Today’s post is by Juliet Vedral
It happened at the last day—the last hour really—of the 2013 Shalem YALLI kick-off retreat (Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative). As our ragtag group of contemplatives wrote down on paper the blockages we sensed to living lives connected to the Spirit, we placed them in a bowl. We were then asked to come up, take a few of the slips of paper, hold them up to God, then return them to the bowl with a prayer: “I am the Beloved of God.”
This snarky, snide former Pastors’ Kid (yes, that’s two pastors) rolled the eyes of her heart. What did that prayer even mean? But then that question tugged at me: what does it mean to be the Beloved of God? It seemed to be the question I had always been asking. Could that really be true of me?
I’ve always loved John’s gospel the most, primarily because of his audacity to define himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” What a claim, right? Yet it seemed the journey that the Spirit was inviting me to take as we left the retreat was to be able to claim for myself, for my core identity, “the Beloved of God.”
Flash forward 10 months. I am on a work retreat with the messaging team and Anne Grizzle, my mentor through Shalem’s YALLI program. I had suggested that one of my projects to incorporate contemplative practices in the workplace was to have this team take some time to learn how best to listen to the Spirit and each other. As we did some listening and discernment, I shared about my life and how I felt as though I have been on a pilgrimage in the darkness and not sure to what end.
To my surprise, two of my colleagues said that they believed I was “blessed” and that perhaps the season I was in was less about me and more for others. It was not what I’d hoped to hear. Still, it struck a chord in me—as in, it caused all the notes that had been playing in my head and my heart for months to harmonize.
Henri Nouwen, in his book, Life of the Beloved, writes that being the Beloved of God means that we are taken, blessed, broken, and then given to others. As Jesus was blessed, broken, and given to us, so are we to the world. It is at once a beautiful and terrible thing to claim about oneself.
As I contemplate certain areas of my life that feel broken, I recognize that perhaps I’m missing the “slow work of God” because change isn’t happening fast enough. Perhaps the challenge of being the Beloved is having the eyes to see that this life is about God and God’s work in this world.
A co-worker recently referenced a sermon she’d heard a few years earlier, about being in the river of God. As we wade deeper into that river, we are carried to places we may not have willingly gone.
Right now I feel that I am at a place in my life where I would not have willingly gone. I am a single (off of a recent, perplexing break up), 33-year-old, childless woman with a great job, but not in her vocation, far from home. All of these aspects of my life make me feel as though I am not Beloved, as I would prefer to be married, with children, living into a vocational calling and near my family. There is a powerful temptation to feel purposeless and “cursed” by God when looking at my life through the lens of a self-centered world that tells me I am barren because I am alone and childless and not “living my dream.”
And yet the One whom God proclaimed a beloved child that pleased the Divine, was “like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53: 3b). In this upside-down kingdom, Belovedness looks broken. It looks low and impoverished, without “beauty or majesty.” That’s quite a depressing image, right? Who’d really want to sign up for that?
On my birthday I joked that this was my “Jesus year.” Well, here was another 33-year-old, alone, without any descendants, unrecognized for the work he was doing, far from home. So when my colleagues said back to me something I couldn’t hear—the voice of God saying “this is my Beloved Daughter in whom I am well pleased”— it was transformative. To be considered “blessed” despite feeling otherwise showed me how much farther I need to go in embracing all of God’s love towards me. Not just the warm, fuzzy parts. But the real life parts of being broken in front of people and letting them see God heal and restore.
Isn’t that the reason we claim “the Beloved of God” as our identity? I am my father and mother’s beloved daughter even when I don’t always feel it. When I was a child and they didn’t give me what I wanted all the time and they disciplined me to be a kind, thoughtful person, it was because they loved me. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (Hebrews 12:7). This discipline is not punishment but instead is teaching me to know my worth to God. I am Beloved even when it doesn’t feel like it and through this process being made more and more like Jesus. And like him, may I continue to be chosen, blessed, broken, and given to those who need to see the slow—yet powerful—work of God.