For those of you who know me, you know I am a HUGE advocate of community. I believe we were designed for relationships. And there is nothing I love more than bringing people (who really have no business being friends) together and doing life as a ragtag family in big ways. This is why I love potlucks (I’m a good ole Southern Baptist girl). I love bringing people together over a table full of food because it gives us the opportunity to encourage and inspire one another to be who God called us to be. I love (and dread it) when they call me out, remind me who I am, and point me to the feet of Jesus. We pick each other up, identify who God is, who we are in Christ, and who the enemy is. Plus, they’re all total goofs.
This is the ideal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. There are some days satan fights for the heart of our community. He takes something God intended for good and manipulates it into a wound so big, that Loneliness has the ability to throw his own potluck. Soon, Loneliness decides to expand this party of one and invites his neighbor, Comparison, over. Comparison checks the “plus one” box on the invitation and walks in, hand-in-hand, with Jealousy. And what would a party be without Loneliness’ quiet, but feisty little cousin, Fear? Soon, the line of guests becomes longer than eight-year-old Faith’s Christmas list (which, hear you me, was pretty darn long). When we allow the enemy to creep into the midst of community, he eats us up quicker than a girl eating a pumpkin spice bagel on a fall day (this is me… and you can find said bagels at Target).
A broken community doesn’t just affect one, it affects all. You see, the problem starts when we get the priorities of our community wrong. I’ve seen this in my own life.
- I do community wrong when I suffocate my own passions in order to imitate the passions of the group. I just want to please (and am maybe afraid that I’m not pleasing), but when I do this, I’m robbing others of the gifts God has uniquely given me.
- I do community wrong when I find my satisfaction in being invited to every outing that anyone puts on. Who cares if someone else was left out? I was invited.
- I do community wrong when my identity is found in the approval of those in the group. Isn’t there a verse about that? Nah, surely that doesn’t apply here. I’m trying to reach “beloved” status – God will understand. Dear Galatians 1:10, I’m just going to hide you in my closet for now. I’ll pull you out when I’m teaching Student Ministry.
- I do community wrong when I chase after the hearts of others before the heart of my King.
- I do community wrong when I compare my life and its value with others. A little jealousy never hurt anyone… until it did.
- I do community wrong when I think having a spiritual conversation with my friends is the equivalent to spending time alone with God.
- I do community wrong… a lot. We all do, I think. There are times when we quench the Spirit in the name of fitting in.
And it happens in “Christian” communities all the time – meaning in friendships between good and even really, really good people who love Jesus (Yikes – is it okay if I say that? Cause, I said it). Loneliness’ potluck can, and has, run rampant through all of our souls. When we are focused on the things I listed above, satan is distracting us from pursuing Christ together. He is distracting us from being a force of eternal good.
It’s tricky. It feels like we may never get it totally right. But, let me tell you, we can each change our posture. I love the way Maria Goff puts it, “When we’re ourselves, it gives others the freedom to be who they are, too” (Love Lives Here, pg 172). God handcrafted each of us uniquely. We’ve heard it one hundred times. Yet, we are still afraid to step into our own unique skin.
What happens when we do, though, despite the fear?
I’ll tell you in a word: freedom. And it’s a freedom that empowers someone else to live the same way. And another, and another, and another… Before you know it, our communities are bursting in celebration of uniqueness. We are filled with the desire to love each other well. Our thoughts are no longer trapped on us alone, but they have a world of others to pray for, laugh with, teach, and challenge.
There’s a story in Luke 5 that demonstrates the type of friend I want to be in my community. A paralyzed man was lowered through a house’s ceiling by a group of people in order to be upfront and personal with Jesus – they all wanted him to have the best seat in the house because they knew something wild and good could happen. The crowd was so large, there was no way to make it in through the door… so naturally, the ceiling would have to do. Duh. Surely enough, the man’s sins are forgiven, and his body is healed after he is laid direct in front of Jesus as this house party (insert cheering here). The paralyzed guy picks up his mat and walks out of the house like he was strutting on a runway (that’s how I like to imagine it at least… accurate? Highly unlikely, but if it were me…).
What kind of friend are you? These friends had gone the distance together. They’d moved creatively and persistently together for the sake of another. Can you imagine the looks the men must have received? After all, there were teachers of the law sitting amidst Jesus. Their looks of judgement probably bored holes right through them.
And there it is: community. The willingness to give up all comfort, in order to get another in front of Jesus.
Pray for the people in your community today by name. Take time to celebrate and encourage their uniqueness and yours too. Maybe plan a potluck and invite way too many people. Reach out to the new person at church and remember it took great courage for them to even show up. Now it’s your turn to show some courage. Lock eyes with Jesus and know your brothers and sisters, as Beth Moore would say, “are your compadres, not your competitors.”
In the name of Jesus, we take back our communities.