I have often spoken and written about community. My “campaign” as a pastor was to help my church community battle with their self-sufficiency for a chance to glimpse the scary world of trusting people because they have a shared life in Christ.
In addition to our local church, my wife and I have also been a part of a small group/house church/random gathering of people for the past 5 years. This group came to be called “Living Room.” While dozens of people had passed through over the years, the past few years led to a rich commitment from about six couples to live our lives together. We knew that we weren’t ready to just “live life together” so we put some structures in place that we called our “training wheels.” Our training wheels were monthly celebrations (“Living Rooms”) designed just to enjoy each other and smaller weekly discussion groups that met over a meal (“Dining Rooms”) designed to get past the small talk and get to some sort of intimacy.
The point of calling these times together “training wheels” was the recognition that at some point we should all trust each other enough that we don’t need formal gathering times to justify why we meet. Eventually we should all be able and willing to call each other every week and get together simply because we love spending time together.
After our discussions of whether to stay in the area or move to Phoenix, these two groups (in addition to a few other very close friends) were the only reasons we had for staying. And they were powerful reasons. As we left in August Sarah and I knew leaving these groups would create wounds and the rupture would leave a large hole in our hearts. These were people that were by our sides over the past five years as we fought our selfishness and self-sufficiency, they battled in the trenches with us as we fought our culture of isolation and the safety of the nuclear family. They called out of us vulnerability and uneasiness, awkward conversations and awkward silences. Our marriage to them had birthed our first experience of community and over the past few weeks Sarah & I have truly been feeling the reality of this loss.
While I can’t speak for how this has affected Sarah, I can say that for me it has caused chronic sadness, an uncharacteristic irritability, and a lack of direction. And as I reflect now on this reality, I come to three conclusions:
1. I failed to recognize the power of my community to make meaning in my life. Until the past few weeks, I never realized the structure that these people gave to me. While our move has created a lot of pain, it has also been the necessary rupture that gave me perspective. The seemingly mundane relationships of meal-sharing and weekly rhythm are not as weak as I once thought and I am ashamed that I took them so lightly.
2. In ironic tension with #1, I confess that I had made the “ideal” of community an idol. My crusade to get people into community and to have it myself had ruled my life. And without it, I feel lost. In my zeal to correct our culture’s individualistic spirituality, I had swung the pendulum too far and my own connection with my Creator had all but disappeared. The ascetics, the nuns, and the ancient monks were not as far off as I thought. A truly Christian community is not one that worships community but the loving God revealed in Jesus Christ. A desire for community is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a peaceful soul.
3. I resolve to take this time of loneliness to reconnect with Jesus, my first love. I have been torn from my idol. And the wound is still bleeding. But it is Christ, not any community, no matter how Christian, who is the Healer. And while it would be cooler and less dangerous to retreat to my usual tactics of sarcasm & cynicism, I choose this time to fight with humility and repentance.
1 I will exalt you, LORD,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 LORD my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
3 You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.
4 Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.