I am going through dark times today. Moments when the sun does not seem to shine as brightly and its rays don't reach me. It was a time to remind me of why community is such an invaluable part of the quest for hope.
It isn't that there nothing good happened. There were good things. It is just that what I face before me fills me with such self-doubt and so many excuses to beat myself up over what I've done or what I've failed to do, that no amount of time spent reminding myself that I've done good is good enough.
Community: The Right Words At The Right Time
It is in dark moments that you need to hear someone say to you, "You're awesome!" or even more specifically, "I follow you because you have interesting and informative things to say. Thank you!" and when you tell them that made your day they tell you, "You often make mine."
And it is being in community that gives you the chance to see someone who just lost their fourth pregnancy and bring comfort to them at their darkest moment, or to see a young girl who just lost her father and bring comfort to her by giving her a hug and offering the words you know she needs to hear. It's in that give and take that community becomes the lifeline to hope, keeping you connected and steady when your world starts falling apart.
Community: A Place to Belong
We all have this built in need to feel connected to our fellow human beings. Community feeds that need. It's a common unity, a shared goal, a common pain that we share that others don't, that links us together. But in order to belong to one, you have to be long in it - you have to stay past the inevitable pain points that will come when human beings disappoint and hurt one another in order to achieve the pivotal moment that brings a transformation for everyone. Leave the community when you get hurt, and you don't get to the place where they fill you up with hope beyond all knowing.
Community: Where You Make Sense of You
We're all pieces in this giant jigsaw puzzle known as life. We've got these weird angles and outer areas and indentations that just don't match what everyone else looks like. It can make us feel lonely, like there's nobody else out there like us. It can lead us to doubting our worth and comparing ourselves to everyone else. But there's a reason we're built the way we are. How we are is part of our purpose. We have to connect with the other pieces that we were meant to connect with before how we're made makes perfect sense to us. And that means that until we start connecting in community, we will never figure out where that place is that we fit into that puzzle.
Community: Support and Fellowship
It's the shared moments of struggle and the ability to be open and honest about what you are going through that gives community its unique feel. It's when everyone pitches in to help one of the members accomplish some otherwise unattainable goal that leaves everyone in the community feeling encouraged and excited about the future. A rising tide lifts all boats, and when the community is united together working toward a common cause, that is exactly what you see in action.
Community: The Cross and the Crucifixion
Being part of a community is not all sunshine and roses. If you think it is, stick around long enough and you'll see what I mean. There is no one like community to be able to hurt you when they fail to deliver on the promise of support and fellowship. This is the truth about any relationship, whether it's a relationship with an individual or group: You're going to get hurt. Hurt badly. Badly enough that you feel like crawling up inside yourself and dying. Badly enough that you want to leave and never come back. It can be a moment of gossip spread about you, an unintentional slight given to you, or their failure to be there when you needed them most. There's no denying that pain is there and it is real.
Community: The Glory and the Resurrection
But if you can get past that moment of the cross and the crucifixion, you get to the other side which is the glory and the resurrection. You get filled with power and purpose and the group is united more closely than ever before because of that whole ugly event. It changes you, it changes them, and it changes the entire dynamic of what you're doing. No cross and crucifixion, no glory and resurrection. That's the truth.
Hope Dies Without Community
Outside of community, you're alone. You're going to be fighting all your battles - both interior and exterior - alone. But there are more negative forces outside of you and inside of you than there are positive, and hope takes a beating without the support of more positive voices to help you cope. It's true that the worse your situation is, the more tempted you will be to drop out of community and isolate yourself, but the more important it is to keep those contacts and connections going. Reach out instead of collapsing in on yourself.
How To Be Welcome In Any Community
I grew up in a home where the value of being part of a community was not clear and the only big community we belonged to was the Catholic Church, but our participation in the Church was very limited. My concept of community was limited to the line in the Cheers theme song, "Where they always know your name, and they're always glad you came."
As an adult, I didn't know how to participate in or be part of a community. I had to learn those skills. And they are skills. Anyone can learn to do these things. Anyone can be a welcomed, wanted, and beloved member of the community if you will follow my guidelines.
1. Seek to Serve
The biggest mistake I ever made when I first got invited to be part of a community was the same mistake most of us make. I was thinking all about me. I wasn't thinking of the needs of other people. As a result, some of my interactions were less than successful. I came across as needy, greedy, and sometimes whiny.
It wasn't pretty. That changed when I looked at the people around me as opportunities to serve, rather than opportunities to get something for myself.
Seeking to serve changed everything for me. It opened doors that I couldn't open on my own. People started seeking me out rather than me having to go to them. When you join a community, look for opportunities to serve and step up to serve. Believe me, every community has 80% of its people taking from it and only 20% giving back. If you will be part of the 20% you will become respected, admired, and sought after in no time.
Service doesn't have to be huge. It can be small. It can be a smile, a word of hope given at the right moment, or taking the time to ask someone about their day. Just find a way.
2. Be Grateful, Show Gratitude
When you've got so many needs that are desperately looking to be filled, gratitude can be something that's difficult to practice. However, it's vital. People are more than happy to help, but if you don't thank them and reward them for reaching out to help, they will have no reason to want to continue the next time you need them. In fact, what you tell them by failing to display gratitude for what you're given is that their act of service isn't appreciated at all.
Gratitude is a huge door opener. Being grateful for the help you receive acknowledges that other people do not have to do anything to help you, and shows appreciation for the fact that they did.
3. Listen to Understand, Not to Be Heard
Listening opens people up. It is one of the ways that you can serve them. Very few people truly listen to anyone else anymore, and if you can be the person that does, you will make people feel important and wanted. As a result, they will reward you by listening more intently to what you have to say.
When you disagree with what someone else is saying, ask questions and seek understanding of their point of view. You may have very different perspectives, but you'll gain so much if you can get yourself to the point where you understand why they have that point of view and can see things from their perspective. It may not change where you stand on an issue, but it can offer you valuable insight to help you understand the other side and discover a way forward that can be a win-win for both of you.
4. Be Quick to Forgive
Yes, forgiveness is essential to living in community. If another person hurts you, don't hold on to that hurt. Instead, ask yourself three questions: Where have I done that same thing or a similar thing to others? Where have I done that same thing or a similar thing to myself? Where have I done that same thing or a similar thing to Love? Once you find that answer, you'll have the answer you need to understand why they did it and the compassion you need to find forgiveness for what they did.