Of all the spiritual disciplines, community building is the most difficult for me. Maybe it's because I've been burned one too many times by Christians. Sometimes it's their "well-meaning," but ignorant, comments. Sometimes it's their mean-spirited words and actions. So I've learned the art of community on the fringe. I show up, do my part, but never really allow myself to become too vulnerable—because I just don't want to get hurt anymore. And you can't get hurt when you aren't too invested.
I know other women who feel the same way. Their motto is that old saying, "Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me." And that's how they practice living in community. On the fringe, never allowing life to get too messy—because that's too painful and takes too much energy—especially for introverted, people-pleasing, avoid-conflict-at-all costs women. Like me.
But while it's safe, I've found that practicing community on the fringe leaves me lonely and missing the joy of growing through conflict, of being stretched, challenged, and encouraged.
Jesus did community really well—which is amazing considering the men and women who continually did and said ignorant and hurtful things to him. But he kept diving in whole-heartedly—frustrated sometimes, definitely. But always centering his life and faith in the midst of other believers. And if Christ could do it and calls me to follow him, then I guess community on the fringe isn't all that God-honoring after all.
In the times when it's easiest to withdraw from those who hurt us in community, maybe God is calling us to push in deeper, to become more invested—and to find the healing from the same source as the pain.1