Home Where We Belong

I met Rachael* at a week of prayer. After the final meeting she tentatively approached me and asked, “Pastor Haffner, may I speak to you?”

The first thing that struck me about this 10-year-old was her sweater. It was a blistering hot day—not the kind of day when you’d expect to see a sweater. “Sure,” I smiled, “I’d be glad to talk to you. What’s on your mind?”

I was not emotionally prepared for her story.

“Well,” she dropped her gaze and began, “I’m very sad because my best friend threw herself in front of a truck because she didn’t want to live anymore. Her classmates nicknamed her Hippo Hillary.* She didn’t like being fat so she jumped off a bridge into a truck. It happened last year, and I’ve been very sad ever since. I really miss her.”

You can understand how my heart hurt for Rachael. I asked if she had good support in her family. “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “My dad is never home, and my mom just tells me to grow up and get over it. My brother drinks a lot. We’re not very close.”

“How about friends at school?” I probed.

“Well, Hillary was my best friend. When she died it was like I didn’t have any close friend to replace her.”

“What about at church? You have any friends who can help you through this at your church?”

“I don’t go to church.”

“You feel alone?”

She nodded and stared at her loafers.

For the next two hours we talked. I assured her that deep feelings of despair were not unusual given her life experiences. I promised to follow up with some resources she might find helpful. But mostly I just cried for her and told her how much God loves her. “Rachael, all your friends and family may ditch you,” I said, “but Jesus will never leave you. Whatever you’re going through, He’ll be there for you.”

Toward the end of our conversation she made an unusual comment. She intimated that her hobby was hurting herself. A few questions later she pulled up the sleeve of her sweater.

I gasped. Her arm was a spider web of cuts.

“Whenever I cry, I cut myself until I can’t feel the tears anymore.”

Rachael is not someone I will soon forget. Her story reminds me of how vital it is for us all to know that we belong. We belong to God. We belong to our family. We belong to our friends. The deepest longing of every person is to belong. When we’re clear on this one, we begin to see how valued we really are. Our self-worth soars. And our purpose in life becomes focused.

While I did what I could to arrange for local teachers to support Rachael in appropriate ways, I knew that in some ways the scars would mark her until the day when Jesus comes and makes all things new. On that day we will at last be home where we belong.

* Pseudonym

March 01, 2004 / Fresh Start

Karl Haffner writes from College Place, Wash., where he serves as senior pastor of the Walla Walla College Church.