Centered in belovedness
We often think community is the opposite of loneliness. When we want to avoid that loneliness, we hang out with people and fill our days with activities. But those times and events don’t necessarily qualify as community. Part of being in community is knowing yourself — being in community with yourself, being comfortable in solitude and inactivity
Growing up, the thing I most desperately longed for was a best friend. I wanted someone who would always play with me at recess, who’d stand up for me in any playground scuffles; someone to whom I could write postcards when I was on a trip; someone with whom I’d constantly have sleepovers and whose parents would accept me like one of their own because I was around that often — someone who would know me almost as well as I knew myself.
As I grew older and found that such a friend was impossible to find, I began to idealize a husband. This would be the person who would fulfill all my notions about a best friend. He’d be the person I talked to first about every situation. He’d want to hear about my day, even the boring details. He’d counsel me through difficult times. And I would be all of that for him.
The first time I had a real boyfriend was in college. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. Here was someone who would spend every waking moment with me if we could.But I had built my expectations so high, it was impossible for him to live up to them — they were clearly unhealthy.
Obviously that relationship didn’t last. But the breakup was hard on me. I had invested so much in our relationship. I had based a lot of my self-concept on my relationship with him, and when that relationship was gone, I was confused about my identity.
I was so fortunate during that time to have an incredible mentor, someone a little older and wiser. She told me about a night when she was home alone — trying to fill her time, fill the silence, fill the void. Then she prayed for courage to dig deep and ask herself, “What am I running away from?” She realized how afraid she was to face herself and God in the stillness. Just being able to name her fears began to dismantle them.
Her experience gave me the language and the courage to delve into the deep emotions that ran below the disguise of my actions and desires. I began to know myself. I began to appreciate the person God had created me to be. I began to love myself and deepen in my love of God.
This process continued over the next few years, especially when I moved to Omaha to work with WMF. I didn’t know anyone in the city. I had a lot of free time alone. And WMF happens to greatly encourage personal development.
One of WMF’s formational materials is this shoddy VHS-turned-DVD of Henri Nouwen speaking in the Crystal Cathedral. You’ve probably read about this before in The Cry because we love it so much. He tells us: You are not what you do. You are not what you have. You are not what people say about you. (Sound familiar?)
I love the video because of that part, but also Henri’s insistence that, like Christ, “You are the beloved child of God. On you God’s favor rests!” On a poster-size flip-pad he uses a squeaky black marker to draw a timeline of a life. It has ups and downs. And then he places marker to paper and moves it in circles, wider and wilder, squeaking away. Soon the whole page is filled with a squiggly spiral emerging from the center of the page and the center of the lifespan. When you know that you are God’s Beloved, when this truth resounds in your bones, that belovedness is your center, the place out of which you operate.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that this video changed my life. For days I would wake up with these words in my head: “You are God’s beloved child. On you God’s favor rests.” When I found myself getting irritated or hurt, I would remember, “You are God’s beloved child. On you God’s favor rests.”
When I rest in the knowledge that I am God’s Beloved, I am well. I am centered. I can handle conflict. I have a sense of peace in my own skin. I love God, and I love myself. I am in tune with the Spirit of God, Who dwells within me (1 Cor. 3:16).
As my days get busy and I don’t take time to be in solitude with my God, I am de-centered. I am more likely to enter into misdirected friendships, to misplace my identity and my value, to be hurt and lost.
True community can’t exist if we don’t first know ourselves. And the best community comes when we are centered in Christ. In Reaching Out, Nouwen writes:
When our loneliness drives us away from ourselves into the arms of our companions in life, we are, in fact, driving ourselves into excruciating relationships, tiring friendships and suffocating embraces … No friend or lover, no husband or wife, no community or commune will be able to put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness. And by burdening others with these divine expectations, of which we ourselves are often only partially aware, we might inhibit the expression of free friendship and love and evoke instead feelings of inadequacy and weakness … As long as our loneliness brings us together with the hope that together we no longer will be alone, we castigate each other with our unfulfilled and unrealistic desires for oneness, inner tranquility and the uninterrupted experience of communion.1
We will be best able to embrace community when we can first be at peace with ourselves, centered in the knowledge that we are God’s Beloved.
1 Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out (London: Fount, 1990), p. 9.
Mandy (center) loves getting to work with stories from the WMF community in her role as publications editor. She greatly enjoys working with the Advocacy Team (Marcia, left, and Jara, right), though they miss Daphne, who is on sabbatical.