On Moving and Belonging

This month is an extended transition period, as we prepare to leave Waco for Edinburgh. We moved out of our house last weekend after selling everything we owned in a yard sale, and are staying with friends for two weeks in Waco before we bounce around with family in Dallas/Ft. Worth for another three.

As we sit in this state of limbo, stuck between a sense of sadness at leaving and excitement for new adventures, I find myself in a chronic state of slight anxiety.

In dealing with panic attacks and anxiety, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that anxiety in itself isn’t a negative; it’s a natural and healthy emotional reaction, our brain’s way of alerting our body that we’re not quite safe and should prepare to either fight an impending danger or run away from it. The problem for mental health is when the anxiety hijacks the logical brain and doesn’t allow it to properly sort out what needs to be done.

So I’ve been thinking about what the danger is that I’m subconsciously preparing for. What is it about this transition that feels so unstable and threatening? And I’ve realized that, maybe for the first time, I’m leaving a place where I feel that I fully belong.

Belonging, in this sense, doesn’t necessarily mean that I ought to be here and am choosing not to be; though I’ve felt that I was right where I should be for the last eight years, I’m confident that Edinburgh is the right next step.

Rather, belonging describes a sense of mutuality, reciprocity, and connection–I belong to the complex web of communities and economies here: to the pubs and restaurants and businesses; to the baristas and bartenders and servers; to the churches, the ministries, the schools; the teachers and the pastors; to the neighborhoods and meeting places, the roads and parks and yards. I know them, and they know me.

Belonging means more than utilizing. We tend to see others (and ourselves) as self-contained units, living unrelated lives that are defined by our independent choices of who and what we interact with. In this vision of society, we exist as isolated individuals who, if we so choose, can enter into mutually beneficial social and financial agreements with others. In other words, we use each other, but we don’t belong to one another.

Belonging describes an altogether different way of being in the world. It means knowing and being known; it means having a claim on the people and places around us, just as those people and places have a claim on us — a claim for reciprocal care and respect, a claim for shared responsibility, a claim for love.

This is the vision of community portrayed by the Hebrew creation narrative of Genesis 1-3: the first human beings belong to one another, to their Creator, and to the plants and animals that God charges them to care for. In the opening chapters of Acts in the New Testament, the earliest community of Christians bears witness to the redemption and reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ in the way they insist upon belonging to him, and to one another, as they were created to do.

Waco is the place where I learned what it means to belong. It’s the place where I learned to discover how the parts relate to the whole, and how we are inextricably tied to the people and places that surround us — whether we want to be or not. So leaving means more than a change of scenery, more than a change of routine or having to find new people and places to utilize.

It means leaving the security and love of belonging. No wonder it comes with anxiety.

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