I have been talking with a few people today about community and what that looks like and feels like and ultimately what it feels like to let that go, to say goodbye either by choice or by force.
In order to discuss this further I will need to once again refer to my time in Austria, my castle home in the heart of the Alps. It was filled with people who knew me, but loved me anyway. When you work and live with a group of people you have no choice but to grow together in intimacy and to learn all the good and all the bad and annoying things about the people you live and work with. When you are a part of something that special you can’t help but feel loved. On any given Sunday you will hear someone get up and preach and because you know them so well, all the areas they struggle with and all the things they do well, you listen in a different way, you hear the stuff between the words and you know that they have come to their conclusions through experience. A community is a strange and yet very comfortable place to rest, a family of people that you have chosen to love, that have chosen to love you. Unlike family who loves you because of your relationship to you, a community loves you because of who you are.
Leaving that safe place is like leaving home for the first time, it’s scary and hard but it will bring with it maturity and growth. Leaving a home like that, be it your physical home or your spiritual home allows you to stretch and grow, and to teach others about what community can look like. Is it always safe? No, just as in some families you have people who betray you or hurt you or reject you, community will sometimes have someone who is there to cause dissent, someone who betrays, hurts, rejects. Sometimes, you are faced with someone you find it really hard to love or even like. This is how we grow.
Sometimes, we find that it’s those people who in the end become your friends, become your champions, if only you allow them in to your heart, pray for them and hope only good for them.
So here is a challenge… if you are out there, facing a new community, leaving an old one, or in the midst of one I challenge you to step it up a notch. Find the person you don’t get along so well with and learn to love them, pray for the one who seems to only be out to hurt you, teach the new ones what it really means to be a part of a community. It’s not always easy, but is ALWAYS rewarding! Being a part of a community is not a solitary thing, it means opening up to people, regardless of whether or not they may hurt you, it means being fully exposed and totally open. You can’t hide in real community. Masks won’t cut it, people will find you out, scary? Yes, but it’s also the most wonderful thing in the world to be that open, that intimate, that naked and still find yourself loved.
There is one other fantastic thing about community, a very important thing to point out. Leaving a community, though difficult and sad, means that you are open to a new one. You say goodbye to people, but is it really goodbye? My Austrian community is long since gone, broken up and spread world wide, and yet when I needed them to pray for my son, they rallied around me in prayer, having never met my Joshua they still never stopped praying, and writing, even calling to share their love and support. So here I sit in Toronto, Canada and I know that there are literally hundreds of people across the world who love me, and who love my son by proxy and who are praying for his health, his heart and mine. I had said goodbye, but I didn’t really say goodbye. Instead, I said, see you later, keep in touch. I have only expanded my community, it’s grown and changed and blessed me in so many ways. Leaving isn’t always a bad thing, just a change.