to ask my family, my dad in particular, to grant me grace and mercy when I made that call.  I did not ask for approval, I asked for belonging.  I asked to belong in my family of origin even if I could not say yes to what my dad preferred - me staying on in Atlanta as my mother transitioned into her new life.  

Jen Hatmaker, a writer, pastor, philanthropist, and community leader (as described by Brene’ on p. 150 of Braving the Wilderness) is quoted by Brene’ in a written response to Brene’ Brown’s inquiry to Hatmaker asking Jen to describe her own experience of receiving a hostile response from her own tribe when she addressed her support of LGBTQ rights and inclusion.  Here is what Hatmaker wrote:

Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is BELONGING.  Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive.  

Page 151, Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness

Power.  It shows up in many forms.  Pay attention.  Parents have power.  Bosses have power.  Anyone who has the capacity to strip you of your “belonging” card has power.  Let’s get real - sometimes it is necessary to detach from relationships.  That’s not the point of this post - although it is a crucial relationship issue that is worthy of thoughtful consideration. (I’ll tackle that one tomorrow.) Today’s point is this:  notice how we use BELONGING as a way to keep people “in line”.  Notice how we use it as a weapon to disincentivize conversations that challenge the status quo.  The vendor tried to use the power of belonging to distract from a crucial conversation about her job performance by suggesting that there was something relationally disconnected between her and my kid. (They didn’t have a relationship, get it?  But it is still a powerful weapon to use against people who value relationships.) My father withdrew relationship as a punishment for my failure to do what I had habitually done - come running when he called.  Belonging is a beautiful thing, but sometimes our ASSUMPTION that we belong is proven to be an illusion when we exercise our strong back and make tough calls that are not popular.