Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Community: Why it's Hard

I've been thinking a lot lately about community-- particularly as it pertains to singleness, since I've read two memoirs by single people in the last month-- and I've been refreshed by their vision for what it ought to be, and also reminded of the pain and challenges involved in seeking it out. The books' main impact on me was awakening me to the absolute necessity of a thriving Christian community that goes beyond the "nuclear family," AKA "me and my spouse/me and my kids." And in a culture that is so individualistic, that is so privatized, it's difficult for us to imagine anything like that. I mean, sharing life in a deep way, even with a spouse, can already feel like being skinned alive. It's hard enough to expose our weaknesses, fears, and insecurities to someone who knows us intimately; how much harder might it be to be vulnerable to others as well? What's more, it's already inconvenient enough to invest in one or two deep relationships (think parent, spouse, child) Do we really have the time to prioritize deep relationships with others as well? 

The latter is what has convicted me so much in the past month. I like to be very "organized" about how I spend my time, especially social time. Being the extrovert that I am, I love people-- but I also have to recharge from being with them, so I feel justified in "scheduling" relationships. What that means is there are times when I'm available to engage meaningfully, and there are times when I'm not: when I don't want to answer the phone, stop and talk, or respond to invitations. 

Now. I know that balance is not a bad thing, and that having structure-- time with others and time "alone"-- is healthy. But. The dangerous lie is that real, transformative community can happen between 1-2pm at Starbucks and I can clock out after I've "done my time." The lie is that I can show up at a Bible study or prayer meeting, spout off some pious words, act concerned for my friend who just expressed her deep struggle with loneliness, and then go about my day. "Engaged in meaningful community: done. Checked off the list. Now on to groceries. And if some other needy person comes by, well, too bad for them. I have things to get done." 

Now, it may be an appropriate time to stop and mention what "real, transformative community" is or why it matters. That could be a post (or book) on its own, so I'll try to be brief. First, to be human is to be relational. We were created-- wired-- to know and be known interpersonally, AKA in community. We can't really become who we were created to be if we keep people out. Second, to be a Christian is to be part of a corporate reality; it is to belong to the Church, Christ's Body. That means one cannot really live the Christian life from behind a TV screen (how many churches nowadays are live-streamed?), a book (guilty there) or even a pulpit. It is not enough to sit around and think about Christian ideas or check spiritual boxes: to be a Christian is to be in communion with Christ, and therefore with His people. What's more, it's not enough to show up to church on Sunday and say all the right things, or even to attend holy sounding mid-week events on a regular basis. Those things can be good, but they're not ends in themselves. We can participate in "scheduled" community without ever really being known, exposing ourselves, or investing in others.  

Here's where nuclear families come in. Sure, my husband and I could have that deep interpersonal knowing and relationship; we could pray for each other and be that community for each other. And in many ways we do, and that's a good thing. But if we don't extend that community to the rest of the Body, it would be like putting a rubber-band around my pinky finger; it would be cutting us off from the larger entity of which we are a part. It would hurt us (as much fun as we have together, we need more than each other's eyes to stare into) and it would hurt them (we're called not to hoard our lives, but to share them with those around us!). 

So, back to why this concept is hard. I've already mentioned the inconvenience of it, the time involved, and the risk of being vulnerable with others. But I think another reason this is hard is because sometimes, that very community burns us. Yes, the Church is Christ's bride, His body, His "presence" on earth. And yes, it is broken, in need of rescue, and filled with hurting, angry people-- many of whom are not "safe." No wonder we don't want to be vulnerable! We've got our own issues to deal with, and so often it feels difficult enough to lick our wounds in private, without subjecting ourselves to people who will perpetuate  those wounds by not really caring when we cry for help. For some of us, memories of seeking "real, transformative community"-- and being deeply wounded by it-- are what keep us away from Church altogether. 

What's the solution? I don't know. All I know is that my own experience in broken community helped me to realize that I'm not alone in my dysfunction. I'm fearful, selfish, and wounded-- and so are they. And that is why we all belong to Christ, because we need Him. That realization has made me more comfortable in Church, because I realize, "I fit right in." And it's one of the most shocking realities of the Christian story that Jesus, the Rescuer of Broken people, uses broken people as His means of rescue. In other words, those angry, hurting, insecure Christians are some of the very same ones who helped me grow into maturity. And some of them would also say that anxious, fearful, dysfunctional, angry Hannah helped them grow as well. I've both experienced deep pain in community, and found deep healing through it. It is a profound mystery! Yes, it's inconvenient, yes it takes time, yes it's dangerous and almost certainly painful. But yes, it is worth it. 

What has your experience been in community? Does it come naturally to you or do you find creative ways to stay hidden? How has singleness or family commitments played a part in your understanding of communal life? Whether you are a Christian or not, what has your experience of the Church been?  

1 comment:

Missy said...

yesss, this is great, and close to what i was just discussing earlier today. very well-put, and u write like ure sittin next to me :)