It’s 2022 — a new year is underway. Have you committed to any resolutions this year? If not, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t keep them, there is therapy committing to important ideas and moving in a direction that helps them come true. If you have committed to New Year resolutions, I hope you’ll take those first steps.

During our December series, Going home, the topic of belonging emerged. Of course, we want to go home for Christmas because home is where we belong. But what if I told you that you need to pack for the wilderness to travel to a place of true belonging?

If belonging and wilderness sound like two different places to you, then our January series, Wilderness experience, will offer you some crucial insights into what it means to belong.

Admittedly, the wilderness is the go-to metaphor for places where the welcome sign seems more like an invitation for bad things to happen. Poems, scripture, songs, and artistic expressions of all genres use the idea of wilderness as that place where we are more apt to spend time alone.

The connection between wilderness experiences and belonging is a paradox. They fit more comfortably as opposites, and it seems absurd to put wilderness experience and belonging together. But paradoxes are those contradictions that prove to be true.

So if we are headed out into the wilderness, how do we pack? How do we prepare for our journey?

The wilderness experience recommended by Dr. Brené Brown does not require us to pack a suitcase. Carrying any extra baggage weighs us down, and this is the problem. We get to the wilderness by first shedding anything that changes who we are to the people around us.

We use the wilderness as a metaphor for this place of vulnerability. We choose to be authentic but it takes courage to avoid being inauthentic to fit in. “But I don’t try to fit in,” you respond, “I’m usually on the other side of most arguments.”

According to Dr. Brown’s research, finding value in fitting in and finding value in being different, defiant, or contrarian are two sides of the same coin. For the contrarian, being true to who God created us to be is likely to cause us to agree with others on issues that we thought we opposed. Likewise, those of us who show agreement to fit in may discover that we don’t agree at all.

The wilderness is where we take a stand on who we are and what we believe even though we are likely to face criticism. And this is why we are tempted to avoid the wilderness altogether.

A story about Jesus found in all three synoptic gospels about a time of temptation in the wilderness. This story is filled with symbolism and wisdom. So much so that a myriad of interpretations are offered even by the same person. Our discussion of belonging clamors for yet another angle.

As our story begins, Jesus leaves from His baptism into the wilderness. All three accounts tell us that God’s Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. This was a journey with a divine purpose. I believe that we are led into the wilderness at critical times for a divine purpose. And this includes our need to live out the identity and purpose God gives to each of us.

The temptation of Jesus began with an appeal to His physical vulnerabilities. Jesus was hungry and was tempted to address His hunger with the most immediate resources available. Similarly, fitting in feels like a pang of physical desire, even more than our craving for our favorite treat.

When we fulfill our need to belong by adapting to whatever role and belief offer acceptance, we open ourselves to attaching our allegiance to whatever helps us feel better about ourselves. This leads us to shift our priorities to fitting in rather than keeping God as our first love and focus. This was the 2nd temptation of Jesus.

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.
Luke 4:13

Saving the more subtle temptation for last, Jesus’ recognition of His own value is tested. If you are precious to God, God will surely save you even from the most foolish mistakes. So what’s the hurt in going along even when the crowd heads in a direction you know is wrong for you? Jesus knew His value to God, and He also knows your value.

None of us need to increase our value to God to earn God’s love. We are each a beloved child of God who loves us and wants us to find belonging. But our journey to belonging begins with being exactly that person God intended us to be.

The wilderness is any place where we’re tempted to fit in, but we choose to take a stand to be who we are instead.

Welcome to the Wilderness experience. I’m glad you’re going with us. Be sure not to pack anything, however. We’ll be going entirely as ourselves without anything extra.

You can join us each Sunday online by going to the button on the homepage of our websiteClick here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy

 

1 Brené Brown. Braving the Wilderness — The Quest for True Belonging and the Quest to Stand Alone. New York: Random House, 2019.