Monday, March 16, 2009

Created For Community

(Come back for a video post later today.)

When I wrote My Battle With Chronic Pain I had no idea what kind of response I'd get. Today, 2+ weeks after that post, the comments are still coming in. Your candor and openness in your struggle were unexpected, but welcomed. Your comments painted a picture of real hurt. I was touched by stories of infertility, depression, isolation, and being misunderstood. My first reaction was to reach out to each one of you, and stand by you in you circumstance. Unfortunately, the reality of you being there and me being here makes that impossible.

Though we're strangers, I love you and care deeply about what happens to you. When you share your pain I don't take that lightly. I know what pain is, I know depression, I know frustration; we are connected in these ways. (But I also know joy and pray we're connected in this way, too.)

So I started to pray for you (and continue to do so). And God started working in me.

Then, clearly, it came down to one small word: community.

God made us for relationships. I need community and so do you. While blogging and leaving comments is great it falls short of true community. It's easy to visit a blog, identify with a topic, write a comment that connects you with it, but still leave unfulfilled. I know this because it has happened to me. I may leave a zinger of a sass mouth comment of Stuff Christians Like. I laugh, go back to the comments later, see what others have to say. There's nothing wrong with any of that, as long as it's not an idol. But sometimes, when a topic hits a nerve, regardless of whether or not I comment, I draw back from the computer wondering, "What now?" You see, I'm still sitting alone behind the same computer I was sitting behind 10 minutes ago. Yet now I have questions and I feel alone in them.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you. Maybe not, and I'm glad for you. Either way, keep reading.

When a blog touches on an issue, like your very personal battle with pain, I think you should chime into the discussion. Pour your heart out, whether it's to agree or disagree. But, please, as the author of this blog, I'm asking you not to stop there.

What I'm saying is don't let this blog, or any other, mask your need to be in real, open, and vulnerable connections to your church family. Share your pain with the people around you daily.

You may be thinking what I thought for years: No one at my church cares or wants to understand. Are you sure? In your entire congregation there isn't a person who cares? If that's the case it's time to find a new church. Before you say goodbye, ask yourself this: Is it possible you've looked for friendship and understanding in the wrong places within your church? Not all groups will work for everyone. If you think you can't be yourself with the group you associate with now, maybe it's time to gracefully move on in pursuit of other friendships.

This will not be comfortable at first. But once you commit to finding your place in the Body of Christ you will find freedom because you don't have to be a square peg in a round hole anymore. You get to be you, exactly as God made you. Satan is lying to you and you're believing it if you think you're all alone. (We got 41 comments in the post My Battle With Chronic Pain. If that many people commented here I guarantee your church home is full of like minded people. Struggle is universal.) You don't have to be alone, but you do have to put forth the effort to pursue relationships.

God IS ALIVE in His body. He actively ministers to us through other people. But we have to make efforts, too. No matter if we've been hurt before, ignored, wronged, etc. For the sake of Jesus in you, please, find your place in The Body.

I write these things to you not as a know it all, but as someone who is making this change right now. It has taken me nearly 7 years to do this, but better late than never. What I'm finding is that the world is opening up to me via putting myself out there. And I'm finding ways to serve back. Before I decided to get serious about my needs, there were people who knew I was in pain. But I held myself back from them because I believed the lies that said they wouldn't understand.

Now I know "they" were not the problem, my church was not the problem - I was. Well, me and my sin of isolation. That's right. For me it was sin.

So today, when several people asked how I've been feeling, I was able to tell them, "I had a good week." They were happy for me. They care. Letting God redeem my pride is replacing my heart of stone for a heart of flesh. The biggest difference: flesh is alive!

I think the same thing is waiting for you. Like I said, I love to read your comments and you are always welcomed here. Just don't let this be the only place where you get fed.

Perhaps you're already involved in strong community. Or maybe it's time for you to leave the nest. Either way, I have one pointed question for you today, my friends: What can you do this week to take a step closer to community? How will you further define your place in the Body of Christ?

Today especially, I'd really love to hear from you.


Candace Jean July 16 said...

I love being a part of your community, even stuck up here in the cornfields. Have been praying for you for peace and healing.

Looks like I prayed for your new layout because it rocks!!

katdish said...

I have been rather flippantly critical of some of the megachurches in my area. (There are a ton of them!) It is easy to disappear in the crowd at a big church and sometimes I think that's the appeal to some. But it doesn't have to be that way. You just have to be willing to do exactly what you are doing.

It is impossible to disappear in the crowd at my church because we are so small. Everyone here must be involved in the community because everyone is needed. Now, if we can continue with this attitude as we grow, how awesome would that be?

And I'm with Candy, I'm rather fond of this particular community myself!

Stacy from Louisville said...

Katdish -
You raise a good point. I attend a church with 18,000 people. I would go from vanishing in the crowd to participating in a Bible study. For 7 years, though, we have been involved in a Sunday School class of 40 people and in many ways it functions as a small church within the church. When I say it took me 7 years to find my place I'm referring to my Sunday School class. Yep, I held them at a distance for 7 whole years. I think people can probably relate better to the number 40 than to 18,000. I guess the point is that it's possible to interact week after week, but avoid community. That's exactly what I did.

Donna said...

ouch, Stacy.....

my ankle already hurts enough -- do you now have to step on my toes?

and you are so RIGHT......and yes, I will work on my communityness this week........

Alison said...

Because I am in a new stage in my life, I can feel God pushing me towards a different type of community. I have to admit, it's a hard change, as I love my current one very much and I have some fear in letting go. I'm preparing myself to take some babysteps, and waiting to see where He leads me.

eastern ky pastor said...

Stacy, what I read looks like a life mission statement. The evident passion of your words should be the heartbeat of every Christian.

Sunday, I described sin as squishy rotten potatoes. Humbly, I believe that there is no worse smell. Sadly, we hold on to the squishy, rotten potatoes of sin thinking that it's the best we can get. However, in the accountable relationships of genuine community, we learn that what God has for us is much better than anything we hold to here. Whether it is the "comfort" and security one feels in going through difficulties alone, unforgiveness or lust for things - these rotten potatoes are no real substitute for the things of God.

keep up the good ministry!

alicia said...

After having been away from my church for a bit due to a combination of external circumstances and apathy, I realized yesterday how much I missed my "community".
Two Quotes to think about:
"Healing and health happen in community" - from a recent To Write Love On Her Arms benefit concert


"We are a beautiful let down,
Painfully uncool,
The church of the dropouts
The losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools
Oh what a beautiful let down"
-Jon Foreman (Switchfoot)

Helen said...

I am part of a Church Community that I am grateful for. However, I am also grateful for my cyber community. We are real people reaching out to strangers and becoming friends from a computer keyboard. That, too, is a gift.

Christy said...

It's always bugged me when I hear people moan, gripe and complain about not feeling part of their church body. When I first went to the church I am in now, I was a recently divorced young woman (age 22). I was paranoid that no one would want me to be there. But I went, and I joined the choir, joined a SS class and got involved. I didn't wait around for someone to ask me - I just DID it! If we want to feel connected, involved, included, whatever you want to call it, then WE have to be the ones to initiate it. No it isn't easy, but it's definitely worth it. I'm an introvert, but that just means I have to try harder than others. If you go to a church and no one shakes your hand or says "hello" to you, then you be the one to do it. Chances are, every one else is waiting for you to make the first move anyway. Know what I mean?

cwatts said...

Stacy, you're about community being so important. At some point in the past 6-8 years I realized that without community, my very self-destructive traits come to the surface. Like Christy, I'm an introvert, so it's exhausting to meet lots of new people.

That being said, sometimes I'm very involved and meet lots of people. I really share what I'm struggling with and/or how far I've come from what I used to be. But other times, I don't say a word at bible study, don't introduce myself to people and back out of plans to go do things.

It's a step by step thing... two steps forward and one step back.

jennyleigh said...

Yes, we need to step out of our comfort zones and make an effort. It is a two-way street, however.

The existing community has a responsibility to be sensitive and extend open arms and understanding hearts. I can become so accustomed to "the way things are" that I don't recognize the need to include someone who is new or reach out to someone who may be hurting. I need to exercise that sensitivity and treat others the way I want to be treated.

I am not accountable for how someone responds to my invitation. (Stacy is encouraging them to please accept.) But I am responsible for extending open arms and making them feel safe.

Elizabeth said...

Stacy, wow... this post really convicted me. I have been attending the same small church for the past 3 years, and though I am fairly involved (Children's Ministry, Prayer ministry, doing Powerpoint sometimes), I still feel like nobody at my church really knows me beyond the very basics. Thanks for reminding me that I need to keep looking, I need to keep putting myself out there.

Stacy from Louisville said...

Jennyleigh - Thanks!
She brings up an excellent point. As much as we want to be connected we need to make sure we connet to others also. Sometimes as women we can be tight with our groups and forget to open up to others. I don't think this is often intentional, we just forget.

Beth said...

Hey Stacy,

Wish I could put all that I've been thinking today because of this post, but time is growing short for the day! I struggle with this very thing, and you put it into words of thinking...

Julianna said...

I'm glad I didn't read this yesterday cause I needed it this morning.

Last night at a small Bible study it ended up being just a good friend and myself. We were discussing the chapter "Speaking in Love" in Having a Mary Spirit by Joanna Weaver (EXCELLENT BOOK!!!). We took a rabbit trail to talk about this very thing.

I believe I had shared with you before about how the Lord transformed my thinking regarding our church the very week my husband and I were ready to call it quits. We were spoken to, in love, by some good friends and encouraged to look at the situation from a different perspective which led us to the same conclusion as you. Our isolation was our own fault and it was sin.

Last night we were talking about how we have ended up in our own little clique and how we need to take the initiative to get to know others in the church. My encouragement for other readers is to look for where God is at work around you and join Him!! Invite that family over for dinner that you wouldn't normally talk to. Go to a Bible study and get to know some other people on an intimate spiritual level. Or whatever works for your specific situation. The Christian's life is all about stepping out of our comfort zone and allowing God to use us.

Karen (KayKay) said...

I am not in chronic pain - praying for you though. However this post struck a chord with me. I'm in the ranks of those who have been holding back, protecting myself, staying "safe". It's time to take a risk and to step out again. Time to open up even if I get hurt. Thanks for continuing to remind.

Prodigal Jon said...

Stacy -
Great stuff as usual. Our experience with a megachurch and a community is that regardless of the size of the church we are going to, our community stays the same size. We have a small circle of friends that we really know well even in a sea of 25,000 people. I think sometimes, blogs can be like that too. I'm really glad to see your community growing and taking care of each other.

fb said...

The community I have been apart of for several years recently got blown out of the water due to circumstances beyond my control. So we are in the process of rebuilding a community from those of us that are left. But community is so very important in my life. I need those people to lean on and to pray for me as I pray for them. I need them for fun and food. They are the best!!