What I'm Learning About: Community
Community is the wellspring of the Christian life. From protection from spiritual attack to gaining trust in God, here are some reasons why you should invest time in life-giving Christian community.
Feeling Thrown Away
I saw the crumpled paper out of the corner of my eye while talking to an acquaintance at the end of choir rehearsal. I finished my conversation, bent over, and picked up the paper to toss it in the wastebasket. At the last second I uncrumpled and read it.
I saw my handwriting.
I love to sing; singing in the choir fed my soul. The choir room was my sacred space. Our choir director usually started us with vocal warm-ups, then we'd rehearse a few anthems before taking a break for devotions. We exchanged prayer requests at the end of each break. We wrote them down and put them in a basket, then took one from the basket as it made its way back around.
This evening was different. Our choir director asked us to write down a personal prayer request, one we might not otherwise share publicly. He challenged us to sign our names if we felt we could. It didn't take long to write mine—the words flowed easily. I'd written a personal request but couldn't decide if I'd sign my name. With palms sweating, at the last second, I signed my name, folded the paper, and tossed it in the basket. I'd taken a huge risk. I remember thinking, Anita, you are really desperate to do this.
Now leaving to go home, I picked up that crumpled piece of paper to discover my handwriting. I smoothed it and read it again.
"I'm very lonely. Please pray for me."
I'd found my plea, discarded and tossed on the floor. I was devastated. I put the smoothed-out piece of paper in my Bible, and thought, I'll take this home and throw it out myself! Then no one else can find my confession. A piece of my heart was inked onto that piece of paper. It withered and died that night.
On the ride home, my mind went into overdrive. How many people saw this, picked it up, read it, and dropped it back on the floor? I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I wanted to leave the choir and the church and never come back.
If you knew me then, you had no idea the depth of my loneliness. Even I didn't fully. I was a worship leader, and in leadership at work, but I was dying inside. I had plenty of acquaintances, but no deep friendships. I was desperately lonely and in a very lonely marriage.
A few weeks later the woman who had picked my prayer request out of the basket privately identified herself and apologized. She'd intended to visit me, but hadn't been able to find the time. As she told me this, I remember screaming inside my head, I can't believe you are standing there telling me that you almost came to visit me, but you didn't have time! I was desperate enough to write this request and sign my name to it; can you honestly not see how lonely I am right now?
But that's not what I said. I kept a demure smile on my face and nodded politely.
When the conversation ended, my questions turned toward God: Lord, where are you? Do you hear me? Do you care? Couldn't you send someone to meet me in my loneliness? Didn't I take a risk and do my part?
For some women, isolation is imposed on them. For many, it's self-imposed. I sense that loneliness is epidemic among women—especially Christian women. Many of us struggle with loneliness because we don't believe we're loved daughters of God. If someone asked you if God loves you, you'd answer yes. My guess is you don't really believe it. Because of a confusing, sometimes hurtful past, I believed I didn't really matter: I didn't believe God wanted to hear my heart poured out to him. It's taken me a lot of time, along with soaking in truth from Scripture, to believe that he does want to hear me, and he doesn't want me to be lonely; he wants me to be in community.
As we lean into God, we can ask the Spirit to help us discern to whom we should open ourselves. Everyone needs a friend, but not everyone is safe, especially for those of us who feel particularly fragile. Should I have expected a randomly chosen choir member to respond to my pain in any manner other than prayer? I'm not sure. Should I have associated finding my "confession" on the floor as a sign that I had been personally discarded? Probably not.
What if, when the woman who read my prayer request approached me, I'd responded more authentically? She was honest with me about her intentions and apologized for not following through. Had I ever done that?
What if I'd said, "I'm sure you're busy, and I don't know what I expected to happen. I didn't really know how lonely I was until I had a moment to put my pen to paper. Maybe we can meet at Starbucks one day next week?"
I think both of us had been immobilized by fear. I had fear of rejection; she had fear of what she might be signing up for.
C. S. Lewis said it best: "[Jesus] works on us in all sorts of ways … [but] above all, he works on us through each other. Men are mirrors, or carriers of Christ." In community, we're mirrors for one another. When we walk the path alone, we don't have true perspective. God made us for community. Not loneliness.
The night I found my crumpled prayer request on the choir room floor, I could have left the choir and never come back. But I knew God wanted me in relationships with others, even if it meant risking again. Satan would have loved for me to leave the choir and the church. But we were made to take risks, to be known by others. Our identity is in a communal God. And slowly I'm learning to reach out.