Monday, November 11, 2013

The Need for Community

I am a smart, independent woman, living in post-women's rights America. I can vote, drive a car, wear pants, cook, let my husband cook, stay home with my kids, work, etc. etc. Yes, there are still gender pay gaps and social constraints, but for the most part, I can go it alone if I want -- and often, I want. I have chosen to marry and go the "traditional" woman route, but it was just that -- a choice. No one made me and I in no way felt pressured. I just as easily could have stayed single, started a career, and blasted to the top of the social food chain. All this power goes to my brain (it goes to men's brains too...), and makes me think that I can do everything all by myself. I not only don't need your help, but I can probably do it better than you can, so I might as well do it myself anyway. (Whew, truth-telling can get ugly, y'all. Welcome to my mind...)

But regardless of my station in life, whether I'm wiping butts, windows, or the leather seats in my Porsche, I can't do it alone. It's not a matter of "won't", "don't want to", "rather not" -- I can't. You can't. No one can. God created us in His own image: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)" God created us to reflect Him, but He is not alone. He is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit and they all exist together eternally. Our very foundational existence hinges on us being with others, being together, needing relationships. In fact, God made a partner for Adam specifically so that he would not be "alone" (Genesis 2:18). God says that isn't good. Being alone isn't good -- for anyone. (By "alone", I don't mean "single" - I just mean by yourself, with no friends, having no connections at all.)

Being my independent, go-it-alone self, I could have felt crippled when my daughter was born and everything fell apart. I was one person; there was no way I could both be with my daughter in the NICU and with my son (who was not allowed to visit her there). It was not physically possible for me to take care of my home, myself, my husband, and both my children. I could not make all the decisions and do all the things that needed doing. I had to rely on other people. 

Thankfully, God has blessed me with an amazing community of family and church. He placed on our hearts (my husband's and mine) the burden of connecting with a community, "for better or worse" if you will. "Bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2)" "Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)" When it comes down to it, we are called to be with one another, support one another, when life gets tough (which it always does). Without the rich community that we have in our church and family, my husband and I would have felt like leaves blowing in the wind, nothing holding us down when the rug was pulled out from under us. Interestingly enough, most of the powerful lessons about God, love, suffering, community, and the hard truth of life were taught to me through those very same people who were loving on us when we needed it. We have walked with our friends through cancer, death, mysterious illness, joblessness, depression. We watched them turn to the Lord and teach us about the amazing grace, power, and love of our God. We believed them and nodded our heads and thought, "Wow, I can't imagine going through something like that."

Then God gave us the opportunity to put feet to our words. When life gets hard, do you really believe what you say? What I started to realize was that the very body who taught me these truths was the one who helped me to keep believing them when those truths were tested in my own life. They taught me, and when I needed it, reminded me. "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 )" God's people are His body, and I may make a really good hand or foot or left pinky toe, but I can't work the whole thing (certainly not the head, which is Christ). During our time of struggle, all the hands, feet, arms, fingers, toes, ears, noses, and every other part of the body of Christ came together and built a haven of love. What did this look like? People walked our dogs, checked our mail, mowed our grass, watched our toddler, bought us meals, gave us money, sent us gifts, sat with us at the hospital, called, texted, emailed, Facebooked, prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. People sent our story all around the world, put us on prayer lists for churches who didn't even know us, asked our friends and family continually about this little baby girl they had never met. "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)" I truly saw the spirit of this time and time again from people who were so keen to help us, practically begging to do more.

But, really, what is the point? Besides being God's image-bearers, what is the point of this community of God? What does it accomplish? As I looked at verse after verse about the church being the church and people coming together, a few key things emerged. It fulfills the law: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)" What is the law of Christ? Specifically Jesus' command to love one's neighbor as oneself which leads you to obey all the other moral laws that God commanded (Romans 13:9-10). It makes us more like Jesus: The Philippians 2 passage continues, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus"; the "body" in Ephesians grows into Christ (the head). We become a light: in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to be salt -- to influence the world for good -- and to be light -- to shine the kingdom so that people will see the good works done by Jesus' disciples. All this leads to the main reason: it brings God glory: "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven. (Matthew 5:16)." "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins... in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:8, 11)"

Relying on others, leaning hard into a community, is part of our very design. We need it to survive, to simply "be". When we rely on that community and build it up as it builds us up, we are fulfilling the law of God. We are becoming more like Christ and displaying His grace and sacrifice to the world by being gracious and sacrificial toward one another. And ultimately, we are bringing God - the Creator of the Universe and the Giver of all things - the glory due His name. It is no small thing to have love and compassion for others, to show it through acts of service and words of love, to cry with your friends, to bring them dinners, to clean their homes, and care for their children. When you do this humbly, not for yourself but to bring glory to God, you are kneeling right next to Jesus, washing dirty feet. You are being the humble servant Christ displays for you and the world watches. It sees you get dirty to help others become clean. And it raises its eyebrow and wonders.

What about those in need? What does this picture, this charge, have to say to you? What did our time of trial teach me? Take off your sandals. Leave your independent, "I can do it myself" attitude at the door and receive the love that your brothers and sisters offer. Let your feet be washed and in doing so, bring God great glory by allowing His love to be poured out over you. Let yourself be weak. Accept it, and embrace it, and God will say to you, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)" In your weakness, the power of Christ will be with you, and trust me when I say, that power is far greater than anything you can do alone.

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