In honor of the tenth anniversary of Red Tent Living, we are featuring a monthly legacy post written by one of our regular contributors from the past decade. Mary Jane Hamilton is one of our original matriarchs; with us from the inception of Red Tent Living, she has helped shape this space with her wisdom, wit, and generous heart. This post originally appeared in November 2017.
One would think that at my age I would know where I belong. Quite frankly, I thought I did know. Yet I am discovering that where I belong has evolved over the years as my awareness of what it really means to belong has shifted. It has required me to sift through my relationships and to take a closer look at the life I had become accustomed to. Much of that life was riddled with anxiety over striving to hold my place in relationships that were causing me to jeopardize the very ones I belonged to the most. It was a rocky road at best as I discovered my place to be was in the middle.
As a junior high school girl, the middle seat between my friends seemed to be the ideal one. There were pecking orders that led to strategic positioning of oneself to best utilize our time together. Most of the time I landed in an outside seat separated from the gossip going beside me. I felt left out. I didn’t like it. I wanted that middle seat. It was a phase that tore at my heart as I longed to feel I had a place of belonging.
In high school I was given the role of “go-between” for my mother and father. I found that middle position confusing as I heard complaints from my parents about each other. I was the mediator trying unsuccessfully to modulate their waning empathy for one another. I felt I had to choose sides. I couldn’t. Where did I belong? With my mom or my dad? I bounced back and forth between them never landing anywhere that felt secure and safe.
In my adult life I found myself triangulated within relationships as I tried to come through for others. It felt difficult to hold onto myself when the invitation to help came along. I felt used and angry.
During this time I referred to myself as the “monkey in the middle,” striving to hold relationships together in ministry and my personal life. I felt torn between people closest to me; most importantly, with my husband. There were judgments and complaints that had me scrambling to make the adjustments with him and for myself just as I had as a girl between my mom and dad. I lost my sense of self to belong within the priorities that others established for me. This false sense of belonging sealed my position in the middle where I did not belong to anyone, not even myself. This was literally taking a toll on my precious relationships…and on me.
The “pecking order” had returned and the “go-between” was re-established. I found myself joining in conversations that were dishonoring to others and myself. These were situations that became a counterfeit of belonging. Fear of being the object of these conversations snuck in to rob my integrity as my anger for others and myself began to grow. There was tension in my body that indicated I was in need of kindness in my relationships and within myself. I had a choice to make. Do I stay with me or do I believe I am a “go-between”?
The awareness that I had a choice opened a way for curiosity as I took space and time for my heart. I needed to take myself out of the middle. This decision was hard, and it was a new step in caring for myself well. As a result, my trust in God deepened.
And there has been a reclaiming of my identity, as the realization that I belong to God and myself has become very real.
How do I know this?
I know because my body is at rest and quiet. My shoulders are relaxed, I am sleeping well, the tension is lifted in the presence of those I love, and I am happy. My heart is tenderized, and my empathy has grown. I love that choosing has led me to receive God’s kindness for others and myself.
Finding my place to belong is good. I hope that you, too, will risk finding yours.
Mary Jane Hamilton loves her life living on Lake Michigan with her husband of 50+ years. It is her family that brings her the greatest joy, especially her six grandchildren. MJ readily admits that she adores her dachshunds and rests in the comfort they provide. She smiles at life and “rolls with the punches.” MJ loves Jesus and beauty, MJ loves wind, waves, and thunder, MJ loves fashion and good wine, MJ loves…&n