Friday, August 16, 2013

Belonging Together

In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes of making a practice of standing naked in front of a full-length mirror with a sense of reverence for the physical body one lives in.  She goes on to observe, "One of the truer things about bodies is that it is just about impossible to increase the reverence I show mine without also increasing the reverence I show yours."  When the narrative for a reverence of my own embodied self is based on the belief that God loves and cares for people – people in their skin-and-bones physical entirety and not only their heart and soul and mind – it is impossible for me to view others with less reverence and autonomy than I allow myself.  

When this reverence is my narrative, I cannot think of others only for who they are in my life or what interaction I have with them. 

While embracing this narrative has broadened the way I view everyone I encounter, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on how it has changed the way I think of my family and my role in it. I never fully bought in to the teaching that a wife belongs to her husband and children belong to their parents, but it was part of my framework and influenced my thinking and my actions.  The way I now see myself as a person and a woman has helped me better understand the way I view marriage and motherhood. 

I know I've explained before that I do not belong to Ryan, my husband, but then it follows that neither does he belong to me.  I've always known this, but wasn't sure of how to explain it when “belonging to” was my default understanding.  I don't want to trivialize our relationship by arguing "we don't belong to each other," but I feel it is important to make the distinction between belonging to another person and choosing to belong together. 

Ryan’s role in life is not “Trischa’s husband.”  Yes, we said vows that we would build a life together and incorporate the role of husband or wife into who we are, but we did not take on the role of husband or wife as our entire identity.  It would be wrong to reduce Ryan from a person with his own passions and thoughts – many of which have nothing to do with me – to a role he fills in my life.  We choose that we belong together in our marriage, but we do not belong to each other.

Our sons, Luke and Owen, do not belong to me either.  Yes, I grew them inside my own body for a time and gave birth to them and nurture them and love them with a connected, reverent-awe kind of love.  I am their mother, but their role in life is not to be my children.  They belong to their own, autonomous selves and to the stardust from which their atoms were formed, and to God, who breathed life into their lungs.

They do not exist to exhibit behavior that would give me bragging rights or make me proud or conform to the way I think.  Treating my sons in that way would be to objectify them, to act as though they serve a function the way possessions do, which is not showing reverence for them as individual, embodied people.  I am responsible to actively teach them essential values and skills and celebrate with them when they excel or when they act with compassion and responsibility.  But I believe they learn much more about equality and consent and autonomy for themselves and others when they are encouraged to experience life within a framework of reverence, rather than training them to meet my expectations. 

My sons and I are in a life-long process of learning to love each other and figure out how we belong together as flesh and blood, but they do not belong to me.

Thinking that I belong to someone or that someone else belongs to me discounts that we all are unique individuals created in God’s image. I am better able to love with a deep, encompassing love when I embrace the incredible people around me as those I have the privilege of belonging with and when I allow them to determine how they belong in life with me.   

Note: I started writing this post last week, but just recently read a similarly-themed piece by Ben Irwin on why he does not intend to “give away” his daughter at her wedding.  It is beautiful and I highly recommend you read it here.


  1. This is so beautiful, Trischa.

    "...but I feel it is important to make the distinction between belonging to another person and choosing to belong together." Yes!

  2. Great post, Trischa! I like the way John O'Donohue puts this in his book, *Anam Cara.* What he says about belonging in friendship, I believe also applies to marriage.
    "To be human, is to belong...Belonging is deep...This is the appropriate art of belonging in friendship: friends do not belong to each other, but rather with each other. This with reaches to the very depths of their twinned souls. True belonging is not ownership; it never grasps or holds on from fear or greed. We seem to have forgotten the true depth and spiritual nature of intimate belonging."

    1. That is beautiful. I especially like this line: "True belonging is not ownership." Thank you for sharing, Dan, and I agree that many things which apply to friendship also apply to marriage.