Living (and Dying) in Community

Posted by

There are people in my life I don’t like very much. I don’t like talking to them and I don’t like spending much time with them. They wear on me. Our personalities clash. Christians often avoid admitting disliking anyone, especially in their community, but let’s be real here: some people drive us crazy.

I don’t always like being with certain people, but God has put them in my life for a reason. They’re for my good.

You know that verse in Proverbs that says “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”? Why do so many Christians think that mutual exchange is an enjoyable one?

There has been a lot of talk lately about how lonely American men are, and that the millennial generation is proving to be one of the loneliest, most depressed in history. Churches and Christian groups are scrambling to find solutions twenty years too late, and it seems everybody is talking about community.

Community can fix everything from drug addiction to eating disorders, depression, apathy, you name it.

What is this community we’re all yapping about? It’s a bunch of people, or just two, who get together and have a mutual exchange on a regular basis. I get the feeling that a lot of Christians have a very warm, positive feeling about this idea of community, like we’re one big, cozy family.

Community is good for us, but it seems younger Christians in my generation especially are developing a somewhat romanticized idea of it. And this can be dangerous because it sets people up for disappointment.

What happens when you and your wife don’t agree?

What happens when somebody at your church offends you, or the pastor corrects or rebukes you?

What do you do when your coworker gets mad at you for stuff that isn’t your fault and has unrealistic expectations of you?

What about when your friend starts dating somebody or gets married and suddenly has less time to spend with you?

What happens when you find out that the person you were really starting to hit things off with has very different political or religious beliefs from you?

Too often, in these cases, walls goes up. People stop returning phone calls and messages, they leave the church, get a new job, or move away. They look for the next person or job or church or place where they can get their need for community met.

But they’re all the same. Relationship after relationship, community after community, disappointment after disappointment.

People complain about being lonely and depressed, then they make a new friend or get into a new relationship or community, and it’s great for a few weeks or months, but then the warm fuzzies wear off and they want to move on. The cycle repeats. This routine only exacerbates the problem of our generation’s disconnection and loneliness.

I go to a church whose members get into each others’ lives. I have a family. I have people I’ve spent a lot of time with. And I don’t always like them all, nor do I always like spending lots of time with them. But they’re good for me. I need them. If I didn’t, God wouldn’t keep them in my life.

People think community is great and it’s going to fix all of our problems, so it must be a lot of fun, right? But they’re wrong.

Community is great, but we’re not always going to enjoy it.

Maybe the key to combating loneliness and finding fulfillment, purpose, identity, and destiny in the Body of Christ is not to try to find the perfect community where we get along with everyone and feel great all the time, but to stick with the one we’re in, through pain and arguments, disappointment and inconvenience.

Maybe staying connected in a relationship or in community is really very painful. Maybe it’s not always fun, and what people think is bad is actually the best thing for them.

We need to stop running away from community when it doesn’t feel like it’s fulfilling our wishes. We also need to stop chasing the fantasy community we’ve held onto in our heads. It’s not real.

Let’s embrace the community we have already, however uncomfortable it might be.

How have you handled disappointing or frustrating experiences living in community or pursuing community? How do you think we can best turn the trend of loneliness in modern society? How does your struggle with homosexuality tie into your struggle with belonging?

* Photo courtesy walhalla, Creative Commons.

Enjoy our content? Consider supporting YOB!
  • Dean Samuels

    Love. Agree completely.

    • Kevin Frye

      Thanks!

  • Eddie

    I hate to say it but when it comes community, I tend to retreat from certain people or minimize my interaction with them. The classic example in my life is my younger brother (Enneagram 8) who like to consider himself the head honcho in our family dynamic. The last time I was in his prescence was December 2016. I have yet to see him since, but eventually I may have to endure his belittling of me and my education or career choices during our next family gathering. “You don’t how I live my life? Fine, I’ll just stay out of yours A LOT.” You have your friends, you have your enemies and then there’s family. I wish I had a simple answer in turning this trend of loneliness around. I will say that reaching out online looking for community of like-minded people, like YOB, has helped some. However this has its thresholds. I eventually long to be in the prescence of my online community and enjoy mutual exchange with them. Will it always be ideal? No, I can already tell I don’t see things eye-to-eye with everyone. Nonetheless, I endeavor to hear them out and respect their viewpoint. The SSA/homosexuality does weigh in on my loneliness, but specifically it is my singleness that is more significant. I am not trying ti bash the institution of marriage or married people for that matter. My married guy friends have families, wives, children and households that all deserve their time and attention. I certainly would not want to undermine this situation. I just wish maybe these guy would want to hang out with me for some brief male bonding. YET even then I tend to wonder if their homosocial activities harbor a bias perspective. In other words, they’ll hang with other guys, but other *married* guys. Guys that are like themselves with the same responsibilties and issues that come with marriage, parenting and family life. In all honesty, I would like to hang out for a couple hours or so a week and go bowling, watch a movie or something and then we part ways. I begin to wonder if by not getting married (if that is what happens) I’ll be one of many goto guys for YOB bachelors to have community with on a lonely weekend. I take some solace in providing some company for my YOB brotherhood.

    • Kevin Frye

      I wonder (hope, think perhaps it might actually be so) if things are finally coming to a kind of head with this problem of single, lonely people finding community, and married people reaching out more. As more and more people are showing that marriage is not the blissful life it’s cracked up to be and that we still need friends after saying our vows, maybe more people will catch on and make definite efforts to incorporate a variety of people into their communities — married, single, SSA, old, young, etc.

  • mike

    This plea for community is a good word for those who have an ear to hear and desire wholeness. Isolation and retreat because of bitterness over dysfunctional people and community leads only to stagnation and misery. This retreat prevents change and growth (in us)!
    The thing is we all long for perfect community. This is good for it produces in us hope and hope never disappoints. Yet, the reality is this world is not home as hard as that is to face. We all long for home where there will be perfect acceptance, affirmation, and true intimacy of community. But that home isn’t here. It awaits us on the other side.
    What will gives us the strength to wait for home? It is only hope that such a place exists and that we are headed there soon!
    So, Kevin so well echoes Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-5
    “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us — they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of hope. And this expectation will not disappoint us.”

    • Kevin Frye

      Agreed. Self-isolation and retreating from others never gives us the community we long for and need. It might take away some of the discomfort of dealing with other people for a while, but other discomforts arise instead. Discomfort is part of life here on the earth and we must learn to live and flourish in the midst of it. Thanks for sharing, Mike!

      • mike

        Love your word “flourish”! Community has always exposed my rough edges of which I have plenty. The friction in community like the waves rubbing a stone upon other stones smooths out those rough edges. Funny how my first reaction to conflict is to run. It takes courage and wisdom to stay.
        Currently, we are going thru a lead pastor transition. I may not like the discerning committee’s choice. I may even hate it… All of me will want to take off. Many good church communities around. But I won’t flourish running away and starting all over. I hope I’ve learned to stay…

  • Kevin Frye

    When you can get the point where you call your friends your family, you’ve reached something significant in life. We don’t always like the other members of our family, but that doesn’t make them any less family to us. Good for you!

  • mistaken identity

    Another good word, Kevin! Thanks! I often don’t handle relational frustration or disappointment well, at least in the short term. We all ache for that perfect community which is just out of reach for now, and the present reality often doesn’t satisfy. But I have seen the Lord work wonders in shattered community many times, so I eventually usually come around to hope again. We are presently enjoying several relationships that God has rebuilt after betrayal, apathy, and negligence had nearly destroyed them. One of them was badly broken for over 10 years in a painful manner, but it is now a great example of grace where transparency and mutual affection flourish. Does SSA tie in with the struggle to belong? For me, it does in a very major way as I have had to overcome the lies that I don’t belong and will never be acceptable.

    • Kevin Frye

      Yes, indeed God does restore and redeem relationships. There’s always hope. And yes, sometimes SSA does connect with the struggle to belong, but I know a lot of people struggle with that, with finding community, even if their sexual leanings have nothing to do with it.

  • Sonny boy

    What you described is great, if it works that way. I have this bad habit of attracting people who don’t have time/ aren’t really interested in being in each other’s life. They say they are happy to hang out. But to actually get together, the stars have to align, and there is nothing going on, and their wife has to feel generous, and they want to spend what little free time they have with me. So, we get together, basically never.

    What ends up happening is that I develop these one sided relationships. I put in all the work and effort, I talk with them at church, or we may text a bit. But they never try to reach out to me. Then, eventually, I stop reaching out, because I get tired of this game. Then we stop connecting at all.

    So my issue with community isn’t that I don’t like them. It’s that I don’t have any people in my life at all.

    • Eddie

      Relationships are just sadly tenuous and moods change and life events can cause these to fall apart. I know I have people in my life yet witg their involvement can be so spotty that I wonder I associate with them at all.

  • naturgesetz

    When I saw the headline, I thought immediately of monasteries. Those are definitely communities one lives and dies in. There is a period of several years in which one gets to know the community and decide if one wants to be part of it for life. Meanwhile the rest of the community decides if they want the prospective member to be one of them for life. Occasionally someone who has made the vowed commitment will decide it was a mistake and ask permission to leave, but most of the time, after the lengthy discernment at the beginning, they stay for the rest of their lives.

    The communities you’re talking about generally don’t have such a lengthy trial period, nor such a definitive commitment. They can tend to be communities one is free to join at will and free to leave at will. I think you’re right that a sense of commitment on both sides, would strengthen those communities and make them more helpful to their members..

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    You know that verse in Proverbs that says “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”? Why do so many Christians think that mutual exchange is an enjoyable one? – [brief mind-blown moment] That’s how that verse has always been used!?! But, having lived in community, I know what you’re saying to be true. Community is NOT easy or always fun, but it is good.

    Many of the communities that I’ve been a part of were year-long commitments, so I’m only now getting more into the grittiness of forming community when everybody has jobs and some have families and such. It doesn’t feel the same – I miss the more consistent presence. But I’m learning to grow and understand this as well.

    How does your struggle with homosexuality tie into your struggle with belonging? – I’m in the midst of working through my next layer of understanding this. For me, belonging is closely tied to my ability to like and be myself, which clearly includes SSA. As I become more aware and okay with ME, it could, in theory, open me up to be more able to belong… knowing that there is the risk of being fully me and having a group that is too rigid for that me…scary thought, but probably worth the risk?

    • Eddie

      So essentially to know you (“the fully me” version) completely by a group might run the risk of rejection and/or ostracism? If so, then yes it would be risky. Worth the risk? I just don’t know. From my own life, I don’t see that I’m any different in my belonging even though I’m not completely forthcoming with my friends about my SSA. We are all multi-faceted human beings and our sexuality is just one aspect. I suppose if the conversation ever turned to interests in the opposite sex, we could feel like outsiders looking in. If I was forthcoming then I’d be afraid to lose relationships or have them give me a cold shoulder which has happened.