I know an entire herd of unicorns.
A few weeks ago, I sat in a living room in Colorado with women I’ve known over 6 years. We’re internet friends. We do not make sense on paper. The list of things we don’t have in common outweighs what we do. And yet, each year, we show up in person to encourage, cry, and laugh. We show up for each other throughout the year, too, mostly on Facebook. Sometimes we send care packages or texts, sometimes we speak Truth in love, cluck in sympathy, or share silly gifs. I don’t always understand why we work. But when I sat in a cozy room with them, I felt the safety and sanctity of Community. It feels a little like magic.
That kind of community, it’s elusive, like a unicorn. It’s hard to find in The Wild and difficult to hold on to if discovered.
I hear more and more about a new type of community – one that is centered around a podcast, a particular blog, something that unites people in a shared interest. A friend who runs one such community says that people feel so safe and welcome there (the tone is carefully monitored and full of respect for others) that they never want their in-real-life friends or family to find it, lest they ruin the safe space it provides.
Since when did we need hall monitors to remind us to be nice to others? And why don’t people feel safe living in their own IRL?
I heard an interview recently discussing the intense relationship of communities connected by a certain podcast and the response was, “Well, yea. Podcasts are what you do when you’re alone – you can’t do that in a group setting. If it’s something you choose to do in your free time, it matters to you. And when you find other people who like to do the same thing, there’s an immediate kinship.”
It stands to reason, then, that when Community is at its best, it lets us be our Alone Version of ourselves. Not the person we put on for others to see – but the person we are when nobody is looking. And when we let others look: behold the mess, behold the funny, behold the Real, and they respect us and we respect them, Community grows.
Cue rainbow sparkles.
Despite the fact that we are connected by our computers and our Secret Groups and our private forums, I know that there is no substitute for the comfort of actual Presence. I talk to my internet friends weekly, but in Colorado, the gift of sitting beside a buddy while she knitted, or leaning my head on the shoulder of a wise woman while she patted my head, that felt like cool, refreshing water. Humans will continue to seek out actual skin and bone, will reach to press hands, even if the internet builds the foundation for the relationship.
So for a Bible-believing Christian, why isn’t the church creating this sort of Community? I read my Bible and pray and have a Real relationship with Jesus in my alone time. Why isn’t this bonding me to my local body more? Why are people leaving the church in droves, finding their Tribe elsewhere?
The thing that unites the groups I call Real Community in my life is that I’m comfortable enough to say: This is who I am. This is my struggle. This is what I’m good at. This is what I really like to talk about. I’m a Person. See me – the good and the bad. I’m a work in progress, thank you for excusing the mess and loving me while I grow.
Sometimes it seems like there’s a real “Imma be me” lacking from the community in the church. There seems to be this high standard that we all know we can’t reach, but we have to look like we’re all Above Average anyway. And if we’re not ok, we risk people looking at us and saying, “You can’t be one of us anymore.”
Listen, I’m all about some telling the Truth in Love where rebellion exists. If a fellow believer is running toward a cliff, I want to go after them and call them back. Because it is the gentle and loving thing to do. But someone wise recently told me, “People in the church are guilty of kicking the wounded while they’re down.”
Being a hot mess is not always an indication that there’s a cliff ahead. But sometimes fellow members of the Body are quick to point out flaws, to demand adjustments, to name and judge. People at church are not always a safe place to BE. Too often, church is the place where we snap on our Spanx and announce to anyone who asks, “I’M FINE! JUST FINE!”
I’m not fine. You’re not fine. We need Jesus. And we will keep needing Him right up until He comes to get us. So why can’t we admit that to fellow sojourners? Why do I need facebook and social media to help me find secret groups – mutual interest squads – where I can feel safe enough to let my hair down?
In this age of extremes, why isn’t the Church the one demonstrating the extreme Love? Why isn’t She the loudest voice of hope? Why doesn’t She feel like the safe place to run anymore?
I don’t have many answers, but I think the Truth lies somewhere in my willingness to show up, to be honest, and to respect others. Community doesn’t happen without those three things, in abundance, from every member. So start hunting for that one other person who will look you in the eye and say, “I’m not really ok.”
Grab their hand. Activate some unicorn power by being Real with each other. And let your Herd grow from there.
So, let’s start fresh, shall we? Hi, I’m Lora Lynn. I love Jesus, my family, and singing in the shower. I write fiction, I listen to stand-up comedy to quell my anxiety so I can fall asleep, and I can recite most episodes of the West Wing from memory. I stink at math, I love doing dishes, and I laugh hardest at gifs of people falling down.
*There are smart people who have written many wise words on this subject. Paul even had to remind the early church to play nice and Be Real. 1 Timothy comes to mind. For a great sermon series exploring this book and the local Church, go here.
A few weeks ago, I woke with a pain in my side, most ‘scruciating.* Ever faithful, my husband, Andrew, took me to the doctor. While I cried and whimpered in the waiting room, he filled out the paperwork, answered all of the questions, and held my hand. Once we saw the doctor, she promised me a shot for the pain but informed us we would have to go down the street for a C.T. scan.
She commented, “Well, I’ll give you the pain shot before you go, but you’re little, so he can toss you over his shoulder if he has to.”
We didn’t fully grasp what she meant at the time. Andrew chuckled politely and I let out a tiny mewl of humor around a grimace. But here’s the thing – if you ever wake up with pain in your side, most ‘scruciating, do not go to the doctor. Go directly to the ER. Because then they will give you the pain meds and let you stay safely prone in a stretcher while they wheel you down the hall to the appropriate machines.
That’s not what happened to me. My doctor very sweetly gave me enough pain meds to kill an elephant and then sent me down the street to run errands.
By the time we arrived at the Imaging Center, my pain was decreasing, but so was my muscle control. I couldn’t quite form the words to tell Andrew this, so he gamely carried on like I was walking into the building. He pulled me out of the car and tried to get me to stand on noodly legs. I fought to make my lips work enough to whisper, “Carry.”
He didn’t bat an eye, just gently scooped me up in his arms and hoisted me across the parking lot. It was every Jane Austen movie I’d ever watched where the hero carries a swooning heroine through the rain to safety, only I was wearing sweats and a t-shirt, and Andrew’s collar didn’t gape open fetchingly. I wanted to tell him this, but I think the only sound I managed was a grunt into his shoulder where I was resting my head to keep it from bobbing wildly.
And that’s a pretty good picture of a Biblical “love one another” – in marriage and in the Body. This is shouldering every cell of the weight, allowing the full burden to seep into muscles and marrow. When I am overwhelmed and weak, there is someone to scoop me up and carry me. Andrew didn’t stop halfway across the parking lot and say, “Now, you carry me.” No, he carried me all the way and expected nothing in return. This applies whether I need a sweeping Jane Austen rescue or if a friend from church carries me groceries when I am ill. It’s a love that doesn’t keep score, that gives and stands in the gap, holds us together and brings us casseroles.
This is loving like Christ. There is no reciprocity here. I can’t carry Jesus. My tiny little acts of worship and service are mere shadows of the work and glory He deserves. My offering is clay to a God of wonder and mettle. But He scooped me up when I was dying of my own ugliness and called me His. He carries me now, through the day to day living on this fallen earth with imperfect people. He lets me hang limply in his arms, relying on Him for strength and support. He carries me, though I have little, if nothing, to give in return. He loves me because He’s Him, not because of what I do for Him.
And while I know I’m not breaking any new ground here with my metaphor, it was a sweet reminder to me as I slithered out of my husband’s arms down into a waiting room chair that I am carried. I am held – both imperfectly here on this earth and perfectly in spirit. I couldn’t lift my head, but my heart thudded my thanks before I slipped away into relief.
I approach the throne of glory
Nothing in my hands I bring
But the promise of acceptance
From a good and gracious King
I will give to You my burden
As You give to me Your strength
Come and fill me with Your Spirit
As I sing to You this praise
You deserve the greater glory
Overcome, I lift my voice
To the King in need of nothing
Empty handed I rejoice
*With gratefulness to Mr. Rudyard Kipling for his phrasing.
**I’m fine now. No worries.