“I know he got a plan, I know I’m on your beams” — Kanye West
Belonging. Somewhere to go, someone to know. To be known, to be home.
Fellowship is both a worthwhile pursuit and a grand achievement. I am better for it; in fact I’m still here, whole though scarred, because of it. In gatherings where it’s been promoted, at times I’ve been afraid, suspicious, discouraged and isolated, but ultimately, enriched. There is refinement where varied temperaments and perspectives come together in humble respect. Though rare, in fellowship we can reach a pure state where all involved submit to the strange yet empowering experience of accepting and learning from each other.
But it is often pimped and plastered on social media outlets and elsewhere, illumined by mood-lighting on various filtered mediums, thus reduced, too regularly, to a kitschy farce. I don’t always find it glamorous, I don’t find it easy to describe, and I don’t find the returns to be immediate; I’m not as interested in making it seem so as I used to be. When fellowship itself becomes the substance of someone’s life, and not the manifestation of inner substance which fellowship can afford, shared and celebrated and developed, you may just be getting the thinning vapors from something far more powerful. Camaraderie is a mighty force, changing lives and communities; you join in, you don’t harness it. To me, it’s not a plaything. A tool, not a toy, or a trophy. And a tool to sharpen one another, not a networking strategy to chase success. I can’t get behind business-like relations outside of the office; I don’t even want them within it.
You can’t network yourself out of loneliness.
Perhaps the most consistent concern of my young life has been that of being desirable. A strange and undercutting admission, maybe, but an honest one. My methods of seeking that status have become more sophisticated and less haphazard over the years, but I still play at the game. Competition still infects my interactions. I’ve turned against friends who’ve encroached on my “territory” — like a wounded animal. Because if that’s all you think you have, you’ll fight viciously.
When it comes to friendships, particularly in groups, I can be quite doubtful about my contributions to each setting. Am I annoying to them? Should I say nothing when I want to say everything? I often withdraw from intimacy not because I’m told to back off, but because I feel undesirable and fear being dismissed. Perhaps I’ve been embarrassed one too many times. I cut things off before someone else can. It can be easier to do relationships in a fleeting manor, adopting new social codes and setting new priorities with each new social sphere you enter. But this is taxing, and disingenuous. There are results, I’m sure, but the price of being a chameleon, even if done judiciously, can be too high for my taste. It truly is a risk to love, to offer your feelings definitively and stake your composure on the understanding of another, yet I still find that price fair.
I think one of the most radical things we can offer — to the world at large and those dear to us — is consistency. But bringing the same “you” to each new gathering, where things don’t overlap with prior experience and where you are not known, is difficult. Who will see you as you change? Who will see you in whole and not in pieces?
I’ve come to realize that I crave intimate familiarity. It is hard to find. Many don’t; they just get by on substitutes. Distractions abound, things to fill in the gaps of peace temporarily. But there comes a point of reckoning, always. Then, it’s interesting how useless my individuality can feel when I don’t share it with anyone.
As close friends know, I’ve become a champion of the concept of self-forgetfulness, which has allowed me to see God, others and myself more clearly. It’s not an obscure meditative practice, just the choice to stop my agitated search for affirmation, remind myself of what I have, and rest in whatever company I find myself in, because my worth does not come from them nor can it be taken by them. It’s simple and I think it’s working, however slowly.
To dwell comfortably within a community hasn’t been easy for me. The preoccupations alluded to above ensured that, but have been slowly crumbling after years of use. I didn’t trust myself to be taken care of in anyone else’s hands. I’ve had a hard time thinking that I could be immersed in a collective and still maintain thorough individuality, which I value. Much suspicion and resentment has had to be put to rest. These days I wish for company more than solitude.
There are people who’s attention I crave at this very moment, and jealousy I feel when I see them give it to someone else. There’s a hypersensitivity and hysteria that arises in me when I feel my grip on social situations slipping. I can get strangely reactive and possessive when I sense my stock falling. I may share worthless information to hold onto my “moment” for a little longer. I may quickly retreat and plot some return to social prominence. Or I may simply despair.
“Your Father is watching over you. He is jealous concerning you because you belong to Him.” — Martyn Lloyd-Jones
To think about my own cheap jealousy that too often rules my life, and then the pure jealousy that emanates perpetually toward me from Christ, is astonishing. If I really understood what this meant, I would likely never be jealous of anyone again.
I think of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, depicted in Luke 19, His love for the people evident. They would soon crucify him and he knew it. Yet he wanted them.
He knew what it was like to long for those who did not long for him.
“I don’t want anyone else to have you because I want to have you.” Just as I desire to say that to someone, and have that said of me, it in fact already has been. I’m discovering that Christ is protective of his own. He doesn’t want us connected to anything rotten or filthy, though we may want it deeply. It’s hard for me to think of jealousy in a way that isn’t perverse, discontent idolatry, as in my case, yet it exists in a way that is strong and pure. We are desired with more feeling than we’ve ever desired anything or anyone in this world.
That’s the sort of thing that changes your life.
“Let the sweet hope that thou art mine
My life and death attend
Thy presence through my journey shine
And crown my journey’s end”
One of my favorite hymn writers is Anne Steele, who publicly grappled with faith in her hymns, with abnormal acuity and honesty. She has contributed to a template for me to ask God what I really want to. Yet her questions are often better than mine, and pay God far more respect than I do. I love her hymns very much, and I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t insist that God is indeed good and very interested in our lives, and in fact eager to help. There is security.
A few stanzas:
“Why sinks my weak, desponding mind?
Why heaves my heart the anxious sigh?
Can sovereign goodness by unkind?
Am I not safe, since God is nigh?
My God, if thou art mine indeed,
Then I have all my heart can crave;
A present help in times of need;
Still kind to hear, and strong to save.
Forgive my doubts, O gracious Lord!
And ease the sorrows of my breast;
Speak to my heart the healing word,
That thou art mine, and I am blest.”
Sometimes my truest concerns and desires are diluted in the delivery. Not that they are unknown or unreceived, but that in fear I lose the comfort of assurance. It is hard to “ask in faith, without doubting” (James 1:6), whether for wisdom or otherwise. I typically ask with reservations, and even bitterness because I anticipate being rejected. I obliquely accuse God of not caring. I was recently encouraged, in doubt and trials, to reason from the character of God back to my circumstances, not the other way around. It’s hard to get outside of my current moment; harder still to see a pattern of provision. One of the hardest things of the Christian faith for me is not mistaking success for God’s favor and failure for his displeasure. It takes divine maturity to discern the truth in the happenings of life and detect a plan.
It can be easy to attribute to God the characteristics which define many of our earthly relationships. It is troubling to fear that he is fickle or that his presence will fade as do many others in our lives. It is a shame that many, myself included, still try to impress him and gain his attention like an enticing new face at a party.
If we realized we already had that attention, it would change our whole lifestyle. In fact, if we comprehended the depth of his interest in us, it would break us. Of all self-promotion, insecurity, and begging. It would provide the opportunity to rest.
The ancient pagans would carve the names of their gods on their hands, as a sign of their faithfulness and a reminder so they would never forget. Interestingly, God says in the scriptures that our names are engraved on His hands, a sign of HIS faithfulness to us, an assurance that He will never forget us. That is an arresting thought. When it was brought to my attention for the first time, through the teaching of Kevin Twit of RUF, it seemed to fill a hollow within me.
When tempted to entertain a spirit of greed and accusation, of delusion and fear, I have to return to a truer telling of my story. In the book of Jude, a template is laid for our identity, if we choose it: “called, beloved, kept”. Succinct, and full of hope. We do belong, and have a distinct place in this world. Not because some competitive edge or privileged standing, but just by virtue of being God’s children. There is something we can contribute. There is even a need for us, each one of us, whether you have ever been told that or not. No screen can contain our worth, and no earthly audience can confirm it.
“May burdened sinners lose their load,
And downcast souls rejoice;
May doubting souls believe today
They are Jehovah’s choice.” — D. Herbert