Recently I shared some of my thoughts on community and the response was amazing. It has only further convicted me that other women, besides me, are hungry for this too. We are a generation marked by the desire for authenticity. We are so over pretending. Our love of social media alone reveals our desire to know and be known. (Did you hear that? Yes, I believe our Facebook addiction has roots in the desire for community.)
Timothy Keller defined the need for community well in his book The Prodigal God:
…there is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place….Christians commonly say they want a relationship with Jesus, that they want to “get to know Jesus better.” You will never be able to do that by yourself. You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve, and love Jesus will you ever get to know him and grow into his likeness.
I decided that maybe some “how-to” suggestions might be helpful. Obviously your hijacking of friends may look vastly different than mine, but here are some thoughts on how this worked for me.
1. A common denominator makes it easier. Maybe you will pursue friendships with other moms of young kids, or other single, professional women, or party it up with the empty-nesters. Finding friends in the same season of life makes “doing life” together a lot more doable. Maybe your common denominator is geography, the same church, the same neighborhood, office, etc. Keep in mind, it is wonderful if you have friends who don’t look like you.
2. The time component. I realize that the way I described my community experience may have sounded a little daunting, based on time alone. I promise, we did not live communally together. We only thought about it. It was worth every minute! Even on nights when you are tired and going to or hosting another gathering sounds wearisome, time invested in your people is going be fruitful. Inviting people into the natural rythms of your life isn’t as daunting as it may seem. And, if you are too busy to have time for community in your life, I will go ahead and say it. You are too busy. It’s that important. This is a commitment, but never a burden.
3. All of this works best within the context of Missional Community. Here is a link to Todd Engstrom’s blog. He gives a fantastic description. My husband and I participated in MC during our time in Austin and have started one here in Northwest Arkansas. I plan to write more on this soon.
4. Being vulnerable. I simply can’t stress this enough. During one of my first times attending a moms group in Austin, one of the pastor’s wives came to speak to us. She sat down and practically the first words out of her mouth were, “Hi, my name is Kara and I struggle with the idols of approval and comfort.” I was completely floored. No one had ever introduced themselves to me and immediately started confessing sin! Now, I will admit this may not work well at every party you attend, or the first time you meet someone new. Awkward? Maybe. Powerful? Yes. That sweet woman freed me a little bit that day. Light touched my darkness. In order to get close to people, you have to start talking about the deep stuff. Go first.
5. Walk through fire together. Proverbial fire, of course. Along the lines of being vulnerable, don’t be afraid of the struggles of others. Meet them there and struggle with them. Reach down and pull. Walking together, shoulder to shoulder, through hard seasons bonds you to another person in a unique way.
6. Getting away. Aside from opening yourself up, this one has been SO crucial to me and my tribes. Plan a girls weekend. Get out of town. It is important for women to gather with their children running about in order to teach those little people about community. But for heaven’s sake. One cannot expect to have a conversation of much depth with listening-little-ears and toddlers attached to your leg. Everyone just feels freer getting out of town together. There are ways to manage this extremely cheaply too. The second part of getting away together and getting closer, is having an agenda. The first girls weekend my moms group went on involved me making everyone share their entire life story, one at a time. No lie. It was harder for some than others. There were lots of tears. We came out of there ready to take a bullet for each other. The second girls weekend I organized, I instructed everyone to share times in their lives that were “Game Changers”, as in a circumstance that God used to steer them toward His purposes for their life. They all thought I was crazy, but 8 hours in a car together can’t be wasted just discussing our kids, jobs, etc.
7. A cord of three strands. Teaming up with others who are like-minded emboldens us to carry out the Great Commission in a whole new way. And it’s a lot more fun and a lot less scary. Community might lead you and your tribe to pray with a random murderer-turned-ex-con-turned-believer in the ice cream parlor of a tiny town in Oklahoma. I mean, who would do that alone? I’m just saying: YOU NEVER KNOW.
8. Grace. You must extend grace to others like crazy. God has sent some saints my way for a reason. I can be hard to love sometimes. If we are friends, I am going to disappoint and/or flat out fail you at some point. I’m so sorry about that. People are just hard. We are an annoying, self-righteous, critical, judgmental, cynical, too loud, too quiet, stubborn, controlling, rude, cold-hearted, you-name-it bunch. But, you know that part about having been forgiven much causing you to FREELY give grace and forgiveness to everybody else.
9. You are okay. Just because you don’t succeed the first time (or the third)…try, try again! We don’t fit in everywhere, and that’s okay. Pray. Beg Him for community. You belong somewhere and all the trial-and-error and seasons of waiting are worth it, even if they are hard at the time. It says nothing about your value when a particular friend or group doesn’t work out. You will know your tribe when you land there.
10. You are limited. (This one is a shout-out to my beloved extroverts. I am not an extrovert, I only pretend to be one on occasion.) I am only beginning to learn this. I love women. Like, crazy love them. I have this tendency to shout, “The more the merrier!!” And I sincerely believe in stretching yourself out for the benefit of others. So, I have to be intentional in narrowing my focus. Who has God placed in my path, without my own efforts, and what is my role in part of that story? If I’m not intentional about my time and relationships, I will extend myself so far, that I am either burned out, or incapable of taking care of the ones He has given me. Balancing that with being open-eyed for the ones He is bringing to me is tricky. Give me a few more years, maybe I’ll get good at this and write something helpful about it.
In her study Restless (which I can’t over-recommend), Jennie Allen writes:
To piddle is to waste time, or spend one’s time idly or inefficiently. It is easier to survive this life on the surface, bumping up against people gently than do the mess of intentionally loving them. Love takes risk. Love takes forgiveness and grace. Love takes effort, time, and a commitment to not bolting when it gets hard (because it will get hard). If this is the cost of deep relationships, we can’t possibly have capacity and space to go deep with everyone. So we have to become intentional.
If you aren’t convinced on this whole “community” thing by now…well, I’m sure I will just keep trying to persuade you. Never fear. Peace be with you.