Human beings are frustrating; I don't want to "do life" with them.
They're secretly judging me, anyway.
Who knows what they're really thinking of me??
My church (or my school, or my homeschool group, or my workplace) is filled with some people that I can't stand; I don't want to get involved and in close quarters with them.
I'm an introvert; I don't want to be in community.
Ouch. Have you ever found yourself feeling this way?
Community is something I've struggled with for a while. I honestly dreaded getting up and going to church on Sunday morning, because once I got there, I felt out of place, irritated, and self-conscious. In other places, I felt awkward. And everywhere, I was frustrated and somewhat intimidated by people, and I shrank from being with them. I started realizing that it was more than personality types, introversion and extroversion; it was me being critical, a bit cynical, and unwilling to love and be patient. And as I looked back at Jesus, our prime example, I realized that community was something He did very well. Jesus spent time with all kinds of people, from the Pharisees, to the prostitutes and tax collectors, to the average in-between people. He didn't divide up His time, making sure not to mix the different kinds of people He spent time with. No, He brought them all together and taught and loved them together. He encouraged them to love one another. He was never secretly judgmental. He didn't scorn people when they failed. And He called us, His church, to nurture that same kind of loving community in every area of our own lives, particularly seeking Him with other believers (but loving our enemies and those who persecute us, too).
I have friends that talk about Jesus' kind of community a lot. And I've always loved the idea of it--it's
inspiring, and beautiful, and something I desire--but for so long I just couldn't seem to replicate it or carry it into my own life. My constant excuse was, there aren't any people around here that love God enough for me to be in that kind of community with. Everyone here is judgmental. I always feel so awkward with all the people here. All these people are so annoying and fake.
But how prideful and unlike Jesus is that? Because no, darkness has no fellowship with light (2 Corinthians 6:14), but yes, we are the salt and light of the world, followers of the greater light, Jesus, who spent His time with the sick, because they were the ones that needed a doctor.
But He didn't just leave the goody-two-shoes Pharisees in the dust of His sandals, either. He taught and loved and spoke with them just the same. Two completely different kinds of people, the lost sinner and the hypocritical religious leader, and Jesus pulled them together in His company with love and wisdom and truth. Whether they stayed was their business, but His arms were always open. This is what true community looks like. Jesus didn't pick who He wanted to love and be in community with. He didn't step back to ask if they were worthy or not. Because actually, honestly, none of us were. But He chose to do it anyway. To put it as I've heard it said lately: unconditional love is completely irrational. But aren't we glad that Jesus was irrational? And I would also add that unconditional love is completely inconvenient....but inconvenience is something Jesus was willing to take on in loving us.
Somehow, though, I think the idea of community has been skewed a wee bit at times. Because sometimes, community becomes about our friends, and especially as young people, it starts to become about how many friends we have, and who those friends are, and what kind of group that puts us in, and if we spend all our time doing fun things with our friends, and if it makes us look like we have the funnest, most friend-filled life ever to those on the outside. It becomes about appearances and how many friends we have in our little communities, and who those friends are, and how much time we spend with our friends, because that is what society judges us by. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. It's the people who will literally tell you that they have this many friends or that many friends, and then they have these people who are their best friends, and they do all these fun things together, and they go and shout it out on all of social media--and it can all leave those outside that circle of friends feeling excluded and less than. It can leave you wondering if you actually are worth anything, or if your life is fun enough, or good enough, if you don't have lots of friends to go out and do stuff with.
But I feel like real community is less about friends and more about family. Not literal family, really. But it's more like family. Because anybody--you, me, the kid who doesn't have any friends--can go out and be a fake version of themselves for a little while and gain "friends." People are willing to accept you if you act the way you want them to. But family is something different. It's unconditional. It's strong and deeply-rooted. Our family members can absolutely drive us up the wall and we can be at each others' throats, but we never really stop loving each other. Friendships break down sometimes. Friends can give up on each other--and I guess family can, too, but there's such a stronger bond there. The Trinity is even described in a familial way--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are called children of God. We are co-heirs (essentially, brothers and sisters) with Jesus. That's a very strong picture of God's love for us, and how He wants our community with others to be. He loves us with the ferocity and faithfulness that a father has for his children. I'm not a parent yet, and I know I really don't have an inkling of what the strength of a parent's love really is....but I can imagine. I can listen and observe parents around me, my parents especially, and I can get an idea. That kind of love is something, for sure, and yet it's only a reflection of how perfect the Father's love is for us. I mean, He literally IS love. He's our Heavenly Father, we're His children. All of us.
"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
And in a close family, you can be yourself without fear or pretense. When you're at home with them, you can simply be your absolute self, relaxed, knowing that you're loved and accepted as you are, with no walls or guards put up, no pretending. This is the kind of community our Father intended for us. There's no fear of secret judgment or what those around you are really thinking. No one is talking about someone behind their back, scorning or ridiculing them.
"A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends."
You can speak freely, honestly. It may be painful sometimes, and yes, you may be scared to bring faults, shortcomings, and hurts out into the light at times, but you know that to keep that close family, you have to be vulnerable and open with each other. You're not perfect and you don't expect others to be, but you do your best, and you try to have patience with them when they fall. Where one of you drops the ball, the others pick up the slack. It's beautiful.
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results."
And even as I type this, I feel like such a hypocrite, because I fail at this daily. Sometimes I avoid people and I try to keep certain people out and I don't serve or love well at all. But I'm trying. I'm trying so hard. I've seen a lot of fakeness in my life, and I'm tired of it. I've seen a lot of people talking behind other people's back, and I don't want to replicate that pattern. I want to be real. I want to be genuine. I want to be honest. And I have to say, I haven't been a part of very many circles or communities where that's a consistent reality. And this has been on my mind for a while now, just tumbling around. This past Friday, I got to be a part of something a little like that. It was kind of like God was poking me and going, "There's some experience to back up that idea of what a real community looks like that's been brewing in your head, Joy." I was at a swing dance and the power went out--no lights, no AC, no music. Cell phone lights went on and a couple of people began to sing the lyrics to an old swing song as others backed them up with vocal saxophones and basses and everyone clapped the beat. Some people left, but most stayed, and we gathered into a circle and kept singing and clapping and dancing while everything was bathed in those white cell phone lights, looking like a scene out of a black and white movie.
And the beauty of it all was that everyone was together--old, young, black, white, new and familiar with the dance, from all areas, seasons, and walks of life--sharing the joy of the music and the dance, and everyone was singing. You didn't feel as if you were a bother. There was no competition. No one felt like they were secretly being made fun of if they weren't the best at singing, or if they lost the beat, or if they messed up in some way. Where one person dropped the ball on the lyrics of a song, others would pick it up and carry it through until everyone could join in again. Some people picked up papers and began to fan others around them, something that I now realize was a beautiful picture of serving others. It was something so small and spontaneous, but as I pondered on it all later, I realized that that's just what real community looks like.
It looks like family.
"Being a family means you are part of something wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life. No matter what."
---It looks like not having to put up walls, be fake, or pretend like everything is okay.
---It looks like not having to compete, because everyone knows that they're accepted just as they are, with all their quirks and oddities--and that ultimately, we're accepted by God, the only one that matters. We're working from acceptance and not for it. That's a freeing knowledge in itself, because when we're not in a place where we have to try to assure ourselves of our own worth and acceptance, we're able to affirm others and love them selflessly.
---It looks like being honest and real with each other, in all aspects of life.
---It looks not like a little huddle of friends with inside jokes and exclusivity, but rather like a big family with arms open wide to readily welcome others into the love.
---It looks like there being no fear that we'll lose our friends over something we do or say, or who we really are, because like Jesus' love, family is unconditional. That's how community is supposed to be.
Most of all, it looks like clothing ourselves with "tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." (Colossians 3:v.12) It looks like making allowance for each others' faults, and forgiving anyone who offends us, and most of all, it looks like putting on love over all those things, because love binds us all together in perfect harmony (v. 13-14). It looks like loving and serving the same way Jesus did. Stop for a moment with me and think about what that looks like in your own life. We usually don't have to work at showing tenderhearted mercy for those awesome people in our lives that make us happy--no, it's the ones that drive us crazy and hurt us and misunderstand us and get under our skin. And sadly enough, those people are so often those right under our noses. You know the ones I'm talking about. Living this kind of life requires a total revamping of our minds and the way we think, react, and treat others, because loving like Jesus means not competing with others, not having secret motives, not trying to get ahead--even with those that have ulterior motives against us and whom we know to be attention-seekers, hypocrites, and manipulative. Jesus washed Judas' feet. It means putting others' needs and wants before our own, and putting our own desires and comforts last.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to our own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider eqality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!"
It means being compassionate, sharing in both the sufferings and the joys of others.
A suffering with another.
It means being sincere and having empathy; genuinely caring about what's going on in others' life (because that is the manifestation of "not looking to our own interests, but to the interests of others). Practically, it means making that phone call or sending that text to check on what's going in that person's life. It means taking the time to step out and invite someone into the circle. It means stopping and thinking about what's going on in their life and what effect that might be having on them--and how you can love them right in the middle of that. It means taking an interest in every single part of someone's life, because that's one of the most encouraging things you can do. It plainly says, "I love you. I care about you. You're worth it."
"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
This is what real community truly looks like. And yes, it takes a renewing of our minds to think and live life like this. It takes work and it takes practice and it takes a whole lot of spending time with God and soaking in His truth, but it's beautiful when it takes action in our lives and in the lives of those we touch. I guess this is my hope for my life; that I'd stop putting up walls and pretending; that I'd stop competing with others; that I'd stop making secret snap judgments in my mind; that I'd stop being exclusive and start reaching out and welcoming people, all kinds of people, with the Jesus kind of love that is both unconditional and always serving. And I hope we'll all do it together. Because that's what real community is--inspired by Jesus--and when that becomes a reality, God starts doing awesome things in and through us. That's what I want in my life.
"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."