Isolation is a constant struggle – a natural part of being human.
We’re unsure where we stand, unsure what others think, unsure what we should say, unsure what we should do.
Unsure if, when the cards are all played, we’ll be cared for, or if we’ll be completely alone.
We are a people who love and hate relationship. Scared to be too known. Scared to be alone.
We are relationship glorifiers – expecting the people we meet to change our lives, stick with us forever, know us completely – give us the experience that we see a million times a day on television, read a million times in books, and even sometimes feel like we witness in others. Because friendships, we are sure, are necessary, life changing, soul-fulfilling things.
We are relationship degraders – always concocting back up plans and exit routes, watching our backs in relationships – careful what we say and don’t say, careful how we’re perceived. Saving the mess (or inventing it), but always watching ourselves to see if we’re doing well. Because friendships, we are sure, a delicate, near-impossible things.
Many of us are left ping-ponging between these two divergent opinions. Longing to be close to someone, and yet mistrustful.
And worse, each opinion supports the other. Every moment we pull ourselves away from the world, we are hungrier for it. The need to know and be known can be overwhelming. However, every instance of disappointment or disconnection enforces our certainty that relationship are terribly dangerous.
What is true?
So much of life looks like this – believing two impossible things together. To my mind, it’s a sure sign that we’ve missed a definition, or misunderstood somewhere along the way.
There are some things the Bible tells us clearly – and one of them is that we are creatures of relationship.
From the first time that God looks down at a solitary Adam and says, “It is not good for man to be alone” a basic insight into human nature has been freely available to all of us. One that the very core of our beings affirms day by day.
Look at the kind of God who created us – He was never alone. Before the Earth was, He was existing in three persons, all living in a perfect harmonious relationship with each other. Distinct, but in some unfathomable way, completely united. Of course a creator like that would build a people with a deep need to relate as well.
So when our hearts cry out for company, for a best friend, for a love, for one who will not abandon – we’re simply crying out what we always made to cry. Like Adam, it was never good for you to be alone.
[Now it’s important here to not get carried away. What a friend can do and can’t do is an important distinction. It can be easy to fall into the trap (a trap set by too many episodes of Friends) of believing that if you just had a ___________ (friend, mother, boyfriend, younger sister, fill in the blank here) then life would be better and things would fall into place.
I hate to say it, but it’s utterly untrue. There is only one perfect and fulfilling relationship (the one that all others are patterned after), and it comes through Christ. If that’s something you’d like to consider further, you can follow this link here. ]
At the same time, we all have lived the experience of disappointment or betrayal at the hands of another. We’ve all been chosen second, or not chosen at all, when we wanted to be first, and our hearts shy instinctively from a repeat performance.
How can we be in community (in close relationships) when a seeming army of difficulties stand in the way – when every person we might care to know well is prone to misunderstandings, misjudgements, disappointments, frustration? And worse, when we’re capable of and prone to the very same things? Disaster seems inevitable.
Is there a solution?
The answer of course, is God. (And here we’ve stumbled upon today’s Benefit of God).
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
It’s the background music of all of the Psalms – hymns of praise for the people of God. We serve a God who deals with us not just as individuals, but is deeply concerned about how we live together with one another, and yet it’s even more than that.
God is not just the creator of good community, he’s the enabler of good community.
Can we pause to clarify terms?
We (and here I mean, we in the western church) throw around the word “community” a little carelessly. Sometimes we say it and all we mean are “pals”. Sometimes we mean the small group that we uncomfortably talk with every week. Our desires from, and our expectations of it can be exceptionally low. Sometimes we can mean some highly idealized non-existent group we dream of joining. The people who will know us inside out, who will carry all our burdens, who will laugh at our jokes, show up for our life events, and be the family we never had. Instead of having expectations too low, we base them in fantasy.
Neither of these are the Bible’s picture of community.
The Bible’s picture of community is much wider. It’s not just a horizontal relationship (you and the people around you), it’s three sided. It’s you, and them, and God – all relating together. If you leave one part out, you lose the whole.
More than that, the bible tells us that community isn’t formed, isn’t grown. It’s declared by the Father (1 John 1:7). That means it exists already – it’s those Christian brothers and sisters around you right now (the ones that you’re not sure you’re personally compatible with).
Your Christian family was formed in Christ. It exists. The question is simply whether you will engage with them or not.
Are you left feeling a bit unsure?
I’m not surprised. God often sends his blessings in packages we would never expect (just look at the reaction of the people of Israel to their Messiah if you need proof). Take heart, the fact that it’s not what we expect doesn’t mean it’s not exactly what we need.
The community that God has built for us (and built around Himself) was created for you by a loving Father of unspeakable joy. It promises to offer within it’s doors a glimpse of heavenly life here on earth (Corinthians 13:13). It promises to expose your sin (Proverbs 27:17), to transform you into the image of Christ (Hebrews 10:24), to welcome you in and point you toward, and help you grasp a joy beyond human imagining.
However, just as that community so often looks nothing like what we expect, life in it doesn’t come to us naturally.
A friend once told me that we go through life expecting to find relationships that feel like arms – natural extensions of ourselves that immediately enhance our lives. What we find instead are millions of people who feel like suitcases – heavy, cumbersome, and easy to forget in your car.
This is one of our first key principles of community.
In some ways this is hard — people are hard.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw them out.”
Ultimately, this is blessing, because not only is success possible, but, when we succeed, we find in others something we couldn’t find in ourselves – a new perspective, a fresh insight, a friendship that adds.
Because we are in Christ that addition can be deeply meaningful and life changing.
The reality is, however, that to experience that blessing, we have to pick our suitcases up day after day after day. Until, one day, we wake up and find that our suitcase really has become an arm.
Our second, and most important principle of community is this –
True community doesn’t exist without Christ.
We are called not just to be together, but called together with purpose. We are, each of us, meant to partake in a life of mutual truth bringing – reminding one another daily of what it means that the gospel is true.
In some ways this is hard – it can lead to difficult conversations. It requires work and understanding. It will not permit us to remain safe or isolated.
Ultimately, this is a blessing. Because it means we are bound together by more than what you can give me, and I can give you. It means we are bound by daily decisions of love and forgiveness founded in Christ.
And more than that, it means that we are freed from the hierarchy of worldly relationships – you over me, me over you.
We are, (AND MUST BE) brothers walking along side each other – pushing and pulling, each receiving and giving.
At the end of the day, we are in the same place, kneeling together in prayer before our God.
Where do we go from here?
There are so many more things that can be said (the glory of community is deserving of a series of blog posts, and has already been the subject of countless books).
But at the heart of it is this:
It is not good for man to be alone. And what is better, you aren’t alone.
We are a people filled not only eternally in Christ, not only spiritually by the Holy Spirit, but practically engulfed in our Father’s love by the family He puts around us.
So go get ‘em. Family is waiting for you. What’s stopping you from engaging with them?
One practical hindrance to many great relationships is the tendency to assume that we understand another person. Proverbs tells us that any idea that we can easily understand another is foolishness.
Look again at that verse from Proverbs 20:5, “The purpose of a person’s heart is deep waters, a man of understanding draws them out.”
How can we be effective in drawing out other people? Are you a question ask-er? Are you questions drawing you into the heart of another, or are they simply deflecting attention from yourself?
Have your assumptions ever de-railed a relationship? Have you ever thought you understood a situation, only to be proven wrong? How can we pro-actively seek to walk humbly into things we know we cannot easily understand?
Ed Welch (author of the excellent book “Side By Side”) often says that the heart of all Christian relationships is two people praying together.
Today would be a great day to ask someone to pray for you.
Can I encourage you to make that request more than just a passing prayer for a cat? Open your heart to a friend today.
This sweet blog post by Alasdair Groves is a great reminder of why people are worth the risk and worth the investment. It’s called “Treasuring Others”
Hope you find time for a read.
As always friends, it’s a joy journeying with you. Hope this week is full of reminders of God’s goodness and love.
All the best,