Our Search for Belonging

Our Search for Belonging

Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: Zann Lee)

God, intimacy, and distance

I was bullied when I was much younger. I still distinctly remember the time when my “friends” ― we hung out solely because our parents were close to each other ― locked me out of the room that they were playing in. Banging on the door furiously and twisting the door knob repeatedly, I strived to be accepted within this group. I yearned to find my place among them.

Growing up, many of us twist ourselves umpteen times to fit into various social groups. None of us desires for isolation, because beneath the crusty surface of our hopes and fears, we all crave for connection. Our hearts beat for belonging. A deep, commanding sense of belonging affords us identity, validation, and security. For this reason, we travel far and wide in search of somewhere to belong.

This seemingly ineffable void is the consequence of Man’s sin that has carved out a chasm between our Father and us (Isaiah 59:2). We were all born on the borderland, bearing the mark of an orphan. Our souls languish to be taken in, yet doubting that we ever will. We wander in the wasteland, hunting for home.

God, where are you?

While God constantly reiterates that we are His (Romans 14:8, Isaiah 43:1, Romans 8:15), I’ve come to realise that it is not that simple to internalise this axiom — we belong to God. The difficulty in knowing whose we are could lie in His seemingly elusive nature.

When we cannot find Him or trace His hand in our lives, doubt starts to bleed into this gulf between God and us, washing out any semblance of faith. I’ve found myself questioning:

How can God be omnipresent when I cannot feel a tinge of Him? I thought that I couldn’t hide away from His presence; where is he now when I need Him? Why did God reveal Himself to Moses — full-on blazing — when he was so unsuspecting? Moses didn’t even have to cry out to Him.

God can feel like someone who sits on a throne on some far-flung planet and the silence of distance threatens to swallow us whole. This estrangement is aggravated when we grow to believe that we are not deserving of belonging because we have not behaved according to the “rules” of Christianity. In struggling to connect with Him, we are inevitably severed from the truth that we belong, completely, unto Him.

The devil’s workshop

At the beginning of this year, I shambled through such a season: I did not feel Him, let alone hear His voice. I did not understand His heart; my system was all drugged out by the drudgery of life’s routines that I had become numb to the things that mattered.

Goaded on by the devil and enamoured by fleshly adventure, there were many issues that eventually got in-between this relationship, crowding out the spaces between my ears and chest. The devil — familiar with our neediness — offers a counterfeit form of belonging: he dupes us to believe that we belong to this wild world, where the possibilities for self-validation are endless and where carnal pleasures rocket you to the sky. He, too, whispers in our ear, persuading us that we are our own master.

Most of us are well-acquainted with the devil’s mutterings, as we have willingly put ourselves on his intravenous drip for years — our souls “nourished” by man’s praises, personal accomplishments, relationships, and temporal pleasures. I used to work for the approval of man — addicted to the applause and affirmation — as if I could prove that I was deserving of standing on the face of this earth. The injection of these things merely soothes our anxious search for belonging, somehow assuring us that we’ve found some place to lay our heads, even if only for a little while.

Jesus had warned the Jews about falling into the embrace of the devil in John 8:44 (NIV): “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

When acclimatised to the “highs” of the world’s falsities, it becomes difficult to remove the intravenous needle, because without these “fluids,” the frustration in trying to connect with God surges, amplifying our alienated condition. Moreover, intimacy with God may not seem to feed our senses with such immediacy.

Habituated to inhabitation 

My state of apathy and lethargy plodded on until I discovered a fresh perspective on belonging. This revelation sprung into being when I came across Romans 8:9-11 (ESV).

Paul’s letter to the Romans reads, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

The word “dwell” in this passage denotes more than just something that is present; it is not the same as us being present at the bus stop or in a 7–11 store. To “dwell” is to ‘house,’ meaning that the Holy Spirit has not treated us as a stopover; He has chosen our temples as His daily residence. Whether awake or sound asleep, your cavity is His home.

This inhabitation of the Spirit revealed to me that God has always desired to be near and familiar. He has made good His word that He will not leave us as orphans and that He will come to us (John 14:18).

In the past I had understood intimacy with God in terms of distance and proximity: Him drawing near; His breath moist on my skin. But now, in re-learning that His spirit has chosen me as His vessel, whereby I can never be separated from God, His knowledge of my every move, every thought, and every emotion find new meaning. The Spirit has truly searched me and knows me.

If you have always questioned your place in this universe or succumbed to inferior substitutes for this desire to belong, may you be wooed by God’s desire for you — the Spirit of God has found you and vows to never leave. He dwells in you and is as close as can ever be.

May this be your meditation today:

I am yours and you are mine

This is what you had in mind

The whole time

JOSEPH thinks that Nasi Lemak ought to be Singapore’s national dish. He is passionate in discovering how faith can collide beautifully with urban culture, and believes in mentoring the next generation. He also wishes that a singular Singaporean accent will emerge in his lifetime. Follow him @firesandtimbers

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