I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for community and belonging. Community is easy to talk about, sounds like a good idea, gets programs developed around it, but often breaks down in application. God is community (trinity), and we, therefore, have a need to connect and be in community (the church, the body). I personally crave close community and intimate connection, but have noticed it’s often difficult to navigate to get those needs met. So I find myself wondering, “What gets in the way?” I think there are multiple facets to consider, for example “busyness,” but I’ve been reflecting specifically on belonging, connection, intimacy and vulnerability.
I believe we confuse fitting in with belonging. If I’m fitting in, trying to be like you, I’m not being authentic and I don’t trust that you really want me around or like me. I feel tolerated and that is a cheap substitute for relationship. I also begin to feel like I’m being managed instead of accepted. And I know the difference. Turns out that the need for deep relationship is also a fairly accurate radar for detecting substitutes, because substitutes simply won’t meet my needs. I won’t be vulnerable if I don’t feel safe being authentic. I may “get along,” but I won’t “get real.”
If I belong, I am with people I want to be with and who want to be with me. Differences can be admired instead of feared. I may hesitate to be vulnerable, but I can get there. I can grow to trust those people in my life, because I feel genuinely appreciated for who I am. I don’t have to hide or protect. I can take risk in those relationships and, as a result, feel more confident about taking risk in my life. I can be fully seen and fully accepted, which is true intimacy.
I also think attention and connection are misunderstood. It’s not about needing attending to as much as I need connection with others that is genuine. In connection, I know am not alone. It’s incredible to see the impact on a person’s mental and emotional well-being when they finally realize they do not struggle alone, that others are dealing with the same issues. It’s the power of group, of community. Struggle in this life is not optional; the key is to struggle well. And we do that better when we can rely on one another.
What happens when life gets bigger than one of us? How do we cope when circumstances become overwhelming? How do we know we’re not alone? I often hear people say, “God won’t give you more that you can handle.” Well, here’s the thing. We know we will be burdened, and are, in fact, instructed to help one another bear each other’s burdens. That’s community. That also tells me I will be given burdens too big to carry alone. So, if I’m connected and belong, when more than I can handle comes into my world, I can struggle well. I have a community that will wrap its arms around me and my burden, and love me and support me. I have people who see me, really see me, and don’t try to fix me or my pain. They love me through it and help me get back up again.
God is our healer, but he gave us one another to be His hands. We don’t have to do this alone, and we weren’t meant to struggle on our own. Every scripture I can find encourages us to let God save, comfort, take care of, strengthen, and carry us and to bear one another’s burdens in the body of Christ. I pray we learn to celebrate and support one another through genuine connection and love that fosters the vulnerability and intimacy we need to move through life together and be ministers of the Gospel and be light in a dark world. I pray for genuine community.
Galatians 3:28-29 ESV
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 6:2 ESV
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.