How do you know when you have found your people?

For me, maybe it was the first night of the Ren­o­varé Insti­tute. Fifty strangers walked into a room at a Catholic sem­i­nary out­side Chica­go. It was a pic­ture-per­fect Sep­tem­ber after­noon, the kind of day that any Chicagoan knows only comes every so often. We sat in a large cir­cle, peo­ple from as far away as Chi­na, Indone­sia, Ger­many, and Togo and as close by as the south side of Chicago. 

Even­tu­al­ly, Car­olyn Arends res­cued us from that awk­ward chit-chat vibe. After strum­ming out a tune, she intro­duced a prac­tice called lay­ing the altar,” which became the cus­tom­ary way we began our time together. 

We asked each of you to bring an object that sig­ni­fies who God has been to you recent­ly and how God has been present with you. Please come up and place your object on this table at the cen­ter of the room and take two min­utes to share.”

I’ve been to count­less retreats in my life. What sur­prised me wasn’t what Car­olyn said. It was what she didn’t say. I kept wait­ing for her to divide us into small­er groups, to set a timer so that we knew when our two min­utes were up. Instead, she smiled and sat down.

Wait, what? I thought. Sure­ly they’re going to break us up into small groups? I mean, who’s going to say any­thing real in a group of strangers? 

It was 4 PM. A cou­ple of over­seas cohort mem­bers were already fad­ing because of jet lag. 

I did a quick head­count: fifty par­tic­i­pants plus ten staff. This. Could. Get. Long. 

Feel­ing uncom­fort­able, I stared at my shoes, won­der­ing what was going to hap­pen next. But one by one my new class­mates stood up and began to share. Some wad­ed in slow­ly. Oth­ers imme­di­ate­ly dove in deep, shar­ing about heartaches or con­fu­sion or anx­i­eties or sec­ond thoughts about even being there. Their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty was disarming.

Five hours lat­er, I had learned some­thing impor­tant. On the sur­face, our group had lit­tle in com­mon. We were men and women, grand­par­ents and young col­lege grad­u­ates, pas­tors and laypeo­ple, all with dif­fer­ing cul­tur­al and Chris­t­ian backgrounds.

But we did have one thing in com­mon: hunger. Every per­son showed and spoke of a long­ing — for more depth, more life, more con­nec­tion with oth­ers, more clar­i­ty. And we all had the hunch that this hunger could only be met by Jesus and his friends. 

That night, I got a glim­mer that maybe I had found my people. 

Those who find Ren­o­varé are often ask­ing the same ques­tion regard­ing their life with God: Is this real­ly it? Or is there some­thing more?”

Through my time at the Ren­o­varé Insti­tute I learned that yes, there was more. Much more. And that these peo­ple — as dif­fer­ent from me as many of them are — these peo­ple are my peo­ple. We walked in as strangers. We walked out as fel­low pil­grims, as broth­ers and sisters.

So I step into this role at Ren­o­varé with a deep sense of joy and antic­i­pa­tion. If you’re some­one who hungers for more, you’re one of my peo­ple, too. And I can’t wait to get to know you more as we all learn to fol­low the One who spe­cial­izes in feed­ing hun­gry people.

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Text First Published January 2022 · Last Featured on January 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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