I’ve been struggling with the burdens of friendship recently. I believe passionately in community. If you follow me on any platform, you might’ve noticed. I started this blog, a Mothers Ministry, and a neighborhood Bible Study to help encourage women and build community for myself and others. I feel strongly that we need a village, a solid reliable community, to do this earthly life.
Yet I am learning the hard way when you’re far from family in a new area, sometimes you have to build your own village. I want to be obedient to the call to build community for women, particularly mothers, and be an encourager as the Holy Spirit leads me.
My husband and I have been involved at our church for 10 years, and a year ago we began hosting a weekly small group. It’s been good for us because we’ve been able to get to know new people and make new friends. We’ve been helped by our group and we’ve been able to help others.
But, still, people are messy. And when you deal with messy people, life can get messy, too. Hence, burdens!
Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Not if you have trouble, when. That’s a promise you can count on, folks. So, what have we gleaned so far? People are messy, and life is hard. Yikes, so much for being encouraging, eh?
One thing we’re big on at our church and in our small group life is “doing life together.” It’s so important and even in the mess, there is so much value in being the “one anothers” of Scripture to the people in our community. (And if you don’t have a community, looking to live out the “one anothers” in your daily life is how you get on the task of finding or building a community).
In our weekly small group we have a varied representation of our church body. We have a couple with 5 kids. We have couples expecting their second child(ren). We have families with two kids. We have a couple with no kids. We have a couple with grown kids. We have a single mom. We have a single college student. We have a few families with one kid. Some work, some stay home. Some work hourly shifts, some are salaried. Some work from home, some travel. Some have battled health issues. Others have ailing parents. Some have buried their children, some have buried their parents. Some don’t want children. The more people you have, and the more diverse their situations and backgrounds, the more needs there are…and the messier it gets.
Imagine all the differing communication styles in a group of adults like that. Imagine the different, but wonderful, things they each bring to the table. (This is the blessing in the mess, right here, where you may find yourself thrown together with a group of people unlike you, yet who live in proximity to you, who you would otherwise not know or interact with. I don’t work in an office outside the home, so I wouldn’t meet these people at my job, and I’m not in school so I don’t have classmates!)
We had a few things happen over the summer in our group that really affected me. One couple stopped coming and stopped responding to the group thread. A few people at church outside our group came to me unsolicited on separate occasions to ask how they were, tell me they had needs, and encouraged me to keep reaching out. A month later it happened similarly with another couple. Different needs, but same basic message: keep reaching out even if it seems like it’s falling on deaf ears.
I felt spurred on, so I did! Woo-wee, despite meaning well and trying hard, it backfired. Sometimes that happens. Was it my fault, or just unfortunate timing? The anxious heart in me blames me, the thinking brain in me says it’s just unfortunate coincidence. Two couples left our group. Later, one asked me not to contact them. Whoops. This sends me into a damage control mode spiral of anxiety. Someone might not like me AND I might’ve done the wrong thing?! Fix it, Jesus, this is exactly what I tried to avoid!
While I was in the throes of this, another couple tragically and unexpectedly lost 2 family members who were very close to them. In my struggle to put out the fires from the other situations, I failed to do what I know is important when a friend loses a loved one: reach out and encourage (I’d previously written about a few lessons I learned as we walk with our friends in grief). I reached out in a text message, but not my usual card or meal — and in my neglect, I missed an opportunity to help remind these friends of their value in our lives.
THANKFULLY, I am a part of a community GROUP, and even though we all have our own issues and things going on, where I fell short, 2 others picked up the slack without even realizing it. While I hate that my friends were hurt by my poor communication in their grief, I am so grateful to know that there were other people in our group who communicated WELL. This is what it means to have community. Galatians 6:2 says “Bear one another’s burdens.” One person (despite my best efforts) cannot do it all, clearly!
My friends felt they had a safe place to share, and as a group, we were able to bear help bear those burdens together. Where I failed, our community came through. And, even though it’s messy, this same burden-bearing safe community is why this couple felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable with me when I dropped the ball.
Was it easy? HECK NO. This is pruning, though. This is the blessing in the mess! And I think we’ll all be better for it, and stronger as a group. I even think God in His great mercy shrunk our group just before this so that we could have a smaller and more intimate way of sharing our burdens this time.
Here is a link to 59 verses in the New Testament that contain the phrase “one another” for reference (from Prepare Your Church for the Future by Carl F. George)– and that’s just the New Testament! It doesn’t include other words for community like “together,” so I can already tell you this list isn’t exhaustive — but it’s a really good start.
Feedback time: how do you cope with community, the benefits and the pitfalls, and how do you go about building a strong one around you?