I’ll never forget Miss Moss, with her Coke-bottle glasses and a disability that left her slow and kind. She loved writing notes of encouragement even though her handwriting was chicken-scratchy and sloped down the page.
And Earl Roland. He was a hunched old man who loved to pray. In the absence of an acceptable singing voice he’d mastered the art of whistling, and he whistled loud and strong through the hymns we sang in church. So to honor him we whistled “A Mighty Fortress” at his memorial service.
I remember little old women in polyester who fawned over me, and the wrinkled man in a wheelchair who had a big black Bible and said, “But God…!” (Because he knew stuff the rest of us didn’t yet understand.)
But it wasn’t just the old and the weak that made a strong impression on me.
Roland and Naomi were seminary students in their late twenties when I was a teen. They never missed an opportunity to love on me. When I graduated from high school and no one else my age was left at church, they invited me to join their young married small group. Roland and Naomi wanted children but their arms remained empty. I watched them navigate barrenness with quiet trust, and it changed me.
And there were friendships forged over food. My parents set the stage for rich and relaxed community by hosting myriad meals, even on a shoestring budget. Neighbors, newcomers to church, out-of-town friends, they all gathered around our table and lit up our home. Missionaries-on-furlough ate pot roast and told stories from the field. Giddy newlyweds talked of love over casserole. Sharing meals with people seemed as natural as, well…. eating…. and left me with an incurable taste for joy.
And what I couldn’t have put into words then, but I understand to the marrow of my bones now, is that community is life.
It grows you up.
It anchors you down.
It humbles you.
It heals you.
It’s the warp and woof of our existence.
Now I’m the one with a family, and we’re living in the fastest-paced generation in the history of mankind. Despite some physical limitations that naturally slow us down, our family can still find ourselves dashing here and there, squinting sideways at our calendar to see how we’ll squeeze in another birthday party or baby shower, and communicating instantaneously with dozens of people in the course of one day.
My husband and I have to regularly fight against the tug of too much. We keep asking ourselves, “How do we pursue authentic, consistent, unhurried relationships? How do we do this in a way that builds up our family and doesn’t splinter us in a dozen different directions?”
How can we make sure our son doesn’t miss rubbing shoulders with the Miss Mosses and Earl Rolands of this world? The old and the weak, we miss them when we’re in too much of a hurry.
We haven’t stumbled upon any easy answers. Community looks so different for each one of us, in each new season of our lives. And as soon as we think we’ve found our groove and figured it all out, life changes. The mom with three small children, the overseas missionary, the 50-year-old with aging parents, the one who’s chronically sick—they’ll tell you there’s no cookie-cutter shape for community.
But one thing’s for certain: we need each other. We can’t work through our yuck, see our blindspots, grow in grace, and experience joy on an island (no matter how exotic it might be). And while God alone is more than enough for us—and He should be our first and greatest relationship—He knows we will love and understand Him more when we’re living in authentic relationship with others.
So we prioritize it: Be with others. Set food on the table and open the front door. Tell each other our stories. Confess sin to a friend. Meet a tangible need. Laugh together. Pray together. Sit quietly with a grieving one. Seek the wisdom of older friends. Forgive each other. Say yes to an offer of help.
And say “no.” A lot. Say no to relationships that bring out the worst in us and distract us from God’s purposes (Proverbs 13:20). Say no to pleasing everyone. Say no to doing it all. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but a too-large social circle and a bleeding calendar are some of my greatest hindrances to loving others with authenticity and joy.
I’m so grateful for the kaleidoscope of people who shaped my world when I was a child, and those who continue to shape it now. I pray that someday my son will also tell of how he was molded not only by us, his parents, but also by the people we did life with: the young and the old, the weak and the strong.
I pray his identity in Christ will grow within the context of community.
Dear one, this world feels half crazy, doesn’t it? But our God has not left us alone. He is with us and He has given us everything we need for life and godliness—including His people, “the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.”