Reflections on Community
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on the nature of community as well as the role that we have to play within it. A lot of these reflections stem from my own feelings being burned out of community and trying to process those feelings.
My first observation is that we need a community. It’s not good to be alone. This has been a difficult thing for me to understand because it doesn’t always feel this way. People can be a lot of trouble.
Some time a few weeks ago, I was sharing how I felt about the communities with a friend of mine. At that exact moment, I was helping to host a Christmas party in my office but felt so burned out that I had abandoned everyone doing White Elephant to sit alone downstairs. I had so many negative feelings at that time that I told her I just wanted to be a hermit. I was about ready to leave my church group, leave my church, and leave San Francisco.
When I shared this, I got a blunt reply.
“Don’t be a lone wolf.”
As obvious as this sounds, this was also a lie that I had led myself into believing - that my life would be better off if I stepped away from having to deal with other people’s problems and that others would be better off if they didn’t have to deal with my problems. In my case, I think I started to carry these views as I found increasing value in my own solitude and comfort in married life. Marriage was such an intimate form of community that I questioned it I really needed or was doing much in my church community. My intense focus on surviving my first year of marriage had led me into a season of self-preservation and self-care rather than opening my heart up to my community around me.
What I wish I had internalized better is that simply involving oneself in a community stimulates acts of love and generosity. In fact, even when you stand to gain nothing out of a community, you still benefit in a heart sense from the simple act of giving and sharing your life with others. Without a community, I believe that is hard for us to experience some of the most delicious fruit and fullness of life that was intended for us.
My second observation is that as a community member, it’s not our job to “fix” others. The narrative for each of our lives is different, and just because you’ve reached a realization in one particular aspect of your own life, it does not mean that another person is ready for or would necessarily even benefit from that same realization. Trying to exert your opinions on someone else who is not ready will oftentimes only trigger feelings of resentment and shame on their behalf. Moreover, trying to cross that real boundary is a symptom of codependency and control issues. You’re trying to control another person, who was never meant for you to control.
I have historically struggled with this. As recently as my last blog post, I’ve believed that it was my responsibility to fix the problems in my community. Maybe I didn’t think this intellectually, but from an emotional and spiritual perspective, I was trying to assume responsibility for the behavior of an entire community of people. This is a burden that one person was never meant to carry.
You can’t even carry your own soul. Why would you try and carry someone else’s?
My third observation is that we all need inspiration. Sometimes this inspiration can come from something we read, or from a life experience that we have. But more often, I’ve been inspired by others around me. Actions that seem completely ordinary to one person can have a disproportionate impact to others around them. Ordinary life can be extraordinary.
I experienced this recently when I spoke with a friend over the phone about my feelings of burnout and guilt about losing my desire to care about others. He listened very attentively and shared with me that he too had noticed that something had seemed different about me over the past few weeks and that he’d been praying for me since he noticed it. In fact, he had asked his brother (who is a pastor) to pray for me and right as he did this, his car started shaking. When this happened, he determined that I was under some sort of spiritual attack and since then, he had been taking time every day to lift me up in prayer. He had been doing this for weeks already before I had even told him that I thought something could be wrong.
This caught me completely off guard and stunned me. I burst into tears and started weeping. For the longest time, I had been feeling shame and guilt over the emptiness of my emotional tank and my own inability to care for others. But it was in this period where I felt seriously unloving, that I suddenly realized that I was completely loved.
I’m still being inspired by the effects of that day, and as I continue to enjoy a relaxing winter break, I am starting to feel that my tank really isn’t empty after all.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Romans 5:7-8