5 Things for When You're Discouraged in Community
Christian community is making great strides toward improving and recognizing our weaknesses, but we have to keep up with the truth when communication is almost immediate and typically inch deep. Churches are resembling clubs where people have the chance to show off their newest outfits and smile away their cares of the week. Dressing nicely and being kind is not the problem – but if we’re looking for our love to be genuine toward those we are in continual fellowship with, we’re going have to stain our perfect ideals of ourselves one honest encounter at a time. This is what I mean.
How do we start the journey to let people see the true us? How do we learn how to walk beside these people?
1. Lower your expectations for others and raise the expectations you have for yourself.
This sounds cynical, but let me explain. Once you know that people are inadequate and broken and pretending like they have it all together just like you, you will be able to enter into a community life that is messier and more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, said, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
2. Write down who you are and don’t apologize for any of it.
Whether you keep this list in your mind or on an actual sheet of paper, write down some of your characteristics, your interests, and what makes you come alive. In Christian community, we are to make each other better. We are to challenge each other to go the extra mile for Jesus and everyone we serve on His behalf. But, if your “Christian friend” is shaming you for an area in your life that you see as pure but just quirky, first, ask Jesus to examine your heart to see if there is something to repent of. Secondly, once you’ve taken time to listen to the Lord, and if the matter is simply trivial, do not apologize for it. It doesn’t mean you have to cut off this relationship because they said one negative thing you didn’t agree with. This is about keeping your integrity while at the same time actively working to live peaceably with everyone you interact with. It’s what is being called self-discovery. My personal definition of self-discovery is when you’re open to growth, but no longer sorry for what makes you who you are. It means that we don’t all have the same characteristics and personalities and backgrounds, and this is going to make collisions easy to come by. But it means we can make every effort to be unified, and sometimes that means agreeing to disagree. Will we run? Or do we face the conflict for what it is, fight for unity, and walk away stronger as individuals and as Christ’s church?
3. Walk humbly, and know your worth.
Before you enter the doors of the next social gathering you attend, this is what you need to tell yourself: Whether these people accept me or not, whether we click or not, whether we go beneath the surface or not, I am loved outside of this room. So are they.
Once you go beyond only knowing that you are loved outside of one single space, and somewhat grasp the true concept, you will then be free to be yourself, to invite the Holy Spirit to fill up every void, and to see people brighter than your own insecurities. And when we are willing to get outside of ourselves long enough to see people as better than ourselves, we can find that loving others is so much easier. We will wish that we would have checked our insecurities at the door years ago, because when we finally look outside of ourselves, there is a room full of people looking for all of the same things that you are.
Once we are free from the weight of our own emotional resistances, we are free to love people well and connect on a less artificial level whether the interaction leads into a string of stories or it falls short automatically. This freedom means you’re no longer afraid of being alone and you can sit taller no matter what the setting is. You’re just learning how to be embraced and how to stand alone with less apologies written in your eyes – and the important difference between the two.
4. Redefine friendship.
Friendship doesn’t just look like having coffee with someone that shares a similar story, identical struggles, and with whom you look like. Friendship should be known less for being identical, but rather by simply being together.
Friendships are where you feel comfortable confessing your sin, you have made memories together that you retell in a thousand different versions, you know how to be silly together, and you know that each person is only one call away. This kind of relationship is a unique gift from the Lord. But, hear this: if a certain relationship you are in currently is still not comfortable in silences and you’re just not tight-knit like you wish you were (and whether it comes to that place or stays where it is), that does not mean that it does not have significant importance.
Your moment of connection might not come dressed in someone who fully understands, but someone who can simply sympathize. Maybe comfort can come from a little kid that makes you giggle or in a wise word from someone who has walked the path ahead of you. Think about the Apostle Paul and the friends he had. He didn’t put walls around the type of people he would choose to invest in, and he didn’t decide who he would hold in his heart so affectionately beforehand. He said this to the church of Philippi, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are partakers with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” God gave Paul, as He gives each of His children, people to love and to be loved by.
The common thread in these relationships has to be only one thing: they are partakers with you in grace. Nothing else is required. For instance, Paul had Timothy who he called his beloved child in the faith, he had many churches that he worked with, and he had Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy as travel and mission companions at different times throughout his ministry. He gives us people that sometimes look exactly like us – which isn’t bad. But sometimes He also gives us people of different ages, genders, life seasons, and status to come alongside us, to have our backs, and to build us up in a way that we could have never arranged on our own. Wouldn’t you rather have your relationships divinely ordained instead of put together and meshed together only by your own intentions? That’s not to say that we have no input whatsoever on our relationships and that our personality preferences don’t come into play. But the common thread should be grace, and the rest is details. The best things, and the best people, we can never predict. Or forget.
5. Even when your efforts are not being reciprocated, don’t give up hope.
You might be reading this with rolling eyes. Because – here is the truth. A few people will butcher your words and disregard your hurts. They will fill your mind with empty promises and won’t ever make time for you. But that doesn’t mean you shut out everyone on behalf of that one person who forfeited a great opportunity.
You might be in a season of life in which you don’t have the energy to invest in someone else – I was right where you are a few months ago. Keep going, and keep repeating to yourself when social interaction is a must, “I am loved outside of this room.” God uses loneliness, but I believe that your people are coming. Your people are the kind that will be there even when you’re boring. You’ll learn how to fight. They are there because you both want better for each other. The kinds of people that want you for more than entertainment. If you don’t have someone like this in your life, don’t give up hope that you will find them. Continue becoming the kind of person you want to meet.
Be encouraged, because even the mighty Moses was desperate to bear his burdens with someone else when it seemed impossible on his own. (See Numbers 11:10-17, 23-30.) I know this life can be brutally isolating. But trust with me that God knows what we need, and precisely whom we need. Keep pressing into Him, keep praying for your people even when you feel annoyingly redundant, keep your eyes open to divine interventions, and do not give up hope.