When I went to church, the word “community” was thrown around a lot. It referred to your church, your friends, the town you lived in, the people you were expected to “minister” to. I had community everywhere.
Then, I stopped going to church.
My community was church. It all stopped. And much of that was because of me. I needed space. I wanted distance.
I graduated college, got engaged, moved to Egypt, got married, and moved to Washington D.C. — all within six months. In a matter of months, I’d burned down the life I’d built over 23 years and scattered the ashes across two continents and a couple of states.
Around this time, I also created an account on a new social media platform the kids were calling “Instagram.” Suddenly, I had unlimited access to people I’d known for years, only met once, or had never met.
I saw others post about their “tribe,” share barrages of images from music festivals, share novel-length captions about their experiences, deep conversations, and profound realizations.
Everything was glossy. Even their struggles seemed perfect to me. There was always a friend’s shoulder to cry on. Someone to reflect their worth or listen to their weeping. A cross-country road trip to heal a difficult moment.
And there I was. Working my first post-college, post-wedding, mid-recession job asking girls my age if they wanted paper or plastic for bottles of eight-dollar wine I knew I couldn’t afford.
My community was a husband I was still getting to know and a self I’d dismantled and wasn’t quite sure how to rebuild.
Therapy, time, and respect for myself have rebuilt the way I view the world and my relationships. But I still find myself getting sucked into the community social media whispers everyone else has but me. The kind of community that rights all wrongs and turns all your problems into life lessons you contemplate while watching the sun rise.
If having a child has taught me anything (and it has), it’s that we’re all craving relationship with people in the same life stage. We want to be heard by people who won’t judge us for not being able to breastfeed. Who will say, “I’ve been there,” when all we can do is cry because life seems too big. Who know the victory of simply getting out of the house with a tiny human. Or getting out of the house without a tiny human. Who will sit with us and love us without pity or fear when we tell them we believe in God but don’t believe in the church. We want to be known by people who just … know.
For many of us, that doesn’t look like the plastic pictures we see on social media. It looks like a lot of text messages answered a week late. Cross-country trips getting postponed because the money just isn’t there. Virtual baby showers. Cautious emails that beg its readers to love, to care, and to answer without judgement.
It means finding yourself a little lonely a few times a week. It means giving value to the communities you’ve been a part of through the years.
One of my communities lost a friend last week. As we’ve been grieving together and sharing songs and memories and photos and validation of our right to mourn someone we haven’t seen in years, an email chain we’d all been on surfaced. I soaked in my lost friend’s words, wished I could email him back, and cried grateful tears for having had him as my community, even for a few years. Here are his words:
… There is a magnificence to “everyday” life that often goes overlooked. Something miraculous that somehow two elements of Oxygen combine in the outside world, enter our bodies because of pressure differentials created by the contraction of a muscle, the diaphragm giving the tiniest parts of ourselves, cells, respiration.
Then from there to neurotransmitters that allow neurons to fire between other neurons a series of chemicals that we know as thought. Here are thoughts. Written on a window I can’t really touch with my own finger, but I have to type on some buttons a few inches from this elusive “window” … that’s only possible because of muscles in these fingers. There is a person behind all this. Not the person in my thoughts — someone above these thoughts who so desperately wants to let me in on what He intended life to feel like. A Divine Conspiracy of sorts, eh?
That most of the time, we never realize the man behind the friggin’ curtain. If we only understood that the curtain was torn in two and that all things in heaven were released into our reality … wow. How much differently would we live. Smaller things would matter more than we make the larger things to be. Home-cooked dinners with your family would mean more than making a drop of shoes in an impoverished country.
SO this is it. I’m learning that there is no such dichotomy between the person I want to be and the person I am. The dream I have for the future and the life that’s there right between my eyes. Between what I think is important and what I don’t. Stop making divisions. You may not be changing the world explicitly in your day job, but you’re learning just how pretentious it really is to claim to be changing the world when you have a hard time changing yourself to live more fully. I know this sounds maybe sad, but to me, I’ve never felt more inspired – ever. I’ve been talking in my sleep about a dream … I’m awakening.
And it’s you … all of you that I love more than anything. Keep going, friends. I want to hear you.
Keep cultivating community. Hold tight to the ones you love — whether you told them you loved them two minutes or ten years ago.
Find wholeness is those moments or seasons of loneliness. Others are there, too. Always keep reaching for the light and the community that pours into you exactly what you need. Keep going, friends. The world wants to hear you.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for our friend’s wife and sweet baby boy. Click here if you’d like to donate.