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.