Belonging to Beloved
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those words, directed at me. I’m not exotic or terribly distant from my birthplace, but I am different nonetheless. Different has not historically been a good thing.
For most of my life, the idea of belonging has felt like a cruel joke. I believed in the possibility the way I believed in the Tooth Fairy when I was young: playing along, while secretly thinking that the whole thing was an illusion. As a word lover, I found myself breaking it down into “be-longing” which was much closer to my experience of ache and anguish.
Later, as I began to tuck myself between the pages of the Bible, I found comfort in all of the exiles and foreigners mentioned throughout. I reveled in the story of Ruth, who chose to belong with Naomi and ended up in the line of Jesus. I pored over the book of Esther often, delighting in the Jewish queen of Persia. It is clear that God has a history of using people who “aren’t from around here.”
I tried to claim belonging for myself, to lean into the promises of God and psychological wisdom that reminded me that I was chosen, worthy, and intentional. But I struggled to believe that. My head knew that God doesn’t make mistakes or superfluous people, but my heart wondered if I was an object lesson, or a cautionary tale.
There are those sections of scripture that feel written just for me. Hosea 2:14-23 is one of them. I have read it time after time, done word studies and sat with it at length. I still see new things. Recently, I was reading verse 16 once again:
“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.”
I’d scrawled myself a note in the margin: Ishi: my husband. Baali: my owner.
There are two kinds of belonging, I realized. There is the sort of belonging that you can purchase. The kind that comes in the shape of knee-high boots and books, and even people, created in the image of God. This type of belonging is easy to acquire, but needs to be constantly renewed and supplemented.
It is the second kind that God offers in this verse: the kind of belonging that comes with relationship. This belonging is not about being a perfectly-fitting piece in God’s great puzzle. It’s not about feelings or warm fuzziness, although those sometimes come. This kind of belonging is about identity as God’s beloved. This kind of belonging is about voluntarily accepting a proposal.
As often happens, I find an echo of this idea coming out of Jesus’ mouth: "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15).
Belonging is rooted here, in my relationship with God. That statement used to sound trite and unsexy to me, in all of it’s iterations, but it is hard-won. I’m still learning what this kind of belonging looks like in my everyday life. But I do know that I don’t belong in my family, my friendships, dating relationships, workplaces, or anywhere else, unless I allow God to inform those relationships and places. It is only through the work of the Spirit that I belong. Even when things (or people) don’t fit perfectly into place, and relationships are broken or shattered (perhaps especially then), the bonds of belonging with and to God remain strong.