Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine from our church--New Life. We both have families that live "far" away and were comparing notes on some of the struggles that we face when we return to home. We mutually related that we both leave our comfy, cozy, New Life environment feeling prayerfully prepared for the adventure that "going home" might produce. We remind ourselves of who we are in Christ, have all of our "spiritual ducks" in a row, create possible scenarios in our minds of how we can explain the changes that have taken place in our lives. We depart for our homes with confidence, knowing that we could successfully share what God is doing in our lives and positively influence those that are on the receiving end of such wonderful news. What mysterious transformation takes place when you cross the state line that could cause you to stumble and struggle with recognizing who you are in Christ? Everyone knows that God does not just reside in the state of Ohio. Clearly, God is not limited by geographical boundaries that were set by men so many years ago.
Why is it so difficult to thrive spiritually when I am visiting with family? Is it the geographical distance that limits our relationship? Is it the different life-styles and life-paces that we each experience? Those issues may contribute to our struggle to connect spiritually, but after 13 years of living away from family (and leaving them as an unbeliever), I think God put a high watt light bulb in my brain recently to help me to understand part of the missing piece. It all boils down to the word "community."
I have realized that the one "creature comfort" that I am without is "community." I am referring to that band of believers that walks hand in hand with you through all of the high and low points of life, that group of people that understands the burdens you face and wants to "bear them with you". They are the ones that laugh and cry with you, the ones that are not perfect either; they are just on the same challenging life course with you. They are those brothers and sisters in Christ who nod their heads in agreement when you share something that is troubling your heart and mind. No one, besides Christ alone, can understand the trials you face as a Christian "in the world but not of it" like these people can. They are the ones that God uses to stand on the sidelines, pom-poms in hand, jumping up and down cheering you on, encouraging you to endure the race set before you.
My trips home have shown me that community is not based on geographical distance or life-style limitations. Community is accessible to all Christ-followers simply by virtue of the fact that we are "in Christ" together. Even at long distance, we can experience community with another Christ-follower, but not sharing a relationship with Christ will limit community whether distance is an issue or not.
Fortunately, our Christian community can serve as a light for those who do not share that community with us yet. Jesus knew that. He, God in the flesh, thrived in the environment of community. He had his 12 imperfect band of brothers to encourage Him until His RACE WAS WON. He enjoyed His moments of true fellowship with these hand-picked individuals, despite the fact that they would seriously disappoint Him at times. He savored the extremes of hilarity and weeping with them. Although there were times that He desperately needed solitude, He always returned to the ones that He lived life with, those 12 individual personalities that provided never a dull moment. God did not intend for Jesus to be a solitary man. He created the need for community. He knew the desperate need His children would have for it while in the world, and He knew those of the world would be attracted to Him through community.
God used my husband as a huge support system during that time away, and I hope I was that for him as well. However, I never forgot that I had a supportive group of women doing "backflips and front handsprings" for me from New Life. I pray our community will impact my family forever.
Community… what does it mean to you? Have you experienced it yet?