“So, basically you take off anything that is not part of your body.”
Um. Let’s just say that I was not anywhere near ready for the words that came out of my friend’s mouth.
I erroneously thought we were headed for a relaxing evening of sitting in our BATHING SUITS in a hot tub. She looked confused at my confusion: surely her description had been obvious. The light began to dawn as I slowly comprehended that we had just entered a local bath house. The place was completely legit, clean, and classy. Nothing sketchy was going on here – it was simply a cultural shock I had not prepared my heart to embrace. I instantly replayed past conversations with my students who had often asked me: “But if you don’t go to the bath house with friends, then how do you wash your back?”
My mind was spinning with the options ahead of me. Was I really going to go through with this? My friend had been thrilled to invite me to one of her favorite spots. I could see the wheels spinning in the only other foreigner with me that night. She clearly had not understood either, and as the horror dawned on her, she calmly turned to me and said, “If I take my glasses off, I can’t see a single thing. I’m just going to pretend that you can’t either.”
That invitation to the bathhouse was never meant to feel awkward. Not at all. It was an invitation deeper into my local friend’s culture and her life. The bathhouse is a place you go with friends. She was inviting me to be part of her world, to belong.
One of the deepest longings of the human heart is exactly that: to belong. We long to be seen and known and loved…to be an essential puzzle piece of something bigger than ourselves. In our overseas life, we ache to become true members of our communities, to have friendships that run long and wide and deep. We hope for teams that will be safe places, where we are missed if we’re not there. When we return to our passport country, we dream of reuniting with family and friends, sitting around tables where a place is always saved for us.
We sure know when we don’t belong, don’t we? When we experience the pain of being the outsider, our hearts crack just a little bit (or a whole lot). It hurts. No one wants to live there. When our beloved teammates leave, or when family dynamics change on the other side of the ocean, or when we continue to bump up against culture differences, it can be so very tempting to feel as if we are always drifting along, rootless and restless everywhere.
We long to be enclosed in the circle, to be beckoned inside.
If you think about your life right now, where would you say you belong? Where is the place or the people or the continent where your heart settles into its comfy place, and you know that you just fit? Where is your place secure, your name known, and your soul at rest? Where DO you belong?
I am slowly but surely learning to actually believe that there is One who is always beckoning me inside the circle. Clearly, I would readily say that I believe that Jesus loves me, this I know. Yet, it is so easy for me to doubt the utter depths of His relentless love for me, and then to constantly be searching for other places to truly belong.
There is One who always wants to hear my stories, who longs for me to pull up a chair and just BE with Him.
There is One who always invites me in.
There is One who always has a place for me right next to Him and who actually knows me better than I know myself.
There is One who delights in me more than I can imagine, and who constantly scans the horizon for me to come home.
There is One who took all my shame so that I could belong.
Could there be any better way to live than to know that I have a permanent seat at the table of the King? That I belong as an adopted kid within the perfect, sweet loving relationship of the Trinity? Amazing love – how can this be?
So, now I’m learning that where I belong is not a location on any map. It is a PERSON. HE is my home, my secure place, my inner circle where I am always welcomed with a warm embrace.
Photo by Sebastian Soerensen from Pexels