True Belonging: Self

Last week we used reverse thinking, determining that we don’t belong to the world, to help us understand where we do belong — with Jesus. This week we’ll implement a similar strategy as we seek to find ways to live in the world, but not of it, as those who belong to Jesus.

We’ll start by looking at the things we do in our attempts to belong in the world. I’ll start a list, and you tell me what else can be added:

  • ____ like everyone else
    • Dress
    • Eat
    • Drink
    • Speak
    • Drive
    • Read
    • Watch
  • Hide our true selves
  • Avoid vulnerability (which might be the same as above)
  • Perform
  • Pretend
  • Over-commit
  • Make excuses (for ourselves and those to whom we want to belong)
  • Allow others to control us
  • Overlook others’ bad habits or narcissistic tendencies

When we’re living “of the world,” we put a lot of effort into achieving a sense of belonging. And most of it is false, not of our true selves. I’ve been learning over the last several years that as kids we subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) learned to hide our true selves. Maybe because we had to protect ourselves from very real harm. Or maybe because someone told us we weren’t good enough. Or maybe we just wanted to fit-in so much that we adapted to what and who were around us.

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

While hiding our true selves might have aided us in childhood, the false self doesn’t help us in adulthood. But because we’re accustomed to the person we’ve become, we don’t do the inner work of breaking through the walls to rediscover and release our true selves, that self God always intended us to be.

Ever wonder why midlife crises seem to be so real and not just urban legend? It’s been explained to me that it’s because all those defenses we put up in our younger years quit working, so we’ll either add another layer of defense to mask our insecurities and brokenness (hello, red sports car), or we’ll finally do the deeper work of peeling back the layers to get to our true selves.

The desire to belong is rooted deeply within all of us, but the false self twists it into distorted versions that aren’t true belonging and will do just about anything to achieve it. Just look at the list above! 😉 

The movie Mean Girls keeps coming to mind. I think of Lindsay Lohan’s character who enters the scene living out of her truest self possible — full of love and hope and security that came from living a life that was not “of the world.” But when she steps into public high school, the desire to belong takes over, and all kinds of walls get built, hiding who she really is. As the movie progresses, she lies, manipulates, cheats, and turns her back on true friends in order to fit in with the popular girls. At one point, it hits her that living out of her false self has cost her everything she’d really wanted, and she begins doing the hard, painful work of getting back to her true self.

The movie analogy oversimplifies the process we’re describing here, but it gives us some tangible scenarios to connect to these loftier, spiritual (and psychological) truths.

If we want to find true belonging, we’re going to have to find our true selves.

In my experience, it takes much longer than the last fifteen minutes of a movie, or even the reading of one blog post, to remove all the walls and layers, all the blinders and habits that hide the true self. But it’s worth the effort.

A really great first step is to understand how differently the true and false selves function. I found a great article that contrasts them. I’ll list a few here to cheer us onward toward true-self seeking:

The true self is who you are with God.
The false self is who you are trying to become with people.

The true self is timeless.
The false self is always altering.

The true self is in a state of rest.
The false self is restlessly needing to prove and protect itself.

The true self is content.
The false self is insatiable.

The true self doesn’t need to perform.
The false self needs to be impressive.

The true self is influenced by God’s heart.
The false self is influenced by social pressures.

The next step is spending quality with God in order to get really self-aware. I’ve found the Enneagram to be one of the most helpful tools in aiding my effort to learn more about my true self, as have conversations with licensed professionals and wise clergy. Add to all that time in Scripture, journaling, and getting into God’s presence so I can hear from him, and I’m much further down the path of uncovering my true self than I was ten years ago.

Most recently I’ve begun having spiritual responses to Scriptures that speak to the idea of dying to self. Jesus spoke of a seed that dies as it falls from the wheat, lifeless until it works down into the soil where it sprouts and new life is begun, more seeds are grown (John 12:24). Paul takes this same idea of dying to the old self and coming to life with Christ to our new self (2 Corinthians 5:17 is one).

I’ve been searching for the just right passage among all the options in the New Testament to share here, and I couldn’t believe it when I read Galatians 2:19-21 in The Message. So, here it is:

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

Step one — stop trying to live life by the world’s rules
Step two — Christ’s life shows us how to be God’s woman 😉
Step three — identify yourself completely with Christ
Step four — die with Christ to self, to ego, to needing others’ good opinions
Step five — trust that Christ lives in you
Step six — live by faith in Christ because HE LOVES YOU and gave His life for you

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

Friends, we try so hard, striving to belong, to fit in, to impress — and it’s all just so empty. But guess what gives life, what fills this internal drive to belong? Jesus. 100%, all the time, Jesus.

Don’t hear what is not being said — you are not a bad person. God loves you just as you are. He created you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet in His magnificent, perfect love for you, God desires for you to live your best life, as your best and truest self. 

Yes, it requires sitting in our emotions so we can become spiritually aware. Yes, it means we have to be willing to lay down the masks and peel back the layers, risking vulnerability. Yes, to live life as our true selves means putting all our trust in God, the One who knows us best — the One who has forgiven us and sent His Son to die for us SO THAT WE CAN LIVE. 

And belong.

We don’t have to keep striving and living the twisted version of belonging in the world that the false self tries so hard to attain because we’ve been made free of all of that. By dying to self and laying down the old self. By stepping into the new life Jesus is calling us toward. 

My prayer is that as you leave this space today that you’ll either begin, restart, or continue to find your true self. She’s beautiful. She’s gifted. She’s full of life and hope. She’s not afraid. And she’s discovering her truest place of belonging.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bits-and-pieces-1-e1630621292882.png
  • Another story comes to mind — a Greek myth about the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, and her daughter Persephone. In essence, Persephone got abducted by Hades, god of the underworld, because he wanted her as his wife. Demeter fought to get her daughter back and, depending on which version of the story your read, once Zeus stepped in to get her back, Persephone had to choose which world she wanted to belong to. When she ate pomegranate seeds, her fate was decided. She belonged to the underworld. Still her mother wouldn’t be deterred, so a compromise was struck, and Persephone spent two-thirds of the year on earth, one-third in the underworld.
    • Did you see what I did there? I slipped-in the pomegranate! Persephone was caught in this battle of belonging, and it was the pomegranate that helped give her definition. 
    • I’m fascinated to see how the WORLD has leaned into the deeper symbolism of the pomegranate, but in the end, we have to step back and remember who we are in Christ, how we’re shaped by His WORD.  
    • There’s a famous 1921 illustration by Virginia Frances Sterrett capturing the moment that Persephone, at first, refused a pomegranate offered to her in the palace of Hades. It turns out that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Pomegranate Seeds,” also captures the struggle between Proserpina (aka: Persephone) and Pluto (aka: Hades) as Proserpina is tempted by a pomegranate that happens to be the last piece of fruit in all the world — in case you wanted further reading.

Virginia Frances Sterrett | Persephone | Art Deco Illustration
  • If you’re interested in learning more about yourself via the Enneagram, I recommend starting with the book The Road Back to You.*
  • I hope you’ll use your Journal regularly as you embark on this self-awareness journey. What comes out of our heads and onto the paper is often divine inspiration and revelation!
  • And, of course, our Belonging playlist has incredible music to encourage and equip you along the way.
  • Keep saying it, I belong to Jesus.

*this is an affiliate link, which means I’ll receive a bit of compensation

The featured photo is by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash.

True Belonging: World

In the first semester of my freshman year of college, a new, agnostic friend asked why I believed in Jesus. Her question held genuine curiosity, but my response lacked so greatly that I regretted my inability to speak my why, muchless sway her to follow Him. 

That day, my attempt to explain my faith came out as one, feeble word — because. And that frustrated me. Not only was I unable to articulate my reasons for following Jesus, but I was forced to question if I followed Jesus. I’d grown up in a healthy church, so I certainly knew of Him. I even knew stories in the Bible. And for a lot of my growing up years, Jesus and I had spoken daily. But in that season, I’d wandered far from Him and felt the tension of having one foot in faith and the other in the world.

God’s Word for Me

At my lowest point a year later, I grappled with a darkness I’d never known before, and, gratefully, I reached for the right resource, the dusty Bible on my shelf. When I opened it, having no clue where to look nor what I needed, I said a simple prayer — help. And the craziest thing happened. From within the book, a tiny piece of paper fluttered to the floor with the address for Isaiah 41:10. I quickly looked it up, and its words brought tears, not because I felt conviction or regret, but because God’s Word spoke a truth into my heart that I desperately needed. He was with me. He would help me. 

From that moment on my search for truth began in earnest. It was slow going for a few years, ebbing and flowing among the distractions and passions of a 20 year old, but not long after I married, at the ripe old age of 22, I found a church. And my life has never been the same.

I started reading God’s Word with two sets of believers in that church — a Sunday School class who were in the same stage of life and faith as my husband and me, and a group of women who were leap years beyond me in their faith journey. But they came alongside me, training me up in the ways of the Word and the world, which I discovered needed distinction, as well as, definition.

John 17:13-19

This week’s text juxtaposes ‘word’ and ‘world’ to emphasize the bold claim that while Jesus’ followers would be hated by the world, God’s word would make them holy and anchor them in truth. As you read, note how many times ‘world’ is used:

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

John 17:13-19, NLT

Eight times in the NLT ‘world’ makes an appearance in seven short verses — a clue that Jesus is making a significant point we’re meant to grasp:

  1. Jesus is with the disciples in the world.
  2. The world hates the disciples because…
  3. They do not belong to the world…
  4. Just as Jesus does not belong to the world.
  5. Jesus is not asking God to take the disciples out of the world but for God to keep them safe.
  6. The disciples don’t belong to the world any more than Jesus does.
  7. God sent Jesus into the world.
  8. Jesus is sending the disciples (and future believers, see verse 20) into the world.

Not Belonging

At first glance, these prayers of Jesus seem repetitive and obvious. I can picture restless, yet-to-be-clued-in disciples opening an eye to squint at Jesus, wondering why they couldn’t just get on with conquering the Romans, ‘cuz, duh, the world was rotten. The world they lived in held hardships and injustice that they were ready to make right. After all, the Messiah was in their midst.

But, instead, Jesus poured out over them deep, spiritual truths intended to help them make sense of their holy discontent, their feelings of things not being right. Because they weren’t. 

They didn’t belong to the world.

Once the disciples had been given God’s word, which one commentator describes as “the revelation of God as a whole” (Cambridge Bible), they no longer belonged to the world as unbelievers would. Another theologian explains that to receive the word of God is to be hated by the world (Bengel’s Gnomon). 

As a person who has been searching for the meaning and a place of belonging, this antithetical statement of not belonging screams of deeper ideas I don’t fully understand. Yet, the longer I sit with it, the more I sense my mind wrestling with it.

And I begin to see for myself that the word received by a believer brings about an immediate reaction by the world — resistance, antagonism, hatred. God gifts us with Himself, His Son, His Spirit, and His Word, but the world opposes all of it. Hence, the world opposes us. 

We don’t belong to the world.

Into the World

It’s important, I think, for us to push and pull with these ideas until something like comprehension begins to take shape. Because while we don’t belong to the world, we do live in it. And, Jesus sends us out into it.

This prayer, however, proves that Jesus doesn’t send us into the world that hates us without power and protection. His request that God keep the disciples (and us) safe, specifically from evil, reveals His heart for our good. This is no heartless god who throws its followers to wolves, hoping that one might survive long enough to do its bidding. No, this is the God of the Universe, the One of All Power, who surrounds us with His angels (Luke 4:10, Psalm 34:7) and holds us in His victorious hands (Isaiah 41:10). 

Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash

And, as often happens with Jesus, the very thing that begets the hatred of the world is what equips and empowers us — God’s word, both the ““the revelation of God as a whole” and His Word. Verse 17 reveals in greater detail what the word of God does within its believers. It makes us holy.

In a remarkable usage of words, John helps us see that the word makes us separate from the world just as the word makes the world hate us, but the word also sets us apart from the world because it makes us holy.

And that’s how we’re sent into the world. Holy. Set apart. Protected. Armed with God’s truth.

Jesus’ sacrifice makes all this possible. Not by our doing. Not by our striving. But by His dying and defeat of death. These disciples (and we) are sent into the world to love people as Jesus would love them (Matthew 22:37-40) and to make disciples who will follow Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20 ). And as we step into the world, it serves us well to know the world will resist God’s word and us. It hated Jesus. It’ll hate us. And that’s why we’ll find ourselves in seasons and places where the opposition will make us acutely aware that we don’t belong to the world.

Unpack This Hot Mess, Shelley

Word. World. Hatred. Holiness. It’s all so jumbled and intermingled that our minds start to numb and our eyes cross. But wait! Sweet sister, this journey of finding belonging is aided by this passage because it helps us understand where we don’t belong — the world.

The world is fallen. Disease and death, hurricanes and heart attacks, earthquakes and other elements of nature wreak havoc on a daily basis.

The world has evil. God’s Word makes it clear that we have an enemy who is always on the prowl, like a lion, ready to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Evil is real. And too often it wins the battles here on earth.

The world is full of broken people. In His infinite wisdom and compassion, God has given us free will. We can choose to follow and love Him, or we can choose to go our own way, giving in to our carnal, sinful selves. And lots of people do, making life here on earth violent and tragic.

The world — full of broken people and an enemy who lies like no other — also presents messages that absolutely conflict and stand opposed to every truth of God’s word. We’re offered choices at every turn to believe what the world has to say or what God’s word says. This was the tension I lived in for years as I struggled to make sense of all the messages. I’m so grateful that God continues to use His word to open my eyes to His ways and truths because living in the world but not being of it is oh-so hard.*

But we can take this prayer of Jesus in John 17 with us into the world and remember its truths. God goes with us. He protects us. He sets us apart with His holiness. And His Son died so that all this can happen. No matter what the world’s hatred looks or feels like, we can remember two truths — we don’t belong to the world. But we do belong to Jesus.

*”Being in the world but not of it” is a Christian idea that derives implicitly from this passage!

  • Journal your thoughts about what it means to be in the world but not of it. How does unpacking this section of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples help you gain a deeper, more personal understanding?
  • “This Is Where I Belong,” a song by Housefires on our Belonging playlist, is a spontaneous worship song with few words, which makes it the perfect one to have playing on repeat when you feel the tension of living with one foot in your faith and the other in the world or when you feel the isolating hatred of the world backing you into a corner. This is truth. This is what we anchor ourselves in:

This is where I belong, held by the arms of love
Oh this is where I belong, held by the arms of love
Love don’t let me go, don’t let go

Featured photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

True Belonging: Gospel

Tim Keller says, “The Gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”  

Gospel. As Christians, we hear this word and often make the quick assumption that we know what it is and move on, which is a dangerous practice because what some have been discovering is that most Christians only know the first half of the gospel, as illustrated by John 3:16 —

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

We’ve been taught throughout our lives that putting our faith in Jesus is the whole enchilada. You’re saved. You’re good. Of course, coming to believe in Jesus is HUGE. But salvation is not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning.

The Full Gospel

There’s actually a second half of the Gospel, as defined, ironically, by 1 John 3:16 —

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

First half — Jesus died for us. Second half — so we can lay down our lives for others.
First half — Jesus loved us. Second half — so we can love the world.
First half — Jesus saved us. Second half — so we can grow in His likeness for the good of others.
First half — salvation. Second half — sanctification.

In the Seedbed Daily Text post I read last spring that sparked this series, JD Walt spoke of these two halves: “The gospel comes in two massive movements: believing and becoming. We believe in Jesus. We become like Jesus” (Daily Text, April 16, 2021).

What we’ve been exploring throughout this series is what JD calls the bridge — the way of moving from believing to becoming, which he calls the way of the cross. And, the way of the cross is the way of belonging to Jesus.

This path, like a bridge stretching across the wide expanse of a canyon, helps us move from first-half-of-the-gospel-living into the full gospel.

Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash

The Bridge

On this blog, I write from the assumption that you are a believing, devoted follower of Jesus who seeks to become more like Him. Whether you’ve been able to put words to it before or not, you’re ready to live into this second half of the gospel. Which is why you’re here. Our cultivation of the Word and Spirit here each week is meant to aid us on this journey of sanctification. 

But today. Today, let’s zoom in on “The Way of Belonging to Jesus” by looking at what we’ve learned about belonging, and we’ll see that we’ve already been building the bridge:

  • We have always belonged to our Father, and He gave us to Jesus. So now we belong to Jesus. 
  • We are adopted into God’s family — our spiritual place of belonging.
  • We are heirs to all God has to offer, which means we’ve been gifted much love, grace, wisdom, patience, goodness, kindness, etc. Belonging means receiving and sharing.
  • We are one among many in the family of God.
  • We’ve been given God’s name, a name that holds unfathomable power and unites us to God.

Put all that together, and we get the truth of how our identity defines our belonging. When we truly belong to Jesus, our identities become shaped more and more by Him, less and less by the world. Belonging to Jesus means we don’t belong to the world anymore.

It also means we no longer belong to ourselves.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about belonging to a good, loving Father. We belong to the Son who gave us His very life while we were yet sinners so that we could have life with God. We’re not slaves to a cruel master. We’re not made to function as mindless robots. We’re called into a holy relationship with our Creator, the One who deemed it good and right to leave His heavenly home to walk among us. To die for us.

This is who we belong to. Not the world. Not ourselves. 

When Paul says it like this, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), he’s trying to help believers understand the truth we’re grappling with. It’s upside-down by worldly standards. We want to be in control. We strive for independence. We yearn for fame and glory. But with Jesus, all those vain, selfish desires dissipate in His love — the love we are meant to be rooted in.

Everything I’m writing here is what I’m discovering in my own spiritual journey. In this season where I’ve felt a bit immobile and ineffective, I’ve leaned further into my relationship with God. It started with wanting to know how to enter His presence and has turned into this search for joy and belonging. All of the learning and searching, studying and praying has converged into this awakening that I have not been living into the full gospel. Instead, I’ve been stuck somewhere on that bridge, aware there is more to faith than saying yes to Jesus yet not entirely understanding that to become more like Christ requires a sincere surrender of my ways and plans. It’s a genuine letting go of the world and self so I can grasp more of Jesus. 

So count it good news, friend — the further along the bridge we get from believing to becoming, the more our earthly longings will fade because our desires start to look ahead toward becoming more like Jesus. As a result, the things we crave transform into what He wants — in a most beautiful and perfect way.

Only Him

Because we were created to walk with God, it is only a relationship with Him that fills the void of wanting to belong. Yes, we are saved. And for that, heaven rejoices! But we’re also invited into a relationship that meets every desire for belonging we’ve ever had. So, as we cross over that bridge of belonging to Jesus, we enter into a more complete gospel. We step into the fuller, abundant life Jesus wants for us. Then we take all the love and truth and grace we’ve been given and share it with everyone God puts in our path. 

Photo by Spencer Goggin on Unsplash

Please hear this. While salvation may happen in an instant, sanctification is a lifelong practice. Becoming like Jesus takes time and intentionality, patience and perseverance. 

Also know that where we are on the path with Jesus determines our depth of assurance that we belong to Him. That’s why we say everyday, “I belong to Jesus!” We need to hear it so we can believe it. Over time, as we mature, we won’t have to say it as often because we’ll be living the truth of it.

In the here and now, continue the practices you’ve begun — prayer, study of God’s Word, stillness and solitude. Because the more you do so, the more your heart and mind will embrace the truth of your belongingness, the more you will leave behind the ways of the world, and the more you’ll become like Jesus, embracing the love of the Father and lighting up the world with it.

So, don’t stop, sister! You’re on a journey. This path has movement — from believing to belonging to becoming. You are discovering how to live out the full gospel, so take hold of what you’ve been given — that identity in Christ — and keep moving forward, seeking to leave behind the ways of the world and your own tendencies to take the reins. Instead, bask in the true belonging that comes with knowing Jesus and grow into His likeness more everyday. 

  • Take some time today to journal your thoughts about today’s content. Here are some questions to get you going: Do you believe that your relationship with Jesus can meet every desire for belonging you’ve ever had? What causes you to doubt this? What cravings for belonging are you feeling like can’t be met by Jesus? Where are you on that spectrum of believing, belonging, and becoming? What is one practice you do this week to help you move forward?
  • The Belonging playlist is one way to keep the truth that you belong to Jesus pouring out over you throughout your days. Push play and let the truth soak in. And, keep saying out loud, “I belong to Jesus!”

Featured photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

True Belonging: Name

My sweet Grandpa Camp, who lived to his mid-nineties, never knew his family of origin, and it amazed me that it never seemed to bother him. But as I’ve been pondering Jesus’ prayer in John 17, it strikes me that Grandpa must have been content in knowing that he belonged to the Camp family. Adopted. Loved. And given their name. 

Unlike my grandpa, I always knew my birth family. Always had their name. Always knew I belonged. But when Larry gave me his name, I felt as if we were stepping into our future together, united. For me, having the same name became a symbol of our belongingness, in a most shared way. 

I do realize not everyone’s stories end with a loving adoption or marriage, but the idea here transcends preferences and experiences. There’s something in a name (looking at you, Shakespeare). There really is.

John E. Camp, my grandpa 🙂

What’s In a Name?

Names can indicate family. I think before there were billions of people on our planet, life was simpler and people identified by patriarch —  take my last name as an example, Johnson. In some remote village one day long ago, a boy was known as Fred, John’s son. Even in the Bible we have Saul, son of Kish, or James and John, sons of Zebedee. 

Names can imply a person’s nature or character, such as Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. His name meant “supplanter” or “deceiver,” which was appropo since he had been known for taking things that weren’t his, like his brother’s birthright. But when he wrestled with God while on his journey home, Jacob changed. He transformed inwardly, spiritually. As a symbol of that change, God gave Jacob a new name — Israel. Often defined as “fighter of God,” Israel can actually be better understood as “he retains God” (see this site). The name change indicated the transformation within Jacob, as well as his relationship with God.

Names can hold power. A century or so ago, an American with the name Vanderbilt or Rockefeller would’ve been a person of wealth and esteem. Doors would have opened just because of the name. But, as we’ll see, it’s God’s name that holds all the power. 

Jesus Our Intercessor

As we read today’s portion of John 17, we’ll notice the given and belonging language carries over, but we’ll also see the power of a name. 

9 “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

John 17:9-12, NLT

I’ve used the NLT translation because I love the belonging language, but it turns out that in the Greek, the belonging part is only implied. Read verses 9 and 10 again in the NRSV to hear a truer rendering of the Greek:

9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

John 17:9-10, NRSV

They are yours.
All mine are yours.
And yours are mine.

Do you hear the implied belonging? It never gets old. 🙂 It also never gets old that Jesus intercedes on their behalf — and ours. Always and forever. Maybe you’re like me and are leveled at the idea of Jesus standing before God on His throne, in all His glory, speaking up for me, “Shelley really needs…” 

My heart is also tender as I reread how Jesus’ request in this particular prayer is not for everyone in the world but only for those who are His. Believers are special to Jesus because we’ve been given to Him. We’ve chosen to follow Him. We belong to Him. Yes, Jesus loves the whole world, but He gives extra care to those who are His.

God’s Name

It’s in verses 11 and 12 that name enters this holy outpouring. Jesus sets the stage — He’s departing soon, returning to His Father, which means He’ll be leaving His little flock unattended. Jesus embodies this beautiful picture of a shepherd who has guided and protected those He’s been given with great devotion and strength.

Photo by Jaka Škrlep on Unsplash

But, with His leaving, He calls on His Father for divine defense for His flock:

Protect them by the power of your name.

Protected by God’s name. Not an army of angels. Not some supernatural shield. But God’s name.

I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.

Then we come to understand that for the length of His time on earth, Jesus had great power of protection, and the source had always been God’s name. 

The Greek word used for “name,” onomati, means exactly what we’d assume — a proper name. Like, God. Aka: Elohim, El Elyon, El Shaddai, El Roi. But onomati comes with a lot of connotations, a weightiness of meaning that our simple word, name, fails to capture: 

“the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e. for one’s rank,  authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds etc.”

gospel-john.com  

For everything which the name covers. For God’s name that would encompass everything — all His goodness, all His love, all His holiness, all His glory, all His might, and all His power. One website I read put it this way — the idea of God’s name transcends anything our human minds can comprehend (chabad.org). We might have a slight grasp on how a name can carry power, but with God’s name, there’s no true understanding. However, we can take away that there is A LOT of power in that one holy name.

And we are covered by it. Protected with it. We can trust this as truth because Jesus prayed it.  

If that isn’t enough, Jesus slips in this little nugget — so that they will be united just as we are. The literal “so they may be one” translation evokes within me, once again, the idea of marriage (see Genesis 2:24). This knitting together elicits beauty and wholeness. Just as Jesus is given God’s name and they are one, we have been given God’s name, so we are one. There’s no fancy definition for the Greek word, hen, meaning one. It’s simply one

Being given God’s name makes us one with Him and comes with great power. I’ll ask you to soak in that for a while because this whole “being made one” idea comes up again later in this prayer.

Bulletproof

In the meantime, have you wondered what believers need to be guarded from? Perhaps the answer lies in the phrase, the world. When we live in the world, we become prey to the one who seeks to steal, kill and destroy us (John 10:10). Jesus made sure Peter was aware of this truth when He shared this shocker:

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32, NLT

Peter, like so many of us, thought he got it. He believed he understood why Jesus was here. He certainly grasped that Jesus was Messiah. We could say he walked with Jesus feeling pretty bulletproof — he had been given power to cast out demons and heal, after all. 

But, really, Peter only kinda got it — as demonstrated by his response to the above revelation, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” Of course, he wasn’t. That very night he denied knowing Jesus three times.

Friends, we are not bulletproof in this world. We are flesh and blood — we get sick, we fail, we die. But we do have what Peter had — God’s name. We are His daughters. We are His family and because of that, He guards us. 

I envision God speaking loudly from heaven, “She is mine! She has MY NAME!” And all the earth hears. Satan and his henchmen recoil because just in the hearing of God’s name, they know they are toast. They can’t win. They can’t have us.

So, here’s a heavy question: What if we lived as if that were true? 

What if we lived fully into the power that comes from living in the covering of God’s holy name? I think if I actually lived in the power of God’s name, I’d worry less. Instead, I would trust that God has it all in hand. In His holy hands. 

Peter learned to live like that. Once Jesus walked the earth in His resurrected body with Peter a few times, forgiving and commissioning him, Peter finally got it. He lived in humble confidence of Jesus, to whom he belonged, for the rest of his days. He lived a life of abandoned faith, surrendered to the call Jesus gave him — no matter the cost. And we’re here today because of Peter and so many others like him who have gone before us and lived into the power that comes from the name of Jesus.

You belong to Jesus in the most loving, holy way. You were given to Him by the God who created you. You’ve even been given His name, a name that holds unfathomable power and unites you to your Father. So, God’s Daughter, how will you let this truth change you?

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  • Take some significant this week to simmer in these questions, then Journal your responses:
    • How would you live differently if you truly lived in the power of God’s name?
    • How does it change the way you think and feel and act knowing that you’ve been given God’s name?
  • “I belong to Jesus.” Keep saying it. Make it a breath prayer — breathe in, “I belong.” Breath out, “to Jesus.”
  • Soak in the songs on our Belonging playlist. It’s just another way to get it into our heads and hearts that we are true daughters of the Lord Most High. And that we can live like in that power!

Featured photo by Tiffany Chan on Unsplash

True Belonging: Identity

Holy discontent — an impression that something spiritual isn’t quite right or enough. A holy notion that an experience should be better or more. As I’ve learned and prayed about holy discontent, its truth has nestled itself into my soul then bloomed into the realization that’s how I’ve been feeling.

I think back to Easter Sunday 2021, one I’d anticipated since Easter-in-person had been shut down by COVID. To be with other believers, celebrating our Savior’s resurrection, elated me! My anticipation of cheering Jesus’ defeat of death rose within me as we stepped into the sanctuary. The music launched into lyrics of hallelujah, but the people barely sang. They seemed half asleep, not nearly as ecstatic as I’d imagined. The celebration fell flat. My disappointment threatened to steal my joy.

Similarly, my husband and I have felt discouraged as we visit churches in our new town. Sermons feel like fluff. Energy levels are more like snooze on a Monday morning than soul-giving life on a Sunday. I think I’ve even wondered, is this it? Do we have to settle for less? And I realize these feelings are that of holy discontent.

Then we went to the New Room Conference ten days ago. Where we felt the move of the Spirit. Where we experienced what we’ve been longing for — believers who are awakening to the full gospel, to all that Jesus is and has to offer. Where people worship Jesus like it’s a Saturday at their favorite football stadium instead of a boring lecture they can’t wait to get out of on a Friday. THIS is what our souls have been seeking. 

My hope is reenergized. My desire for finding a new church is renewed. New Room reminded me there are other believers out there who are awakening — and I am ready to find them in Texas! Well, that’s a pretty big search demographic, but you know what I mean.

Our Identity

My holy discontent defined, I can now look at my experience at New Room and see the longing of my heart reflected among believers who are becoming more and more surrendered to God’s work and way. I also sense that space in me that desires true belonging opening further. At New Room, I felt a spiritual kinship with 2000 people, almost all of whom I have never met, because together we claimed our identity in Jesus. As we corporately allowed the work of the Spirit to disentangle our messiness, holiness burst forth and we knew — we know! — that we belong to Jesus. Having our identity thus established, our souls basked in the glory we found in the presence of King Jesus. Bowed low, we could look up. Hands opened, our hearts widened. Minds freed, we could breathe in all truth. 

Remembering our givenness — from God to Jesus — mingled with this renewal, a response has been brewing inside me. I think it boils down to this simple yet profound truth: my belonging to Jesus means I also belong to a family of believers who yearn for the same things I do — to belong, to have purpose, to be loved, to love. And as I worshiped with every fiber of my being the last night of New Room, the Spirit spoke. I understood the discontent I’d been carrying, but I also saw with a convicting clarity that I have a responsibility and a role because I’m part of something bigger than myself.

And that’s when I saw the man two rows in front of us — a man whose body language at once bespoke brokenness and resistance. In my spirit, I knew he was being called by Jesus to go forward, to the stage where all were invited to step through an open door to receive whatever new word Jesus had for us. The longer I prayed and worshiped, the stronger the feeling grew, like an electric current flowing from my heart to my fingers. I prayed he’d give in and go. But when I realized he was losing the battle in his mind, the Spirit pounded my heart — my response was to invite him. A stranger. Yet a brother. So, finally, I obeyed. In my love of Jesus, for the body of Christ, and for this man I’d never met, I wove my way to him and looked him in the eye, explaining that I thought he should go — that Jesus was waiting for him. Puzzled, and perhaps amused, he asked, you’re telling me you think I need to go up there? I nodded. And with a weepy grin, I said I’d been feeling it for twenty minutes. I left him then only to continue to pray for him. The wrestling match finally ended, and he made his way to the front. I cheered aloud when I caught sight of him on the stage, stepping through the door of this holy, surrendered moment.

After that incredible service, this man made his way to my husband and me. Our new friend, Bruce, shared his story and we prayed. His words blessed us as we felt the thickness of the Spirit hovering with us. I pray I’ll never forget the relationship between knowing my givenness — my belonging to Christ — and the responses asked of me. As a daughter of the Most High King, I receive His blessings and favor and love. I also receive responsibility — to act when called to do so. No matter how I feel or what I think. Because I belong, I am held by hands of strength and grace, and within those hands I can step forward full of faith into whatever God asks. Even encouraging a stranger to be brave.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I also had to be brave in order to encourage Bruce’s bravery. But because we’d both responded, our night ended with feeling the full force of our belonging. We sensed God’s presence and purpose. We knew we were seen by our Father in heaven. We have been able to step back into the world embraced and encouraged to continue moving forward in faith — because we know who we are and whose we are.

Crosses and Pomegranates

This sense of being part of something bigger than myself made me think of symbols that we humans create to show the world to whom we belong. In college I wore Greek letters of a specific sorority to indicate where I belonged. On any given weekend, hordes wear colors and shirts of their favorite teams to show the world where their loyalty lies, high-fiving total strangers after a touchdown because their jerseys match.

Christians wear crosses on clothing and jewelry as a symbol of our belonging — to show the world that our faith is in Jesus. I remember being in Israel, a place where people from all over the world mingle and mesh together. And even when we couldn’t speak to one another because of our differing languages, we could nod and smile with one another because our crosses spoke all that was needed. We belonged to Jesus. Which also meant, we belonged to one another.

Believe it or not, pomegranates have historically held a similar, though less recently obvious, place of such identification. The Temple that Solomon built, the very place where God’s presence resided, was decorated with images of the pomegranate (1 Kings 7:20), and along the hems of robes worn by priests in the Temple, elaborately created pomegranates hung (Exodus 28:33–35). Tradition holds that these pomegranates represented all the people of Israel, the seeds of God. The skin around those seeds, like God, held them all together — each seed belonging to the whole.  

If you cut open a pomegranate, you’d see 600-1000 arils (pockets of juice covering the seeds) packed into non symmetrical “ovaries,” all of which are wrapped in a tough outer skin. Alone each seed is nothing. But inside a ripened pomegranate, all the seeds together anchor the fruit inside. Likewise, we believers are nothing without the covering of the Spirit. On our own, without Jesus, we’re just dead seeds. Yet, once we are planted in Christ, our one seed becomes many. 

On the chance you might think I’m stretching this idea a little too far, I offer you Exhibit A, an 1847 painting by Sandro Botticelli called “Madonna of the Pomegranate:”

If we zoom in to look more closely at the pomegranate in Mary’s and Jesus’ hands, we see the details of seeds:

Depending on whose description you read, this pomegranate either symbolizes Jesus’ passion — the death He faces — or Jesus’ rebirth through resurrection. Either way, the pomegranate and its seeds remind us of Jesus’ greater purpose: to die for all, then to come back to life in order to offer life to all who will believe. Like a seed, which dies only to give more life.

Friends, we belong to Jesus. Just as a seed is part of the whole pomegranate, we too are part of the whole Church of believers of Jesus Christ. And as those who belong, we can receive the blessings of Jesus and respond in faith, trusting the hands that hold us will also lead us well. My prayer is that as we awaken to the truths of who we are in Jesus, we’ll also recognize those feelings of holy discontent — then find ways to either spread the awakening or seek it out. My guess is that feeding holy discontent requires a bit of both, so may our deep, spiritual longing for more and better awaken in us a desire to respond to all Jesus calls us toward. And we can do this in full faith because we are one among many in Christ Jesus!



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  • This week Journal about this idea of holy discontent. When have you felt discouraged, spiritually? What response could Jesus be asking of you?
  • I hope you’ve been making it a practice to say and pray the words, I belong to Jesus. I do pray that as you speak these words, their truth will lodge in your heart and become your reality. May you fully claim your identity in Christ.
  • Then as you worship, in person or with others, seek a deeper understanding of what it means to belong to the Body of Christ. Some of the songs on the Belonging playlist offer words to our searching (ie: “Belong to You” by Here Be Lions). We are daughters of God! We unite with all the saints! We belong to Jesus! Even if we worship in solitary spaces, let our revelation be that we are never alone because we sing with one another in the Spirit — because He calls us sons and daughters.

Featured photo by Refik Mollabeqiri on Unsplash

True Belonging: Heirlooms

Among other possible titles, I dubbed 2020 “The Summer of Moves” — my parents moved to a retirement community, my sons to an apartment, my husband and I to a new state. Boxes, packing paper, and tape ruled our evenings and weekends for months. 

One box slipped into the fray that I didn’t open till September. A box of my Great-Grandma’s teacups. I’d kept this box of treasures in a special place where the fragile contents could be safe until I was ready to make room for them in my new kitchen. I cleared two shelves, popped open the box, and delicately pulled out and unwrapped each cup and saucer.

Always one for a good puzzle, I enjoyed matching saucers and cups, reading the maker’s print on each one of them. After I hand washed and dried each one, I carefully stacked them in my cabinet, where they await my first neighborhood tea party.

When I opened that box, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting — vintage, family heirloom teacups. But what I found at the bottom of the box took my breath. Wrapped in old newspapers, a bowl, two glass cups, a men’s razor — like the kind that unfolds! — and aged women’s handkerchiefs revealed themselves to me. On the chance I were to wonder whose these were or where they came from, my thoughtful grandmother had written notes, labeling each one. So, now I have these treasures, including the notes in her handwriting. 

Call me sentimental, which I am, but that box was by far my favorite I’d opened, maybe ever. My mom and my grandma had taken care of these family gems, then with great trust passed them on to me. Can I just say how much I love them? And how giddy I am imagining myself doing the same with my granddaughter someday? (no, she isn’t born yet, but I can hope) 

John 17:6-8

Our John 17 passage for this week continues the given theme we uncovered last week, but it also offers us a glimpse into God’s heart behind sending Jesus. Read on! 

6 “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, 8 for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.”

John 17:6-8, NLT

Do those “give” words jump right out at you? 

Twice Jesus prays aloud to His Father about “the ones You gave me,” reiterating a phrase later, “You gave them to me.” Both of these phrases find their origin in the Greek verb, ekokas, meaning that God is actively doing the action. He is giving us — His children — to Jesus. At the time, God was giving the disciples to Jesus. Today, He continues to give us to Jesus.

The repetitive nature in this chapter emphasizes its importance of our givenness but also insinuates how this idea in Jesus’ day would have been received by the hearers. The disciples, over whom Jesus originally prayed this, would have needed to be confident of this truth — they were given by God to Jesus — because their faith would soon be tested with Jesus’ arrest and execution. Quite intentionally, Jesus poured on this idea of their having been actively given to Him by God so that when they looked back, they’d remember. They’d be assured. Their faith would hold strong. 

Revealing God

Digging a little deeper into these verses, we observe Jesus revealing God to the disciples. Take a minute to think back over all Jesus did and said while He ministered on earth — All the miracles. All the times He spoke aloud about God’s kingdom being here, now. All the lessons about loving enemies, expanding boundaries of what defined a neighbor, and how the first would be last and the least the greatest. In ALL of that, Jesus was revealing God to His disciples. 

I’ve never stopped to consider Jesus’ motive in all He did beyond assuming it was to prove who He was. But as I read these words, a prayer straight from the mouth of Jesus, I realize the truer motive was revealing God the Father. 

All Jesus’ teachings reflect the truth of who God is.
All Jesus’ healings demonstrate the power of God.
All Jesus’ miracles — like water to wine — reveal the goodness of God.
All Jesus’ words speak of the love of God — even the angry ones.
All Jesus’ actions — like dining with sinners — show God’s heart for everyone.

The next time we have a few minutes, we should reread the Gospel of John with eyes looking for all the ways Jesus reveals God. Perhaps we’ll come away with a better understanding of who God is. And when we do that, our trust in Him will break into all of our reactions and responses until — have you guessed it? — we begin to reveal God in all we do and say.

Oh, sister, let that soak in.

Gifts

Reading in the NLT, verse seven describes everything God had given Jesus as a gift. While still holding true to the given theme of the chapter, the Greek word usage here is different than in verses six and two. The word, dedōkas, means to give or gift, so whatever version we read, the idea is the same — everything Jesus possessed was given to Him by God. An added inference behind dedōkas is that this gift has “the intention (aim) that motivates the giving and the chain-reaction of giving-and-responding” (Bible Hub). In other words, Jesus knew God’s intent behind all the giving, and He responded accordingly. 

When I received those teacups and other heirlooms, I knew they were a gift from my mom and, by virtue, my grandma. I also knew my mom’s heart, or her intention, behind the gift held an expectation that I’d love and treasure these heirlooms. And because I had such understanding, the gift meant more and has evoked in me a grateful and loving response.

Because of Jesus’ intentionality to tell His disciples that He’d been given all things by God, we are able to witness Jesus’ humility and focus. Jesus never once took credit. He never lost sight of His mission. Instead, He took what God had gifted Him, put it all to good use, and pointed back to His Father at every step.

Then. Then, He passed it all to His disciples. Like an heirloom, Jesus handed His followers all those gifts — like knowledge and love and authority — His father had given Him. 

And they knew it. 

And Jesus was sure of it because the disciples had come to believe God had sent Him.

Do you wonder what all Jesus had been given? One way to know is to look at what He did. People have written books upon books on that subject. In fact, John ended his gospel with these words, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, NLT). John acknowledges the vastness of all Jesus did. Now we know every action Jesus took came from all He’d been given, with the heart of passing it along.

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

Go and Do Likewise

So, reach on out, sister. Stretch that hand out to receive all that Jesus has for you. And as you do, remember that every single ounce of love and grace and wisdom and patience came first from God, through Jesus, to you. You are an heir! And you’ve been handed the very best of gifts. Take them. Use them, reflecting God as you do. And in that way, you’ll keep passing them on.

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  • Thinking about all Jesus did, what do you see as some of the gifts (like love or authority) God gave Him? Write a list in your Journal then write a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for the gifts in our life. Then ask Him to show you how you might pass those on.
  • I hope you’ve been making it a practice to say — no, pray — the words, I belong to Jesus. Do it. Trust me.
  • There’s a fun song on the Belonging playlist called “Here In Your Love” by The Belonging Co. (how perfect is that?) that celebrates the truth that, because of Jesus, we’ve been gifted the ability to be in God’s love. All the time. And THAT is exactly where we belong!

Featured photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

True Belonging: Security

I sat in my car and stared at the looming building in the distance. I watched as women, Bibles in hand, poured out of their cars and headed toward the entrance. I said a prayer for peace and trust one last time then stepped toward the people I hoped would become my next place of belonging.

On my way to the door, I strolled behind a woman walking with a light-footedness that emanated joy. Then I saw two women converge and gleefully hug as though it had been ages since they had seen each other. 

My shoulders relaxed. It was already feeling familiar. 

After claiming a seat in the auditorium, the leader on stage declared her happiness at being back in person after the long year and a half of virtual meet-ups. Her exuberance bubbled as she spoke of “the feeling that there’s room for me here.” 

And I knew. There was room for me here.

Desire to Belong

On that day when I stepped into a new church with a new set of women for a new Bible study, I did so as an act of faith and hope. After years of deep connection in a church, with women who eagerly studied Scripture, prayed, and worshipped alongside me, my desire to belong to another group of women had grown. Yet I took that step with as much trepidation as thrill.

I fretted I’d be disappointed, but what I discovered were welcoming women who gathered with hearts full of gratitude. Not one in that room would ever take for granted the gift of gathering. 

I feared I wouldn’t fit in — no longer a leader, not of their denomination, genuine in my desire to go deep in my faith. But what I found were women who came from a variety of places and experiences yet hoped with a similar anticipation.

I worried — and this is true confession — I’d be among shallow, smiling faces who hid behind “I’m fine” masks. But who actually sat before me were women hungering for authenticity and true connection, for depth and transformation, for all the things I wanted.

In other words, I’d been needlessly anxious. Instead, everything that thrilled me about stepping into all the new came to fruition on that first Tuesday of fall Bible study. 

Why Belonging Matters

However, I must admit I disappointed myself for having all those worries. It felt faithless. Sure, I had taken those worries to God, naming them and giving them to Him, so they didn’t rule my heart or my decision to attend. But, they hovered in the background nonetheless.

Funny thing, though. The first person I sat next to was a woman who hadn’t been in any church for years and had decided to attend only an hour before coming. God in His grace put a woman next to me who needed more assurance than I. 

In that moment, truths about belonging became real to me. For all the chapters and articles I read about our human need for belonging, their facts and stats had felt more like textbooks during my undergrad than real life. But God in His wisdom handed me a firsthand opportunity to see and experience just how much we all desire to belong. 

Research shows that belonging is a primary human need (Gospel Coalition). In fact, a study at Florida State in 1995 states that the single quality most identified with satisfaction and well-being is having a place to belong (Roy Baumeister). Even God says in Genesis, after creating Adam, that it’s not good for man to be alone, so God created Eve (Genesis 2:18). Friends, we need each other. It’s not good for us to be alone. We need people in our lives who love us, who challenge and encourage us, who will explore the world and work to make it a better place alongside us.

Belonging as a concept is not lofty or unattainable. Our need for it is as real as the air we breathe and the food we eat. Yet, we’re proving to be one of the loneliest generations ever. Disappointed and disconnected. Deserted and desolate. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Brene Brown, a writer and speaker who has taught much about this basic desire, calls belonging an innate need to be part of something larger than ourselves:

“Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.”

Braving the Wilderness, 31-32

Isn’t that the truth? How often do we settle for “fitting in” or subconsciously work for approval instead of being ourselves and doing the real work of belonging? When we fail to live in authentic relationships, comparison, envy, and resentment become our realities. 

Seeing the three words above brings to mind a movie, Mean Girls — a story of the “popular” girls who make life miserable for everyone at their high school. One girl’s desire to belong to this group leads her to cave-in to the ploys of forcing herself in. The result is embarrassment, misery, and a loss of true self, not to mention the loss of the true friends she’d once had. While a movie, the reality it represents captures our truth. Too often we manipulate, force, and attempt to “please” our way into a place of belonging.

But that way of “belonging” is counterfeit. As a result, our desire for true belonging only grows stronger, and we keep trying harder.

Jesus’ Way

Jesus has a better way.

The same Gospel Coalition article offers insight on what Jesus’ way looks like: 

“When we’re secure in Christ, we’ll be established and rooted in how he has made us, and we will belong to him and, in a sense, to ourselves. We can become who we were meant to be–fully adopted and secure children of God.”

Jeremy Linneman

Being “secure in Christ” is key. If we’re to find a true place of belonging where we feel loved by and safe in the people God has given us, we must first be secure in our relationship to Christ — we are His beloved daughters, adopted into His family by His act of love and His offer of grace — and in Christ because He will always be for us, never against us. We will always belong with Jesus. 

This security in Christ also affects how we view ourselves. When we recognize we were created on purpose for a purpose, we can step into the world secure in how God has made us. (I highly recommend Psalm 139 for assurances of this). When we embrace this truth, we live more like the person God intended us to be. And, we’ll be drawn to others who live the same way.

If we think back to our study of John 17:1-5 last week, there is yet another element of our proven, collective belonging to Christ — our givenness. We’ve always belonged to God, and He intentionally gave us to Jesus to love and shepherd and protect. We belong to Jesus!

Say it with me — I belong to Jesus!

Sisters, if we can rest in the truth that we belong to Jesus, we can deepen our roots in His love and be able to move into authentic relationships, discovering a true belonging here on earth. We need it. We were created for it.

Pomegranates

Despite my searches to detect how the pomegranate might be a motif for belonging, my investigations have only unearthed the same references to its symbolism of fruitfulness and eternal life, of fertility and holiness, even of power and royalty — but not, specifically, belonging. 

But, now, as I read over all my notes about this odd little fruit that packs about 1000 juicy seeds per orb, I see the pomegranate as a cord woven through the whole of history, making its appearance in Greek myths, ancient medicinal journals, highly acclaimed artwork, and in holy books like the Bible. I’m no fruit aficionado, but I suspect there is not another fruit so fully threaded throughout the ages. The rough feeling, not-quite-apple-looking fruit that is thought to be the “forbidden fruit” of Eden has even become the promise of all that is life-giving in today’s get-healthy culture. It turns out the pomegranate is steadfast, a constant over centuries. It binds our stories together. It offers us a link to other people. So, we could say, the pomegranate helps us feel part of something greater than ourselves.

Hence, the pomegranate becomes our symbol of belonging. Just as Jesus describes our truest belonging in John 15 as the vine attached to the branch, the pomegranate hangs from the tree of God’s purposes for us. Like the pomegranate, we’re connected to our Branch, and His love flows through us, filling us with our source for security in who we are and how we’ve been made. And that security is what enables us to bravely seek the true belonging we crave.

So. Take a look around this tree. There’s room for you here.

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  • What hit your hot button as you read? Depth of desire to belong? People-pleasing as a substitute for true belonging? Not believing God’s hand in creating you on purpose, for a purpose? Or something else? Journal about the thing thing that raised your heart rate or made your stomach twist, asking God to reveal to you what you need most in this season of seeking true belonging.
  • Here’s a great practice I’ve been doing since JD Walt suggested it: as often as possible, say the words, I belong to Jesus. Really. Out loud and in your head. As you wash dishes or drive the car. Make it a prayer, I belong to Jesus, over and over and feel how your heart starts to change — and how your head starts to believe.
  • Another way to keep our heads and hearts focused on the truth of who we are is to soak in the music that says so, like on the Belonging playlist: “You Belong” by Francesca Battistelli will cheer you on!!!

Featured photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

True Belonging: Givenness

I felt the weight of the moment, a transitioning of season and place, as my dad and I did the slow walk toward the altar. Both our emotions brimming near the surface, we silently stepped toward the future. Stopping within steps of my almost-husband, the pastor looked at my dad and asked, “Who gives this bride to be married?”

His response, though scripted, held much meaning — he was giving me to Larry for safe-keeping, for treasuring, for a life together. Dad was offering his blessing over our marriage in this traditional act of giving. Not delivered over as a possession, nor handed over as an object, but given in love, for love.

Equally symbolic and literal, I then moved my arm from my Dad’s to my groom’s. I had been given. Beautifully, lovingly given. Though I didn’t have words to describe what I felt on that summer day thirty years ago, I do now — I treasured that moment of givenness because I felt the immensity of my dad’s love. I felt how much I belonged. I know my dad didn’t take the moment lightly, nor did I. We each made a choice in that given moment. And, now Larry and I do our best to live into the trust and love by which we were given to one another.

The Bride of Christ

Whether you find yourself married in this current season of life or not, you are the bride of Christ. Ephesians 5:25-29 explains this analogy best:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.

The church is Christ’s bride, presented — like brides at an altar — with radiance and holiness. 

We are the bride! Jesus is our bridegroom. Friends, can we embrace the truth that we are the ones given to Jesus? We’re the ones given to Him for care and safe-keeping, for unconditional love and teaching, for the kind of cleansing that leaves us new and holy. Because He loves us.

At this point you may be asking what any of this has to do with our new series, True Belonging, and I’m so excited to answer your question!

True Belonging

Last week I shared with you the revelation that struck me when I read JD Walt’s words: the bridge between believing in Jesus and becoming like Jesus is belonging to Jesus. That aha moment has at once broadened my understanding of what it means to belong and made me hungrier for it. So, here we are — seeking to better understand what true belonging means.

As I prepared for today’s post, I tried to think of a time when I had experienced givenness. When the holy exchange at the altar came to mind, I wondered if that was a good thing. Did I like the idea of being given? But as I allowed myself to re enter that moment, all I felt was a depth of belonging with my dad and my husband. There was something about the act of being given in love that elicited a truer, deeper sense of belonging. 

We begin to see the picture of what true belonging is — like a bride stepping toward her bridegroom, given in love, for love.

Looking Up

We’re unpacking John 17 in this series because it holds within it much belonging AND given language. But first, let’s recall the context of this chapter. Jesus is speaking His final words over the disciples the night of His arrest. He speaks words of great importance — the meat of the message He wants them to remember. Chapter 17 is the culmination of this “final discourse” where John captures the prayer Jesus spoke over these faithful followers, so let’s make note of how John sets up the prayer: 

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed

John 17:1, NIV

Jesus looked up, toward heaven — the same thing He did at Lazarus’ tomb before praying aloud for God to raise him to life. Jesus looked up and prayed aloud. We might wonder why, when all He’d have to do is think the thought and it would be done, that He’d go to such great lengths to look up and pray aloud. In John 11, Jesus gives us the answer Himself: “for the benefit of the people standing here, that they might believe you sent me” (verse 42).

We can take that Lazarus-lesson in John 11 with us into this prayer for the disciples in John 17. Jesus prayed aloud because wanted His disciples to benefit from the hearing of His words — in the moment and for all time. He looked up to His Father and prayed out loud with purpose, meaning, and for longevity. For all believers. For us.

So, as we step into this prayer together, let’s look up to the Father and say aloud, “We are here, Lord. Speak.”

Photo by Jasmin Ne on Unsplash

Givenness

As Jesus looks up toward His Father, to whom He belongs, He prays these words: 

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. 2 For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. 3 And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. 4 I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.

John 17:1-5, NLT

I’d love for you to look back at this passage and make note of each use of the word give/gave/given

(It helps to note that in the first three verses Jesus speaks of himself in the third person.) Let’s see what we learn about givenness:

  • Verse one — he (Jesus) can give glory back to you (God)
  • Verse two — you (God) have given him (Jesus) authority; he (Jesus) gives eternal life to each one you (God) have given him (Jesus).
  • Verse four — the work you (God) gave me (Jesus) to do

All that beautiful givenness language is repetitive, helping us recognize the importance of Jesus’ message. It can cause us to pause, to think: for something or someone to be given, that something or someone must first belong

  • Jesus had been given glory by God, to whom it had first belonged, then He gave it back to God. 
  • Jesus had been given authority by God, to whom authority had belonged, in order to give eternal life to us. 
  • Jesus had been given a great work to do — a work God possessed and shared with Jesus. 

And for our purposes, the end of verse two really jumps out — Jesus had been given people to shepherd. WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN! For us to be given to Jesus implies we first belonged to God the Father. We belonged, and we will always belong.

This is a simple, basic reading of the text, but it brings us into greater understanding of what true belonging looks like: our belonging is often revealed in those moments of givenness. And never more perfectly so than us having been given to Jesus by the Father.

Jesus ends this section with these words, “Now, Father, bring me into the glory that we shared before the world began.” I can picture that brilliantly bright and beautiful glory that reflects God’s essence and presence wrapping Jesus in its rays and bringing Him back to His greatest place of belonging. With God.

The language of us having been given to Jesus will come up again three more times in this prayer. We’ll watch for these references as we go because we know that when words, ideas, and images are repeated in Scripture, they’re important.

But, I think we’re already grasping the greatness of our givenness. Sweet bride of Christ, you’ve been given to Jesus by the Father — in love. For love. 

We stand at a threshold of great transformation! To recognize our givenness is to realize we belong. Think how much God must love us to have given us to His beloved, most trusted Son. To be cared for. To be treasured. To find life in Him.

I’m looking up to God and praying aloud, “Father, I thank You for your love that knows no boundary — it flows through every age, every person, for all time. I thank You that we have been given to Christ, our bridegroom, who looks upon us with such love that we feel all at once just how much we belong to Him. (say aloud with me) Jesus, I belong to You. Amen!”

  • On your own, reread John 17:1-5 aloud. As you hear the words of givenness pour out, allow your heart to embrace the truth that you’ve been given to Jesus — in love, for love. Then journal about how your holy, divine givenness implies your place with God — that you belong! How does that make you feel?
  • Throughout the coming week, immerse yourself in words that speak of this place of belonging to Jesus by listening regularly to songs that say such things. The Belonging playlist I created has several of those kinds of songs. Here are three that are especially worshipful:
    • “I Belong to Jesus” by Selah
    • “Belong to You” by Here Be Lions
    • “I Belong to You” by Bethel

Featured photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Five Minute Friday — Rescue

Paddling and kicking, I keep my head above the waves, water splashing and stinging my eyes. I inhale another raspy breath as I see a swell headed my way. Fighting against the current threatening to pull me under, I wonder how long I can keep treading water.

Seconds from giving up, I see it. Through the misty water sprays, I see His hand. I raise mine unsteadily toward His and feel myself lifted. Saved. Secure. My breathing slows as my body rests upon the side of the boat rocking in the sea, and I finally look up, my eyes meeting His.

Compassion shines brightly, calling me closer to Him. Instinctively, I lean toward Him and whisper, “Thank You.” That’s when His smile broke out freely, but His head shook from side to side.

“Where is your faith, daughter?”

That’s when truth dawned — I never had to be in that water alone, working so hard to stay alive in the stormy sea. He was with me. Always with me. Faith to live dependent on Him, trusting in Him to lead me and equip me, showing me what is mine to do.

Featured photo by Sue Carroll on Unsplash

True Belonging: One Sojourner’s Search

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.

Belonging

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.

Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

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. 

Curiosity

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!

Photo by Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash

John

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. 

Belonging Here

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!!

*this is an affiliate link, which just means I’ll earn a wee bit from any purchases made
Featured photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash