Living as the Beloved
Fear and trepidation roiled within me as I walked into my first offsite leadership meeting. Nine or ten men in their late 30s to mid-50s, in business-casual attire (what did that even mean for women in the middle of the ‘80s?), stood around talking leisurely. I felt so conspicuous: I was 26 years old, the first female manager on the technical side of a Fortune 100 company, and to top it off, I had red hair (like less than 2% of the population). I just didn’t feel like I belonged.
That uncomfortable, out-of-place feeling took more than a year to shift, and the accompanying insecurities lingered for my first few years in corporate leadership. My peers and superiors often seemed at a loss for how to interact on a personal level. As I matured in my life and leadership, and those around me grew, too, I began to feel valued, loved, and accepted. I learned I did belong.
I arrived at the most significant part of this journey when God began to deeply reveal my own identity as his beloved daughter (1 John 3:1). I belong to him and his kingdom because he chose me (1 Thess. 1:4), and he really does lavishly accept and delight in me. The more God has grown me, the more my belovedness has become the secure, solid place of belonging from which I stand, see, and follow God—regardless of my feelings or trouble I experience.
Jesus and his followers lived in and from this way of life...
I began to live and lead in a different way.
God says through Isaiah, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Jesus and his followers lived in and from this way of life by the guidance and empowerment of the Spirit (Romans 7:6). In fact, the earliest followers of Jesus were known as “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2). As they experienced in living from their belovedness, when we follow this way, the Spirit feeds our souls and expands our capacity to receive and give love. The love we have first received can then be poured out in friendly, hospitable, and safe spaces for others, even for those who are different from us (1 John 4:19).
The way of belovedness
Henri Nouwen in a Spring 1995 Christianity Today article “From Solitude to Community to Ministry” explained the way of belovedness as a diagram of three concentric circles. Moving from the inside out, belovedness begins at the core with God graciously and unchangingly giving us intimate belonging as his beloved children. Pouring naturally out into the second circle, the inner transformation becomes tangible and visible as we work out our belovedness together in community. From this place of knowing and being known, seeing and being seen, loving and being loved, the Spirit guides and empowers us as ambassadors of belovedness to the third circle of those who do not know the sacrificial love Jesus has for them.
It’s worth noting, each relational circle only develops fully as it’s kept in step with Jesus and his way of life. Jesus’ way always leads us into and from authentic love—which may flip our normal on its head. Jesus’ way is deep—we tend to be shallow. His way is slow—we are fast. His way is inclusive—we tend to be exclusive. Jesus’ way of life is the way of belovedness. As we walk in it, listen to his voice, and intimately let him lead us each step of the way, he will teach us his way of true belonging, rest, and life. (Matt. 11:28-30).
Listen to develop authentic love.
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Our capacity to authentically love grows as we learn to listen to the life-altering grace and truth that Jesus wants us to hear. It reaches deep into our hearts and souls and transforms us into his likeness. Henri Nouwen describes listening attentively to God calling us his beloved, saying it is “like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper” (Life of the Beloved, Crossroad, 2002). In the way of belovedness, leaders are listeners. Through listening to Jesus, self, and others, the Spirit develops and matures us in authentic love.
Linger to receive and give love.
To linger is to attentively remain, abide, pause. Lingering creates a space for us to soak in the reality of our belovedness, down to our deepest parts. This means slowing down—it takes time and practice. It means we move away from hurry with God, ourselves, and with others.
Lingering also creates a space for God to act. As we practice the “one anothers,” (those 50-plus New Testament verses teaching us how to relate with one another in community), God’s love is enfleshed in our community, and it feeds our souls. There are parts of myself that I can’t understand outside community. Interactions with others reveal truths to me about myself. Also, healing often comes as we share vulnerably in community.
Recently, a follower of Jesus shared with me, “When I lived ‘a fairly alone’ type of Christianity, I just couldn’t stick to my commitments. Now in my tiny group, I am seeing that others have significant stories to talk about, and I am excited that our sharing is helping to make change happen—the things I want to do and need to do are becoming a reality—I am able to live it out!”
Live out your love.
It means we must learn to walk in step with Jesus and his community of beloved in healthy rhythms of life.
As we grow, listening and lingering with our Good Shepherd more deeply, he affirms our belovedness and frees us to authentically live out our love with others. Christ’s Spirit empowers us to make room for God’s increased impact in our lives—and for our decrease (John 3:30). We become porous, pliable, and postured to serve as his ambassadors of belovedness to others. This “way” attracts others, drawing them into our lives and ministries.
Probably one of the toughest things in this world is maintaining this counter-cultural way of life to which Jesus calls us. It means we must learn to walk in step with Jesus and his community of beloved in healthy rhythms of life. We need relational anchors in our belovedness amidst our work, worship, rest, and play.
It’s a lifelong journey.
As I discovered and started to intentionally live out of my own belovedness, I began to have more confidence and vision for taking risks to befriend and listen to those who were often marginalized. As David W. Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard (Herald Pr, New Edition, 1982) has said, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” I began to see my leadership as a way of growing environments that were inviting and safe for others to be heard, belong, and experience belovedness.
We are all on a lifelong journey of becoming who we are—Christ’s beloved.
We are all on a lifelong journey of becoming who we are—Christ’s beloved. It is a great practice to regularly slow down, even stop, and listen to where we are in these areas. I often ask myself, “How healthy are my relationships with God personally, in community, and among those who don’t know Jesus? Where is Jesus calling me to linger more in the belonging of my belovedness? How is he calling me to authentically live out the love I’ve received so others may see and find belonging with him?”
God is our faithful Father. He is gracious and abounding in love, trustworthy and true, and he calls us His beloved. That is what we really and truly are.
Margaret Fitzwater is the Executive Director of Navigators Train-Develop-Care Department. She has Biology, Food Science and MBA degrees from Baylor, Texas A&M, and SMU Universities with 40 years of corporate and nonprofit leadership. Dr. Mark Looyenga, with 25 years of ministry experience, is the Care Director for U.S. Navigators. He has masters’ degrees in Chemistry and Divinity and a doctorate in Leadership and Community Spiritual Formation. You may contact them at tdc.navigators.org, Margaret.Fitzwater@navigators.org, or Mark.Looyenga@Navigators.org.