When I think of a tangible picture of what community is, the first thing that pops into my mind is the drug and alcohol unit at my job. I am aware this sounds completely absurd but, from the moment you step foot onto that decrepit building, you know these people live and breathe community. It is the only way they will survive. In fact, many of the patients will quickly refer to their fellow members as "family". Yes, patients are detoxing and miserable, but they are encouraged by the other members who have detoxed just days earlier that it will get better. I am continually suprised how welcoming the community is to its new comers. They quickly introduce themselves and show them around the rundown facility, making them feel "right at home". The members of the community lead AA and NA groups and remind others to attend. They will shout up and down the halls annoucing group and even wake up their peers, knowing that attendance of the group is in his or her best interest. In almost a funny way, the group looks out for one another, making sure the members are aware when the can go out for a smoke break or have lunch. And, let me tell you, a celebration is had when a member is finally able to go home. Hugs, goodbyes, and reminders to stay in touch are exchanged, as patients are enthusatic to see one of their peers complete the journey.
Now, seeing this type of community firsthand, I am almost ashamed of the community I have often experienced within the church. In my experience, too often our communities are fragmented and function more as individual groups than a "family". We keep to ourselves, smile and nod at the appropriate times, and insert the appropriate Bible verses and Christian lingo to keep up our facade. To be honest, I rarely see the type of oneness, empathy, and celebration that I witnessed in a secular drug and alcohol clinic.
Now, I'm not trying to point fingers or pass the blame. I will be the first to say I am more a part of the problem than the solution. But, all this being said, I can't help but wonder- what are we doing wrong as a church?
I say this because I am not the only one who has felt this way. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had the past couples of years with well-meaning church members who finally revealed the same feeling. Disconnected. Unengaged. Misunderstood. Judged. And every time I left these conversations thinking something about this whole scenario is simply wrong. I mean, if there were any place were individuals should feel accepted and loved for just who they are, shouldn't it be within the church walls? Yet, this is not happening for so many and it breaks my heart.
I am well aware there can be many reasons for this type of disconnect. I understand there is individual responsibility and the church as a whole cannot not take the whole weight of the blame. But, sadly enough what I have found in my personal experiences, is my deepest moments of community often occurred outside of the church.
I am fortunate enough to go to a Christian college and take classes focused specifically on spiritual growth. Amazing. This is where, this past year, my journey for true community took a significant plunge. You see, I was placed in a room with complete strangers and within one year developed the type of bond that is rarely experienced in this life. These classmates cried and laughed with me and called me out in ways people who have known me for years have never even dared. They cecelebrated the smallest of victories in my life and sorrowed over the things that I could not even put tears to. In one year, we developed the type of trust that allowed us to reveal the deepest and darkest secrets we had never spoke about, which enabled healing, joy, and freedom that was beyond imagination.
To be honest, after experiencing that type of community, it is hard to go back to facades and small talk. I can't find myself content with the false togetherness I was once so at home in. You see, it's because I now know there is something deeper to be tasted and experienced. God has so much more for us as a body of believers.
"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Ephesians 4:15-16
This most likely sounds like a ramble. Which it probably is. But, let me say, this is not to condemn the church. I want to encourage my fellow brothers and sisters that there is so much more to be tasted. I'm not saying it is easy, because I know firsthand how difficult it really is. In fact, diving into true community can be one of the biggest risks you will ever take. However, God created us to be part of a body of believers for a reason. It is one of the vehicles for how we are to experience His love, forgiveness, and healing while we remain on this earth. Ultimately, I believe so many are discontent in the church right now because He is creating a desire in our hearts for something deeper both with Him and each other. It is really up to us- will we enter in?
community at its finest :) these women changed my life.