I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about community over the years. I’m part of the generation of Christian millennials who have heard every cliché buzzword when it comes to the idea of cultivating true community. I’m also part of the generation of humans who have experienced a deep shift in what community looks like. It seems that the days of face-to-face interaction are long gone, replaced by Facetime and Facebook and feedback in the form of likes and retweets.
More times than not, I find myself swinging from one extreme to the other–all in, all the time or withdrawn and isolated.
I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m shy. It doesn’t mean that I hate people. It just means that people don’t give me energy. Lots of time with people actually drains me, and crowds are not my thing. But more times than I care to admit, I let my introverted, withdrawn tendencies pull me out of community. I let my very independent self pull me away from people who love and care about me, people who want to walk alongside me.
But these days in particular, I am so deeply aware of my need for community. I am in a new country, surrounded by new people and new language and new culture. It doesn’t take long for all of this newness to become isolating. But here’s what I also know: I don’t allow myself to become isolated just in these new places. Sometimes, I find myself doing life alone in the most familiar of places, walking through life with people beside me but not actually taking the time to struggle through life together.
I find myself walking beside rather than walk with.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
The idea of community means so many things to so many people. Some have been deeply wounded by community. Some have felt the pressure to conform or change or become someone they aren’t in order to fit into a community. Some have experienced beauty and healing and belonging and grace in community. Some have longed for a community to belong to, feel known by, be seen by but have watched this desire go unmet for far too long.
Here’s what I am certain of:
Community is hard
Community is messy
Community is complicated
And yet, community is our very inhale and exhale.
What I’m realizing is this world doesn’t need one more commentary on community, on the importance of vulnerability and authenticity. We don’t need more buzzwords that make people feel isolated in their struggles and striving. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of opinion pieces and divisive issues and emotionally and politically charged writing. More and more, I am desperate for honest conversation, honest prayers, honest experiences, honest struggles, honest joys. I am desperate for empathy and compassion and understanding and the acknowledgement that none of us do this thing of life perfectly.
These days, my goals for community look a lot like stumbling through a dance and sound a lot like desperate, honest prayers for the journey. They go something like this–
May I have the eyes to see who needs to be in my community and the discernment to know who doesn’t.
May I have the courage to show up with all of myself, mess and put-togetherness.
May I cultivate relationships of vulnerability because I first chose to be vulnerable.
May I feel the freedom to be in community while still honoring the introverted person God created me to be.
May I have the grit to fight for my tribe even when it gets messy and the wisdom to know when to walk away.
May I laugh and cry with my people, inviting them into all of the spaces of my life.
May I set aside the hustler, choosing to simply be with my community rather than prove that I belong.
May I find a place I belong, even if it’s with people who are so very different than me, and may I have the grace to create a place for others to belong even if we are so very different.
May our differences not cause division but create opportunities to grow and learn and struggle and stumble together.
May we gather around a table, knowing that there are those on the margins who are simply waiting for an invitation to be a part of the feast, knowing that there is always an extra seat.
May we be a people who do the dance of community–embracing vulnerability and differences and messy people. May we cultivate places for people to belong. May we cultivate places for ourselves to belong, to show up and be seen, because what I’m learning time and again is community is so much more than a buzzword or a good idea.
We were created for community.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our very inhale and exhale.
Who is your community?
Who are the people who should be in your community?
What are your desperate, honest prayers for community?