When I was growing up…everyone knew everyone. Our apartment building was like a family. We watched out for one another. I remember once, as a boy, I was so hungry, and there was a fruit and vegetable truck parked by our building. I tried to bump against it, so an apple would fall into my hands. That way, it wouldn’t be stealing. Suddenly, I heard a voice from above yelling at me in Yiddish, “Albert, it is forbidden!” I jumped. I thought it was God.
“Who was it,” I asked.
A lady who lived upstairs.
I laughed. Not quite God.
No, but Mitch, we were part of each other’s lives. If someone was about to slip, someone else could catch him.
–excerpt from “Have a Little Faith” by Mitch Albom
A couple of people know that Tom and I almost moved this weekend. We found a house, set up the appointment, and had pre-approval letters ready to bid on what we thought was the *perfect* house. Amidst so much celebration, I found myself emotionally raw everyday this week. Why would I be so distraught with something that was absolutely wonderful and helpful for our little family? Because I knew that we would be leaving two amazing communities…and community — good community — is priceless now adays.
Now, we knew the communities we’d be heading in to. Both the community we would live in and the church community we would chose have the qualities we value and good, solid people. But leaving these particular communities would be (and I’m sure WILL be) one of the hardest things we do…one day.
What does our community — particularly our church community — do that just leaves me with my heart open and exposed?
They love well.
Let me paint you a portrait. Our church community just doesn’t “pray” for you. They get together. They spend hours in silence for you, listening for what the Lord has to offer you. They will fast for you (a lot of time even secretly) so that you have breakthrough from depression or family chaos or oppression. They will refuse to talk to others about your situation unless they are going to pray together in that moment to bring Jesus’ power into your life more. And then they’ll come to you and tell you about it so that they’re not talking about you behind your back. They will be bold enough to look at you and tell you that they can’t help you, but they know that they’re supposed to pray with you, again, in that moment. They’ll ask for things that you wouldn’t dream of asking for yourself. They’ll confess things that normal people might guard, but they’ll be honest about who they are and where they’re at in front of God and in front of you so that you never feel judged in prayer. They’re simply amazing.
They get together and share burdens. Whether it’s sharing the cooking of meals or sharing the burdens of raising children, you’re not alone to have to “handle” everything. And no one looks at you like you are weak or failing if you don’t have it all together. It’s a lifestyle they’ve adopted. “I want you to have more time with your husband and your children, so I’ll cook for you.” “I can see that you’re fighting a cold and chasing a couple of the kids. Even though we were supposed to have coffee, why don’t you go lay down. We can talk later.” When a woman has a baby, she doesn’t cook for 2-3 weeks. When someone gets hurt, often they don’t do their laundry, or walk places, or go to the doctor’s office alone. Community begs you to let them love you. They know you can handle it, but they just want to bless you.
When I’ve fallen, I’ve immediately found mercy and grace to admit it…and then the offer for space to sit with it and work it out, followed by the encouragement to be the person I want to be and that I know I’m capable of being. I don’t have to immediately brush myself off and pretend like I’m not discouraged. But I’ve also been reminded over and over that my character is greater than my mistakes and that I can try again. I’ve been encouraged to leave the memories that I hate and to make new ones that I love. Again, without condemnation. I can say, it’s truly a “they want what’s best for me” and not a “I have to be strong and capable so I don’t embarrass them.”
I knew that these behaviors had an effect on me, but I didn’t realize how powerful this community was until this week. On Tuesday, my niece was climbing out of the car for vacation bible school and she said to her brother, my nephew:
“Do you want to come to this church now?”
“Yea, I’m really thinking about it.”
To which she replied, “I knew you would! I just knew you would!”
A six year old can feel that it is a safe place. It’s a place she feels loved. We don’t have fancy equipment. We don’t have a gym. Heck, we don’t even have classrooms. We just have people — people that love well and share themselves. What greater thing can their be?
What does community look like for me then? Community is a place where people are authentic. Where they are capable of standing on their own, but they’re courageous enough to invite others in. It’s a place where love reigns and fear is conquered. It’s a place where people are loved and where people are honored because they serve one another. And because they’re in — because we’re in — each other’s lives, there’s such love that we don’t allow for things to come in to hurt one another. We don’t allow each other to make massive mistakes. We can say, in love, that thing you’re about to do, it’s going to hurt you. I love you. Please don’t hurt yourself. We don’t allow for circumstances to destroy each other. We simply care too much for each other to let that happen. That’s community. It’s not just saying hello on the street. It’s not just having the same zip code and good schools. It’s a willingness to be involved. Get dirty. Take too much time. It’s a place to love.