The winter lingered. Dreary, drafty days. Illnesses. Restlessness. Loneliness.
My head leaned against the warm wall along our fireplace, my body soaking in the heat as my soul shivered for spring — for life and sunshine, for warmth and health, for people. For joy.
I heard the chirping, and I peeked through the blinds to see tiny warblers and juncos scrambling for the seed sitting on the snow. Life.
Feathers fluttered as my tiny friends fought for food, a spreading smile igniting a spark of awakening within me.
In the winter of my soul, Jesus heard. He saw. He answered. I nodded and headed upstairs to my desk, my place of purpose. Fingers flying across the keys, I connected with a burgeoning desire to belong. Uprooted from a place of deep connection, a readiness to reconnect blossomed in my heart.
So the search began.
As children, friendship seemed simpler, easier, and perhaps a bit built-in. School, sports, and extracurricular activities provided opportunities to belong. Even as kids, we didn’t always feel like we fit in, but there seemed to be more avenues for trying. Like the friends I walked to and from school with one year.
That year I had two neighbors, both a year older than me, who trekked with me back and forth to school each day. No longer walking solo, I was in heaven! We’d talk as we walked, noticing scurrying squirrels and holding our noses as we darted past the stinky trash at the corner 7-11. But the thing that bonded us most was the pomegranate tree. There’s something about being with other people that makes us more observant and brave, so when one of my friends recognized the fruit of a tree I’d never known before, we walked right over, picked a fruit, and split it open.
My eyes grew wide as I saw the hundreds of tiny bubbles of red liquid packed into the pockets of the pomegranate. Plucking the arils and popping them in my mouth, I marveled at the explosion of flavor and juice — sweet and tart. Spitting seeds only added to the cool factor.
Picking pomegranates became our favorite after-school pastime that spring. And every spring after that, I’d see the tree and it’s inviting fruit — and remember. Laughter. Friendship. Belonging.
Now, as an adult, I’ve discovered it’s harder to make those connections. We hide our true selves. We hesitate to reach out. We fumble with finding ways to meet people. Yet our God-created desire to belong yearns for that place of acceptance and love. To know we matter.
Moves often leave us without the friendships and family we once held so close. Our recent transfer to a new city during this pandemic has challenged the already difficult task of meeting people. So, as winter raised this deeper longing I either hadn’t developed in the fall or hadn’t yet recognized, I became acutely aware of that missing piece of life — belonging.
With no natural environment for finding new people — no office, no church, no sport teams because no kids — I turned to the One I know best and started asking Him questions about belonging. Conversation between us flows freely as I express my feelings and frustrations, my desires and doubts, my longings and loves, so periodically, I’d bring up this desire to belong.
And, in April came a reply,
“We believe in Jesus. We become like Jesus. The path between believing and becoming is called the way of the cross. The way of the cross is the way of belonging to Jesus.”JD Walt, Daily Text, April 2021
Not at all what I was expecting, this answer confused me, but it also kindled curiosity within me. As I reread it, I agreed, sure — we believe in Jesus. Then we work to become like Jesus. But what I’d never considered was that the way, the path, to get from believing to becoming was belonging.
So, my question has become, what does it look like to belong to Jesus? I’m sure the simple answer is the one most American Christians have had put in front of us our entire lives — when we believe in Him, we belong to Him. Absolutely, 100%. But something in my soul has felt there’s more. More to this belonging to Jesus. More to true belonging.
That brings us here to today, the beginning of another series together.
My curiosity has been piqued — not only about this belonging to Jesus but also about the vast number of articles and books being published about our need for belonging, for community. So many authors that I’m familiar with have or are about to come out with books on the topic that I can’t help but wonder why.
The obvious short answer is that we’ve been living disconnected and isolated for the last year and a half — hello, COVID. Another quick answer is that we’ve been deemed the loneliest generation ever, which is ironic because we’re the most “connected.” But studies (and there are a lot of them) are showing that our phones and laptops — our connections on social media — do not equal belonging. In fact, scrolling photo after photo of smiling faces and beautiful places makes us feel quite the opposite. Like we’re missing out. Like we don’t belong.
The more I’ve read and studied — articles, books, and THE Book — the higher the curiosity factor has risen within me. So, for the next several weeks we’ll explore together Scripture (John 17 to be specific), stories (mine and others), and pomegranates. Ha! You didn’t see that one coming. But, really. Pomegranates. Maybe it’s my own, odd obsession with the fruit known as the “apple of many seeds,” or maybe there are some true connections to this idea of belonging. We’ll see. 😉
I hope I’ve captured your curiosity!
We’ll have a bit of rhythm in this series, where one week we’ll look at lessons in belonging and the pomegranate (trust me). Then we’ll do a deeper dive into John 17 the next week. Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow. Till we begin to see all the pieces coming together, giving us glimpses of what true belonging is.
We’ll ebb and flow — belonging and John 17 — except for today. Instead, we’ll launch into this True Belonging series introductorily. Pretty sure I just made up that word, but you know what I mean.
A lot of the Book of John captures stories and teachings of Jesus in the last week of His life. Chapters 14-17, specifically, record ONE conversation Jesus had with His disciples on His last day. More commonly known as His Final Discourse, these chapters convey Jesus’ deepest hopes for His fledgling followers. Think about it as His final teaching — the really important things He wanted to be sure they “got” before He left.
If you read these chapters in one sitting, you’ll notice an abundance of belonging language, some of the most creative being the metaphors Jesus spoke into being about grapevines where He is the vine and His believers are the branches. Connection. Dependence. Life-giving. Fruit-bearing.
Chapter 17, our focus in this series, is the closing prayer Jesus spoke over the people He belonged to while on earth. We’ll take each segment of this prayer and study it for all the ways Jesus prayed belonging over His disciples. And, maybe as we soak ourselves in these words of our Savior, we’ll begin to see a deeper meaning of what it means to belong to Him, then perhaps we’ll see what JD Walt has been trying to get his readers to understand — belonging is the bridge to becoming like Jesus. For the good of others.
In all our studying of Jesus and John 17 and what it means to belong to Jesus, I suspect we’ll also get a better sense of what it looks like to find true belonging in this world. In the here and now.
And, I can’t wait to make the discoveries with you!
I came across this Henri Nouwen quote in one of the books I’ve been reading. In his brilliant way, he has pulled together the joy I’ve been seeking this year, as well as, this more recent search for belonging:
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, p. 27 (emphasis mine)
Whew! And that’s just the beginning of this journey to true belonging.
Here’s to pomegranates and belonging! See you next week, Shelley
- I’m already discovering in my seeking and practicing that the best way to experience and feel that belonging connection with our Father in Heaven is to worship Him. Knowing that worship helps us keep our focus on Jesus while living in the here and now encourages our practice of worshiping with Christian music. So, I do have a Belonging playlist I’d love to share with you.
- I encourage you to start reading John 17 — slowly, steadily, with spiritual eyes open for whatever God wants to speak over you.
- Journaling is a great spiritual practice that opens us to more of what God has for us. As we begin this True Belonging series, start with a question to yourself — In what ways do I live my life as though I belong to Jesus? You can also explore the differences between believing, belonging, and becoming.
- If you’d like a new journal, I actually found a composition notebook* with really cute pomegranates on its cover!!