If you know me at all, you know I’m a huge advocate for community. The word commune is defined as “to share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone or something), especially when the exchange is on a spiritual level.” The English translation is the word common.
In a message from Henri Nouwen, he shares these thoughts, “Parker Palmer, a spiritual writer of the Quaker tradition, says community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. So community is not like a place where you love each other sort of freely and warmly and affectionately. Community is, in fact, the place where you are purified, where your love is tested, where your childhood of God is constantly put through the mill of human relationships. That is what community is.”
Moving around so often, my husband and I have been in many places of community. We’ve invested in base chapel communities, Bible studies, small groups, home groups, youth groups, and military groups. We’ve also seen our many neighborhoods as actual communities. These are all places where we have been divinely placed for a time, to “do life together” with others. A few of these have been chosen by us, however the vast majority we did not choose.
I remember moving to a new neighborhood and beginning to intentionally reach out to our neighbors. I thought to myself, and was brave enough to admit to my husband, that I was hoping we’d live next door and across the street from people who we had at least something in common with other than an address. How did Jesus expect us to love these neighbors when we had absolutely nothing in common with them? Surely He must have meant people in your general vicinity when He said to love your neighbors, not specifically the ones next door.
And my shallow, but substantiated thoughts spilled into other communities we found ourselves a part of, like a home group from church. Now here, I thought, is where we’ll find people we have a lot in common with and community will be easy and fun. But that’s not what we found. We would often talk on the way home from a meeting about how interesting it is that other than a spiritual foundation, we really didn’t have much in common with the people in this particular group. These are not people we would necessarily have chosen for our friends. In fact, we surmised, if we weren’t in this small group, we probably would never have gotten to know most of these people at church.
Looking back at these experiences, I am eternally grateful for the people God divinely placed next door and in small community groups with us.
People we had nothing in common with, but we began to do life together and enter into their families’ lives. We walked through the valley of the shadow of death together, cried together and begged The Father for healing on each other’s behalf. We celebrated great miracles and milestones with these who had seemingly unnoticeably moved from strangers to deeply intimate friends, ones we broke bread with and communed with and will forever be part of their lives and they ours. We discovered the truth that yes, for sure, community is hard work and it’s messy and there are many days you want to quit because honestly, sharing life is hard. But this is where life becomes so much more meaning-full and hope-full and my goodness, the lessons these “nothing in common” people have taught us are invaluable. Our hearts are changed. And our hearts are full. Community is definitely where growth and healing take place.