This post probably isn’t about what you might think it is about.
I’ve actually started it several times. I haven’t had the nerve to finish it and post it. I don’t know if I will this time either, but it won’t go away.
So here I am yet again. If you’re reading this, well, I guess I got brave and took the plunge …
So what is it this subject that won’t go away? What is it this vexing topic that continually provokes my mind and heart?
Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? Such a friendly little word. It’s a good thing–right?
It would be–if we had a clue what it really meant. It seems that everyone is talking about “community” these days. And that’s the problem–there’s a lot of talk.
I’ll be honest, I don’ t know a lot about true community. I want to. I desperately desire to. I believe we were wired for deep meaningful and lasting connection. Not only with God, but also with one another. My heart craves it. I’ve had a few glimpses–a few tastes–throughout the years, but I know there’s more. There has to be more. I want more. But I haven’t seen it …
On the other hand, what I have seen isn’t so great …
-I’ve seen a lot of sincere but misguided efforts
-I’ve seen a lot of cliques calling themselves community
-I’ve seen many well-intentioned people who are long on talk but short on meaningful action
-I’ve seen technology broaden our sphere of relationship while decreasing one-on-one personal interaction
-I’ve seen the “invisible ones” slip further into the cracks while the gap between the “have’s” and the “have-not’s” continues to widen …
And, saddest of all, I’ve seen the “have’s” repeatedly exhort the “have-not’s” that their lack of community is their own doing.
Oh, they don’t use those words. But the message is clear …
“You just need to reach out.” ” You just need to be real.” “You just need to keep trying.” “You just need to let people know.” “You just need to focus on God.” “You just need to be a friend … ” “You just … ”
And on and on it goes.
What’s ironic is that many of the “have’s” will tell you what a wonderful gift of God’s grace their community is–that they were blessed when they didn’t deserve it. That they were pursued and loved in all their messiness. And that’s the way it’s supposed to work. When it does–it is body of Christ at its best.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Not by a long shot. And when it doesn’t–it is the body of Christ at its worst.
We don’t like to think about the body at its worst. Doesn’t sound very positive. Doesn’t sound like faith. So we compound the problem by refusing to see that it really is a problem. If we blame the individuals, the church is off the hook–right?
It’s not helpful. And it’s not community. If it’s all about making it happen for yourself when you’re beaten down and lonely, that pretty much boils down to one thing–survival of the fittest. Which, of course, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ …
Loneliness is epidemic in our society. It’s roots are woven deep into the fabric of our culture. In the west, we have been profoundly impacted by a “survival of the fittest” mindset–even in the church.
We’re spread thin. We’re distracted. We’re over-busy and under-rested. Some do realize there are “have-nots” but they simply don’t have the capacity to do much about it and assume someone else will. It’s a deep and complex problem without simple, pat answers. It’s easier to handout scripture band-aids and spiritual sound bites …
And then look the other way.
But failing to appropriately acknowledge the problem doesn’t make it go away–it just causes the “have-nots” to feel even more invisible.
You may be surprised to know that most of the “have-nots” don’t want you to “solve” the problem for them. Only God can set the lonely in families. But they do want their need acknowledged as legitimate. They want to be understood. They want to be heard.
They want to be seen.
For many, loneliness is simply a circumstance, yet we treat it as though it were a character flaw or the result of a lack of trust in God. It can be at times, but just as often–it’s not. There are many who do trust God. Who have reached out. Who have been real. Who have been there for others. But they’re still alone and lacking authentic community. In the garden of Eden, Adam was walking in perfect, unbroken communion with God–yet in that ideal place of relationship–God said it was not good for man to be “alone.”
It’s still not good for man to be alone.
And because it’s not good for man to be alone we must understand that this is NOT an individual problem–it’s a corporate problem. It’s not my problem. It’s not your problem. It’s our problem. But as long as we place the responsibility for the “solution” primarily on the backs of those who can bear it the least–the individuals reaping the pain of our scattered, distracted, and fractured society–we will never discover true biblical community.
And in true biblical community … no one lacks.
If you are blessed with a strong marriage; close family connections; a great inner circle of friends–or maybe even all three–rejoice! All of the body should gladly rejoice with you. That’s how it should be. But recognize that isn’t how it is for everyone. In your rejoicing, don’t forget to weep with those who weep. Don’t forget to encourage those with no encourager. Don’t forget to listen to the unheard.
And don’t forget to see the unseen…
They just might be sitting in the pew next to you.