The debris of my story, and life as a single woman, often fill me with doubt that I belong – anywhere. When doubt is winning, I tend to withdraw into silence and ruminate on all the reasons why I don’t belong. My inner critic feeds my fear, fueling the disconnection that leaves me feeling alone. Every day I am faced with a choice: I can say yes to fear or I can say yes to friendships and activities that foster connection and belonging.
My battle with belonging started when I was barely out of the womb. I was a tomboy, the boy my dad wanted but never had. I wasn’t a boy and I didn’t feel like a girl. This was the beginning of the set-up where evil dined on my femininity for decades. Belonging to my dad meant that my strength and abilities were affirmed in my performance; but my curiosity, playfulness, sensitivity, and beauty were rarely noticed or celebrated.
The acceptance I experienced as a star athlete in high school masqueraded as the belonging my heart ached for. Even though I was a member of the popular crowd, I hid behind my quiet, independent persona instead of risking to be known. And then evil delivered what felt like a final blow at my longing to belong through sexual abuse from a trusted adult man.
In the midst of this betrayal, I found Jesus, or I should say Jesus found me. I started to feel a taste of belonging with a few people I met at through Campus Crusade meetings, but my damaged heart remained resistant. I settled into doing the right things; I read my Bible, went to church, and eventually mustered the courage to share my testimony (the cleaned-up version because telling the real story felt too risky).
Once again, I settled for fitting in with my new Christian friends as a counterfeit to belonging. I collected academic honors and tournament wins for my coach, teammates, parents, and fans: the better I performed the more I felt accepted. The more I felt accepted the more I felt like I belonged. And, it was exhausting.
During my 16 years on the LPGA Tour, I experienced touch points of belonging with several other golfers. However, in my need to quiet my anxious heart, I hid behind being a Christian athlete, appearing strong and in control and taking care of everyone else’s needs. What I didn’t understand was that my heart was dying and needed life-support.
By 2008, my golf performance was declining and I started to lose the counterfeit belonging that I had gained through acceptance. A year later I made the difficult decision to walk away from professional golf with no idea what I would do next. I moved to a city where a close friend lived hoping I would find something to do and somewhere to belong.
In her newest book, Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brene’ Brown says, “the greatest barrier to belonging is fitting in.” She adds, “When we ‘fit in’ as opposed to ‘belong,’ we acclimate to the situation instead of standing for our authentic self.”
Finding a way to fit in was a normal way of life for me. I didn’t know who I was. It was two years after I walked away from my source of acceptance (golf) before I recognized I was not well. Ironically, it was a new friend who encouraged me to begin the hard work of discovering my authentic self. My road of recovery has included learning as an enneagram 9, merging myself with others (something I did often) is counterfeit belonging. Instead of merging, I am reclaiming responsibility for my own life. As I celebrate how important and unique my presence is, I am also saying that I belong – first to myself and then with others.
My longing to belong deserves my attention. Choosing to fit in no longer works for me. I am not satisfied with counterfeit belonging. Occasionally this leaves me standing alone in what feels like a lonely wilderness.
I am learning that true belonging is something I carry in my heart, and I will be okay, even when some days feel harder than others.
And, every day, it requires me to lean into Jesus and receive that I forever belong to him.
Tracy Hanson spent 15 seasons on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour. She is on a journey of embracing her beauty and living more deeply from her heart, and hopes to continue to share her story through full time ministry. Her hobbies include facilitating trips to the Holy Land, riding her motorcycle, the outdoors, and running. She also writes a monthly golf devotional on her website.