My friend Rachel was just walking out the door for a hair appointment when she encountered an interruption—one of the countless changes in personal plans she endures daily while living with fellow believers in an inner-city community house in Durham, North Carolina. A housemate who'd been jobless for several weeks requested to borrow Rachel's car to go to a job interview. Abandoning the haircut plan, Rachel yielded her keys and headed back into the house. But as soon as she opened her laptop to work, she experienced another interruption. This time, it was the single mom living downstairs who needed Rachel's help with a screaming toddler and a smelly newborn.
"I guess God knows some things are more important than my to-do list," she e-mailed me recently, detailing the unanticipated level of growth she's been experiencing since joining this community modeled on the early church's vision of sharing life together (Acts 2:42-47).
God chose to manifest himself in the form of a tight-knit, core relationship—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And Jesus, during his time on earth, followed this example of mutual submission by building relationships with a select group of people—his 12 disciples and his more intimate group of 3 with whom he shared deeper parts of himself (Mark 5:37; 9:2).
As a reflection of his character and image, God wired us with the need for community. And while our wiring should propel us toward investing the time, intimacy, and self-disclosure required to sustain mutually submissive relationships, we aren't to subject ourselves to the whims of every person crossing our path.
Instead, we need to seek out a handful of key people who walk closely with God and are willing to walk closely with us. Choosing these core relationships, whether formal (mentors, small-group members, accountability partners) or informal (family members, close friends), involves deciding to yield to their authority. These people should be gentle with our vulnerabilities and careful not to gossip about our struggles or deliver self-righteous judgment. They shouldn't gloss over our weak areas or be afraid to speak unwanted truth to us. And most important, they should ask for forgiveness when they fail us—and forgive us when we fail them.
I'm blessed to have found such people in an informal small group I've attended over the past seven years. Although we're an eclectic bunch, representing various ages, life stages, and church affiliations, we hold in common a commitment to pray for and be open with one another. Together we've experienced the highs and lows of life—job transitions, financial decisions, dating relationships, parenting dilemmas, and health crises. By submissively, authentically sharing these, we often unexpectedly stretch our spiritual muscles. But the growth pains yield worthwhile benefits as we see God work in ways impossible outside the context of our community.
A few years ago, I shared with this group my apprehension about a series of significant life transitions, including changing careers, moving to another city, and living alone for the first time. After a pause, one group member gently asked me, "Are you afraid God can't handle all your circumstances?" Then for the next several months, she and other friends in the group asked me more tough questions, hugged me, prayed for me, and even bought me "burglar bars" for the windows in my new home. If I hadn't been vulnerable with these friends, I'd have missed the opportunity for them to compassionately call me out on and assist me in overcoming the unhealthy cycle of fear I probably couldn't have conquered alone.
Most of us will probably never live in a community house as Rachel does. But as members of God's family—in a houseful of people or in an apartment alone—we still can grow through the give and take of relationships.
Stephanie Voiland lives in Illinois.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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