When Community Feels Like a Challenge

I once knew a highly religious lady. She wore her “Jesus Saves” button everywhere she went, her long white hair piled on top of her head, and her mouth always over pouring with the good news of Jesus. I came to know her somewhat well over the course of a couple years. You see, my mom can’t resist making friends. Even with the people most others avoid. And, to my 12-year-old dismay, this woman, Twila, always cornered my mom in the grocery store for hours. 

Already hating the long trips to the grocery store, my heart would sink when Twila rounded the corner of frozen foods. After a couple such meetings, she invited us to her house, or more accurately, her fortress.

Her house was old and small and all around it rose a huge metal fence. Easily nine feet tall. To be fair, she did not live in the best of neighborhoods. But it was obvious she was fearful and trying to keep people away. Over time I realized that she erected not only a defensive fence outside her house, but inside her heart as well.

Twila invited us over to listen to her sing and play the hymns she composed. She also loved to preach and teach from the Bible. But when we asked if she went to church, she grew defensive and proclaimed that she held church on her own. Apparently, no church got it right enough for her. And though she was tight-lipped about her personal life, she mentioned that she was once married to a minister. Something happened that deeply scared her trust in any church or man.

Though Twila’s story is one of extreme solace, it leads me to wonder how many of us are secluding ourselves. Trust in community or relationships breaks and leaves fear in its wake. We are left with a crippled ability to connect and scars that remind us of the risk of true community.

When engaging in community gets painful, sometimes my first inclination is to pull away or plaster on a fake smile that holds people at a distance. After all, letting people in is risky. But is it worth it? 

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” Brene Brown, from  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (affiliate link).

Isn’t love and connection always a bit of a risk? It is also a process. A process filled with imperfections, short comings, and failure. And it is true a life without genuine connection may have prestige and honor, but it would also harbor great emptiness and loneliness.

We are made to exist in community. Jesus didn’t come just to offer individual salvation. He prayed that we would live life together, communing over His sacrifice, acting as one body–as His beloved bride to share His gift of life with the world.

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:20-21

When we commune with God we are called to lay our lives–weaknesses and short comings and all–before Him. Through our weaknesses, He proves strong. There is no sense in us kneeling before God and flashing a fake smile, listing our accomplishments and recounting our status as “fine.” God sees straight into our hearts, hidden places, and dark corners–so eluding Him is futile.

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

God does not throw our weaknesses in our face to shame us. Nor should we shame each other. We are called to walk together, to encourage one another, and yes, to hold each other accountable–but always in love.

“God does not expose weakness to increase our shame, but to offer His protection. He does not reveal sin to mock us, but to free us. He reveals to heal.” Alicia Britt Chole from Pure Joy (affiliate link).

When community feels like a challenge, it may be easier to pull back, or lose ourselves in the crowd. And sometimes, for a short season while bringing our scars and pain before God for healing, it may be okay. But we must be willing to try again. To resist the urge to paint on fake smiles and erect nine-foot walls. We must lay aside our pride in order to not only let others see into the recesses of our heart, but to look others in the eye–the window to their soul–and hold space for their pain, their weakness, their struggle. To come alongside them and say, “You are not alone.”

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” Brene Brown from The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

5 thoughts on “When Community Feels Like a Challenge

  1. Community can be such a challenge. I tend to stick with those I’ve known a long time, but I have been trying to push myself to reach out more! It’s tough to build friends from scratch. Especially since we’ll only be here for another year (or less) and we’ll be moving on to grad school. I have to push myself to make connections, even if we are here only for a short amount of time.
    Bethany Lotulelei recently posted…Our 1st Anniversary Trip to OmahaMy Profile

    • I understand that! Investing in relationships really takes work and time and energy. And some days I fail at investing in others because I feel like I have so little to offer. And it is even harder when you know you will be moving on (location at least). But some of the relationships I formed in Phoenix, even if short-lived, have turned into a huge blessing, even from a distance. 🙂

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