Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Community is Worth It and Why You and I Need It

Photo: Young Rok Chang, Creative Commons, cc license
Cris-crossed pale skin marked out where the young girl's swimsuit straps normally lay. Tiny caramel-colored shoulders and back hunched shivering inside the church in a black funeral dress. The summer tan on that small girl several rows up from me just bellowed out the contrast of this sudden funeral. Friday attendees slid quietly into wooden pews, and a row of us lined up in solidarity. Community in that moment looked like singing along to worship songs that spoke of heaven and that clung to the promise that God never lets go "through the calm and through the storm." Community was wiping tears, hugging tightly, and grinning over stories of potbellied baby pigs and tractors, before going back for seconds on the delicious green jello dessert and the home-made sweet pickle slices.

Sunday morning, peeking out across the church audience during a song, I spied two former youth group girls from years ago. Connecting after the church service, we hugged, smiled, and tried to cram several months' or years' worth of information into a morning conversation. Community was remembering stories, names, details, and being thrilled to see each other again. We laughed and wished for more time, and a coffee date still needs to be planned.

Sunday night I watched women of all ages compete in blind-folded diapering contests on two mannequin babies at a baby shower. Gentle, white-haired Marilyn groaned good-naturedly and tried to get out of the second-round of competition by diapering slowly. The younger and older women around us shrieked laughter to see this surprise streak of rebellion in her. Marie and I raced valiantly, but Marie won by a split second. Bible study women from the last year, accustomed to digging in deep to the Bible and to each others' lives, arranged lemon bars and marshmallow brownie bite desserts on their laps as Melissa balanced Gail's bifocals on her nose and held the Bible out at arm's length to read her devotional. Community was women laughing together, passing wrapped baby gifts, and nodding in agreement as Melissa read of God's perfect love that is strong enough to kick out fear, and of this God-King who chases us and loves us, no matter where we go. 

"I've never been in a church where I felt so much like I belonged, as I do here," she said, the young pregnant mom, curly hair winding around her freckled face. We nodded, glad that she felt welcomed and safe in our church, but we saw too that this was a bigger thing. Women in this Bible study came from several different churches so Alicia's feelings pointed to something greater.

Community. We need it, we desire it, and, I'm learning, it's something we have to fight for, and invest in. Can I confess to you that many days my extrovert-introvert mixed personality needs to be reminded to step outside and to invest in people? Some days the allure of a quiet book, a television series, or the valid tasks that need to be done around me pull harder than choosing people. And while we all need down time, the truth is we all need community too.

Because the truth is, I am a better person for having known Julie and Nellie, Mihaela, Marie, Marilyn, Becky, and so many more. I learn from them and from their stories, and we have the privilege of being in various communities together.

And you? You have potential for community all around you. The neighbor across the street, the young mom who sits three rows up from you in church, or the somber-faced guy at the gym playing basketball each week, and the older widow you know. You are missing out, and I don't want you to, and they are missing out on not having known you yet.

So, put down the book with me, and turn off Netflix too, please? Can we encourage each other today to step outside and engage? The loss is too great not to. You are a better you, with them around you, and I am a better me because of them around me. 

Besides, you can't imagine the hilarity of seeing women battle it out in blindfolds and diapers.


13 comments:

Cheryl Barker said...

Jennifer, as a writer I work alone so I can always use the reminder to seek out community and engage with others. We do indeed need each other, and I am so thankful for all of those who are community for me. I pray that all is going well for you and your family!

Bill (cycleguy) said...

If people could understand the importance of what you have just written about Jennifer they would not wonder what the importance was of being part of a church family. We all need others, no matter what we may say. i also have to admit I would have enjoyed watching the "pros" diaper a baby blindfolded.

Jen Ferguson said...

I so agree! To engage in community is such a valuable, life-giving choice. As an introvert, I do need my down time, but I have learned to seek God for what I need more -- sometimes when I am tired and cranky, He shows me I actually need people.

Brian Miller said...

it is humorous a bit to me...and maybe a bit sad...how hard we in the church make community...its easy when we can schedule it...conveniently on a sunday...but...community is def necessary...i think our lifestyles hamper us...we are a busy people...too busy for our own good...unless we use that busy-ness to make community...and not leave it superficial time filler...its safe on the surface, scary to go a bit deeper...

smiles.

hope your summer is going well...

Floyd said...

I too share that personality type that flits between extremes. I dread what always brings joy. Thanks for the reminder and sharing the gratification of that discipline. God is good. And better understood when we're being the hands, feet, and heart, He sent us to be.

Pam said...

Beautiful truths and reminders here, Jennifer. I believe all my life God has used beautifully written books and stories to deepen things like compassion, encouraging etc in me - but then we need to be part of real life stories and invite them into ours too! :) Thanks for sharing this!

Jennifer Dougan said...

Cheryl,

Yes, we writers have a solitary job at times. Thanks for stepping into mine here today. I am so much the richer because of you and the rest of this online community now too.

Warmly,
Jennifer Dougan
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Bill,

So true, Bill, as you talk about church and sense of community. We all need that family body and yet our very humanness is what prickles and pierces at times too.

Thanks,
Jennifer Dougan
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Jen,

Welcome, thanks for stopping in. Stopping to ask the Holy Spirit how he would have us proceed for down time or whether to engage people in some settings is wise, I agree. It's neat how he brings strength and encouragement from those very times too, huh?

Have a great week, Jen,
Jennifer Dougan
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Brian,

I agree. In our churches we are striving to make community easy, and yet sometimes the programs we are scheduling hamper spontaneous community that could happen organically. I wrestle in between that balance: scheduling it so it happens, and yet saving time to facilitate easy spontaneous additions too.

Thanks. Always nice to talk,
Jennifer Dougan
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

So true, Floyd, that we have joy when we are living in his ways.

Have a great week,
Jennifer Dougan
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jennifer Dougan said...

Pam,

It's true how God can use written stories, oral accounts, and entered into real life situations to teach us. I am thankful for each method.

Nice to have you here,
Jennifer Dougan
www.jenniferdougan.com

Jayne said...

I don't understand how people can say that they don't need to go to church to worship and can worship alone "in the woods". (An avid hunter said that to me once.) Yes, you can, but there is a time when we all need to gather and worship and have fellowship with each other!
Have been missing your blogs! Just noticed that for some reason they were being sent to my spam! I fixed that real quick!