Do you like to be surrounded by people and activity, or do you prefer a quiet house or a deserted trail? For as long as I can remember, I have treasured my alone time. I used to thoroughly enjoy the Wednesday nights when Eric would go to a game night and leave me alone in our home for the evening (that comment is not at all about him, only about me). Even if I changed nothing about my routine, something about knowing I was completely alone felt rejuvenating, as if I was a cell phone which was charging. (And I was always excited for him to come home. ~smile~)
In fact, I adore my alone time so much that I am occasionally faced with uncomfortable questions: “Do I idolize my freedom, my quiet, and my solitude?” and “Do I love them so much that I choose them over the work God has for me to do?” We all have our battles; and, honestly, this is one of my big ones –especially since I know humans were built for community (for which Eric often feels the need to remind me). But, really, we do need community and must prioritize community.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)
Since the beginning of our marriage, one of our most consistent disagreements has centered around the importance of building friendships and community. Being someone who has limited social and emotional energy, I cling to the relationships I already have and shy away from seeking new ones. Eric continues to desire a more vibrant social life and believes it is important for us to build relationships with others (admittedly, with all of his work, I have a more vibrant social life than he does; but he does desire more connection) – for our marriage’s health and our spiritual health.
The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food. – Dean Ornish
Whether it is his seventeen years of wearing me down or the Holy Spirit at work in my heart, I may be close to finally admitting I am seeing the importance of building and nourishing a community (some call it a tribe)… especially as the world becomes more unpredictable. Again, we were created to need others. Togetherness was in God’s blueprint for humanity all along.
Where Do I Start?
Rome was not built in a day, and neither are communities. So, we must start with small, consistent steps.
- Say yes. It seems simple, but it can feel very challenging at first for some. When you are invited to the cookout, say yes. When a buddy suggests getting a group together for a Bible study or prayer group, say yes. When your boyfriend wants to befriend a new couple at church, take a moment, breathe, and say yes. A life of too many “no” responses catches up with us after a while. If it’s not immoral, or illegal… say yes. Your world will open more.
- Instead of thinking about the bad which could happen, picture the potential for good. About six years ago, Eric and I were in the habit of spending most Friday nights with good friends enjoying fellowship and pizza (i.e., my love language). One Friday, they told us another family would be joining us for the evening. My change-loathing, low social energy self immediately started picturing the worst. There go our predictable, relaxing Friday nights. Now I will have to be “on.” As it turns out, the family I met that night quickly became one of my favorite families in town. I have watched their little girls grow and helped them welcome two sons. Now, when I am in the position to meet new people (thought I still feel nervous and low energy), I try to remember that evening six years ago; and, instead of expecting the worst, I think about the time a stranger I was “forced” to meet became one of my dearest friends. You never know when you’re about to meet another great friend (but if you never say yes, you never do).
- Ask God to show you what He wants for your community and search the Scriptures. Sometimes we treat God’s will like buried treasure. We search, turn over stones, and hope to someday find the magic spot. Yet, he left us a holy book filled with His will for us… and we spend a lot of time looking for His will outside of it. The more time we spend pouring over the Scriptures, the more we see God’s design for relationships and community unfold.
- “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)
- “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)
- “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (I Peter 2:15, ESV)
- “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (I Thessalonians 4:3-8, ESV)
- Learn from history. When we read Scripture, we find several examples of community. In modern times, especially now that we can communicate from a distance, we have lost the natural communities which came from living in tribes or even gathering with neighbors to build barns or share food. Which aspects of community building can we revive from earlier generations? One of my favorite classic TV shows, Little House on the Prairie, comes to mind. The community often helped each other in time of crisis. People did not hesitate to run to a neighbor’s house when a strong man or mid-wife was needed. Sharing was normal and so was hospitality. Which practices can we recover from the past?
- Be available. This point is super convicting for me. When my phone rings, it makes my insides jump because I am usually in the middle of something. “What is this person going to ask of me and how is this request going to impact the plan I already made for my day?” Recently, I heard someone use the phrase “ministry of availability” and it brought up mixed emotions. On one hand, I want to be that person. I want to be someone others can count on when they need encouragement, a favor, or a laugh. On the other, the thought of being available is scary. It is unpredictable. It is uncomfortable. And, it is one of the bedrocks of a strong community – people being there for each other in good times and bad times.
- “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King
If you believe community is important, and maybe even long for community, but shy away from people because of fear or bad experiences, I, and so many others, empathize with you. Some of my favorite people stay closed inside their comfort zones because of pain inflicted by other sinners. Any time we open our hearts to people, we risk being hurt.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. – C. S. Lewis
In this life we will be wounded; it is the reality of living in a sin-stained world. But, if we are in Christ, we have a hope which outlives this temporary world (Romans 8:18). So, we build relationships with others because it is what God calls us to do (1 Peter 4:8-9, Romans 12:9-10). We invest in creating communities because it is wise to have connections with those around us in uncertain times (Hebrews 10:24-25). We pour into each other’s lives because we need to encourage and be encouraged (I Thessalonians 5:11).
“And all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
So, we cheer you on as you to take the first step towards finding or creating a community. And, if you are already involved, we encourage you to prioritize the people in your group and reach out to others who need a place to belong.
“Oh, how good it is on this journey we share to rejoice with the happy and weep with those who mourn. For the weak find strength, the afflicted find grace, when we offer the blessing of belonging.” – Keith and Kristyn Getty (Oh, How Good It Is)
How can you and your significant other build, expand, and minister to your community this week?