community loneliness

When Community is Painful

8:12 AMHeather

I sat on the bed in my dorm room, trying to absorb what my roommate was telling me. She seemed quite satisfied to be delivering the news that after the Christmas break, I would live down the hall with someone else because she had decided to switch roommates.

I could have been content with that. It could have been good news. After all, it became apparent rather quickly that my dream of going off to college and having a roommate who became a lifelong best friend was not going to come to fruition. Living with her had not been easy, so this news could have brought relief once I had sorted through the sting of being kicked out. 

But then she brought the fatal blow. She said I was a big phony and totally fake and she wasn't buying it. Her disapproval of me was because of how I was dealing with my father dying from cancer, and she said so in no uncertain terms. 

I remember feeling crushed that she would dare tread on such sacred ground. I was wrestling hard and there was no handbook on how to walk through this valley. She twisted the knife with the final announcement that the three girls whom I considered my best friends agreed with her. She let me know that they all laughed and mocked me late at night behind my back and everyone thought the same things of me.

I left quickly and found my friends down the hall to get their reassurance that it wasn't true. Except that it was. One friend wept with me and apologized. One owned it completely and unfurled her anger at me, expressing what she really thought of me. One sat silent.

Needless to say, I went home for Christmas that freshmen year of college feeling crushed. I felt the sting of shame and rejection, yet didn't feel I could tell my parents what happened. They had enough going on with endless chemo treatments and doctor visits. I waffled all throughout the break about whether I could back to school. I didn't know if I had it in me to return to the scene of the crime.

The truth is that living in community can be painful. 

Image courtesy of Unsplash
If I were to be perfectly frank, this incident from 28 years ago rarely crosses my mind. But as of late, it keeps coming back. I mull over the memory of it because it feels like it is repeating itself. Living through the middle school years for my only daughter brings it back. Watching your children navigate their way through shifting friendships and finding their place to serve and to belong is hard on a Mama's heart. Much less when you feel the exact same thing in your own life.

Our busy world, with full calendars and long tasks lists, causes us to be really bad at community. I'm as guilty as the next person, so I'm certainly not pointing fingers. But, we simply get way too caught up in our own thing to see the person on the peripheral who is sitting alone. We let even cherished friendships fade because it slips off our radar. We let our own agendas dictate our relationships and we abandon the power of grace for the sake of self-preservation.

I'm wrestling here in this place where I know we are made for community but I fight the urge to hibernate in my own safe little house. 

God intends for us to live in community, and clearly says so in Scripture. He saw Adam and knew he needed a helpmate. The early church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common," Acts 2:42-44.

We were made for community, but truth be told, we kinda stink at it, myself included. Listen, I have felt community at its finest. I have ridden in an ambulance with my husband, to find four friends sitting in the ER at 2:00 am, ready to hold our hands. I watched a group of young ladies set up a schedule to visit my daughter after surgery, with homemade notes and her favorite treats every few hours. I have laughed with friends until I cried and had my hand held through ugly sobs of sorrow. I have felt the deep pleasure of belonging and knowing these are my people and they have my back. And when we work at it... when we are intentional and thoughtful and surrendered to each other, there is no more beautiful picture of Christ than when his bride acts like one body.

I have also bit my tongue to hold back tears and worked to hold my head high as I walk into a place where I will see people who have wounded me and cared not when this was expressed. I have wept over the pain that my children experience when they feel left out or rejected or mocked. I battle the tendency to stuff my own feelings because of the sting when being vulnerable falls flat.

When community is painful there is no quick fix. I have no three-step solution. But, I can tell you this. 

I get it. I've felt it. Most of us have. Because we are messy and broken people. We are all carrying our own burdens and pains and assumptions, and our natural inclination for self-preservation means we put our needs before others. We are self-serving people who feel the heavy weight of the opinions of others like no other generation, in this social media culture. 

It makes us forget who we are. It makes us forget whose we are. 

For every believer in Christ is a son or daughter of the Most High God. We have been redeemed through the cross and the divine plan for us is to seek to live out community as one body, united under the blood of Jesus. 

This challenging truth keeps coming to my mind, here in the painful places. The gospel tells us that we are to care more about how we feel and what we believe about God than we do about how we feel and what we believe about ourselves. Elevating God and turning our attention to his glory rather than our own status helps us stay the course in hard seasons of community.

Jesus himself set the precedent for looking out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others. We are to act different from the world. It is unbecoming to the gospel story for people to walk into the Church and find we treat each other exactly like the rest of the world treats people.

Grace is required. Extending grace to each other in all circumstances should be our standard. The good news is that we have it in ample supply through the Holy Spirit within us.

When community is painful, we have the comfort of a Savior who felt the sting himself. His own disciples denied him. His own brothers didn't believe him. His own people demanded his crucifixion. His own church leaders questioned him and plotted against him. 

Yet still, he yielded for the sake of the Father's plan and for his Father's glory.

And what a beautiful glory is revealed when we do likewise. When we run to our Father in honest laments about our struggles, and we beg him to equip us to live out this gospel in a way that shows a watching world that the bond of Christ is strong enough to make a family out of dysfunctional, sinful, selfish, messy people.

Like the pains of childbirth, when we push through the wounds of community, a beautiful thing can be birthed. 

Oh, that we would lean into the hard places and not give up, but ever work toward loving one another in increasing measure all the days of our lives.

Because the most beautiful thing about community is not that it is perfect and easy, but that it is built and honored despite being imperfect and difficult.

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