This morning I have been pondering this sentence, especially the “whoever believes in me” part. When was it, I wonder, when I came to feel the deep sense of belonging to Christ that graces my life?
I have had a rather rocky experience with Christian community. I have stood in the fellowship hall doorway of many parishes while people ignored my presence. Sometimes I have experienced a real sense of belonging and acceptance, but more than once that has proved false.
When I was twelve, I studied to be confirmed in a denomination I don’t even remember now — one my mother, siblings and I attended at the time. I was committed and diligent, learning everything they asked of me. On the day of the confirmation, my mother came to church. I was to sit with her until I was called forward with the other kids. They called everyone by name, but they forgot me. I sat next to my mother and sobbed.
When I was a teenager various youth pastors tried to get me to profess a belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. They thought of this as something a person chooses, maybe an intellectual or emotional decision. I gave it a whirl, even making a Billy Graham altar call when I was fourteen, but it didn’t stick.
Neither belonging in a church community, confirmation nor a public professing of belief began my sense of belonging to Christ. Here’s what I remember that did:
Being comforted by a profound sense of Christ’s reality when I was alone in bed at age four listening to my parents fighting about whether God exists.
As a young adult, listening to the Messiah for the entirety of one rainy day when I was sick with a cold – and hearing my soul’s conviction expressed in Handal’s music.
As a slightly older adult, practicing the presence of God as per the writings of the kitchen monk, Brother Lawrence, which I’d found in a pamphlet on the rack in the back of a church. Discovering that moment when thought is replaced by silence and a true awareness of presence.
In my experience, deciding with my mind that I believe in Jesus is as foolish as deciding that I believe in water. I can decide to go boating or swimming, I can fish in a river, I can sit by the side of the ocean and watch the endless crash of waves, I can drink fresh water or cook with it or freeze it into ice. All those things make sense. But deciding whether or not I believe in water is a pointless exercise.
Christ is as present to the heart as is water. He is always real, all the time. My spiritual disciplines might some years be more like fishing and other years more like drinking from a tap. I can have years as dry as a baking desert and years full of abundant rain. But in all those seasons the existence of water is never in question.
My faith is simply a question about how I relate to what is.