The barista came over to me and said, “Just to let you know, we’ll be closing in a few minutes.”
I looked up in shock at the clock. It had been two hours already that my dear friend and I had sat engrossed in conversation. It felt like we had just started talking too!
I had so needed that time to connect with my friend; she’s one of those rare people who I can talk about anything with and somehow, the conversation always ends up coming back to God and is incredibly uplifting and inspiring. I walk away feeling encouraged in my faith.
Whether we are introverted or extroverted, we all have a tremendous need for community. This deep connection and understanding feeds our souls in ways little else can. The surface-y chit-chat we usually encounter can’t even come close to meeting this need.
We really shouldn’t be surprised. We are made in the image of God. And even God needs community.
Some people assume this is why He made us: for community. However, this isn’t even remotely correct. It presumes that God is thus dependent on us, His creation, to meet His needs.
God created as an outpouring of His amazing character, not because He needed any of creation. If He did, He couldn’t be the omnipotent God that He is.
He Himself is the perfect example of self-sustaining harmony that He is. As much as I know the Trinity is crucially import, it is confusing (as it should be since God is so completely infinite that finite being like us have trouble understanding) and we tend to shy away from it or even deny it, tragically.
Since God is One and yet God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, He exists in a state of perfect community. God meets His own needs through Himself and out of His perfect love for Himself and His community, He created us with a profound need for community.
That’s where this gets hard. We, as flawed people, aren’t very good at community. We can be prickly, self-focused, and ignorant. We also let life get in the way.
This is where I struggle the most: when I’m in the midst of a fibromyalgia flare-up, community is one of the first things to go. I’ll focus on the bare minimum and I seem to fall off the face of the planet. Ironically, the support, understanding, friendships I neglect to nurture, I’m actually cutting out one of the things I need.
Without community, we really have a hard time growing. It is the whole “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” principle in Proverbs 27:17 (ESV). We need the body of Christ to help us be the people we are supposed to be.
That is a far cry from the person in survival mode that I become. Even more ironically is that the cycle continues that the more we isolate ourselves, either intentionally or unintentionally, is that the more that breeds isolation.
The silver lining of my chronic illness, though, has made my experience of community much deeper. I don’t have time for the fluffy small talk that our society seems to thrive on. And by thrive, I really mean pretend life is wonderful on the surface and then wonder why we feel so lonely. I don’t have nearly the energy that I would like so I have to be extremely intentional and that means intentionally connecting with people in a God-honoring way.
This means asking myself some questions:
Is what I am saying really true? (“I’m fine” is rarely a true response for anyone! Sometimes we are great and others, not so much.)
Am I listening with the intent to understand or just to respond? (And by respond, this usually means saying something fluffy or about myself.)
Am I doing my best to build the other person up in Christ? (Seriously, this should always be the goal right?!)
And always, have I spent my time with this person well? (In other words, have I pointed them to God, have I encouraged them, have I made them feel loved, and if need be, have I said the hard truth that they might have needed to hear and said it with love?)
Truthfully, I think we can get caught up for community simply for community’s sake and get lost in the fluff along the way. If we are looking at community as God sees community then He is our focus in all our relationships just as He should be.
This is even true of our relationships with people who don’t believe as we do. It looks a little different, but we should always want the best for that person and need to spend our time well with them.
My friendships really can be only as good as my relationship with God is. The person I am in community is the outpouring of my relationship with God, just as God’s community in His character outpours into all of us. That’s why my community and prayer with Him is the starting point for all others.
Hence I’m so thankful for my friend who understands my life with chronic illness and we can spend such great time encouraging one another. I just wish the coffee shop stayed open later!