Community is one of the most rewarding and yet challenging parts of Christianity. God calls us into community with other believers in order for us to be challenged, encouraged and exhorted. We all have experienced the joys of community: celebrating a loved one’s milestone, laughing and breaking bread together, or sharing the bittersweet moments of hugs and comforting words during sickness or funerals.
The challenges of community
Yes, it can be beautiful. It can also be hard and painful. Perhaps someone in our family is an alcoholic. Maybe we are married to someone with a mental illness. Or maybe there’s just that one woman in your neighborhood or church who is a little too chatty for you. There’s that one cousin who is always telling rude jokes. There’s the lady from work who is continuously asking you for help. People are difficult. Loving them can be difficult.
Too often, our instinct is to avoid these people. We give up. We end friendships when one person gets too needy. We get divorced when we disagree too often. We switch churches when the pastor says something we disagree with or a member offends us.
Jesus as our Role model
But that’s not what God has asked of us. God saw our mess and came down to earth as Man to live amongst us. He didn’t keep a distance from us. Jesus modeled community again and again. He didn’t do His ministry alone, although He could have. He chose to have a small intimate group to walk along with Him; a group He could teach and love.
Life was not meant to be lived in isolation, nor is our spiritual journey.
Community encompasses the good, the bad and the ugly, in others and ourselves. I know I can have so much ugly in me. As a mom, I get little time alone. I get even less sleep. My small children are always following after me, interrupting my thoughts and demanding whatever needs they may have at the moment. They can be frustrating and exhausting. I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt. Remember when He was taking a nap in the boat after a long day of miracles and teaching? The disciples were afraid of the storm and woke him up:
“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:22-26
If I were Jesus, my first thought would be, “can you guys leave me alone for five minutes? Just give me a break!”I probably would have yelled, rolled back over and tried to sleep. Maybe I would have marched up, calmed the storm, then yelled again about how I have to do everything. I can just feel my irritation and self-righteousness. But Jesus didn’t do that. He joined them and met their need. Jesus time and time again shows us that we are to be a part of a messy community. Life was not meant to be lived in isolation, nor is our spiritual journey.
The richness of relationships as God intended it
If you’ve ever done anything difficult, you know that having a partner can help you through it. When I gave birth, my husband and midwife were there to talk me through the pain and to tell me I could do it. I ran a half marathon and had a friend run beside me. We talked and encouraged one another when our legs were burning and exhausted. When I was in a dark depression, I talked to a trusted friend who prayed with me. Community can seem tough. And sometimes we are too ashamed to bring our own mess into the circle. But through this great vulnerability, we can find a richness in relationships, just as God intended.
“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
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