It’s easy to talk about being authentic and vulnerable behind a computer screen. In real life it’s actually harder to make this a reality. Not for lack of trying. I can relate so much to Misty’s words the other day about loneliness in a crowded room, abhorring small talk, sometimes being socially awkward. Oh, I can fake it real good. But on the inside I am constantly censoring myself: Don’t say that. Be nice. Don’t speak up here. That might be too bold. That might hurt her feelings. That might be too challenging. Don’t step on his toes. Some of you might find it shocking that indeed I do try to hold back my thoughts and opinions, because it seems there is a healthy stream of them. I’m thankful for the way God made me, the gift He gave me, but sometimes it is a burden to bear, because the truth is I can easily hurt people’s feelings, be too bold, speak too much. I am learning to do it in love, to ask before declaring. Nobody really loves a prophet unless their ears are being tickled. And the thing about prophets is, they are more concerned about speaking truth than making you feel good. I have a lot to learn.
We all say we want community, authenticity, vulnerability. I have seen time and time again people walk away when things get too hard, too messy, too exposed. When people start speaking into their brokenness it’s game over. And they fall off the map. They are not interested in really being known. Having weekly dinners together and having a group to help you when you need to move-that’s comfortable. But having someone question your relationship with a co-worker? Ask how things are going in your marriage? How you are being generous with the gifts God gave you? Well…..mind your own business.
A lot of the conversation about shame and grace was inspired by the book, The Cure, in which the authors talk about two ways to live: in the Room of Grace you are known and loved despite your sin and failure. You are free to be authentic and vulnerable without being judged. Everyone in the room is in the same boat. We all know we need a savior. We all know we cannot earn God’s love, but that He is on our side, loving and helping and shaping us into the people He wants us to be. We can confront our sin and be honest about it, knowing that we can trust God to change us. We believe the identity he has given us more than what others say or think about us. It is a room of freedom. In the other room, the room of Good Intentions, everyone is wearing a mask of who they think they ought to be. The general feeling is that God isn’t pleased with us, so we better try harder to earn our keep. When we fail, we better hide it at all costs. We strive hard out of our own effort to please God and please others. We wear a mask because we think God cares more about our behavior than our heart. We don’t understand that the Bible tells us “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (hebrews …)
The irony is that as long as we’re behind a mask, any mask, we will not be able to receive love. Then in our desperation to be loved, we’ll rush to fashion more masks, hoping the next will give us what we’re longing for: to be known, accepted, trusted, loved. -The Cure
Many of you have responded to this call for authenticity, echoing your own desire to find a place like the Room of Grace. And yet…. This is what one friend says: “Sometimes I get really frustrated when I read things like that because I’m like “yah, totally, but when it comes to real life I don’t know how to actually do it in a practical sense.” Where is this authentic, vulnerable community lived out? How do we do this? I don’t have a lot of answers, only more questions.
I’m a part of a faith community that really values the family identity as a part of who we are. And it kinda works. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes, not so much. I am thankful that I am a part of this group of people who are at least striving to love each other well, do life together, love our city and the least of these. But if I’m honest, I don’t experience those deep, authentic relationships with very many people. I certainly have them, but with a small handful who are intentional about being in each other’s lives, in each other’s business on a regular basis. We can talk about anything- sex, drugs, rock and roll. (just seeing if you were paying attention. Well, we DO talk about sex.) I have friends who I need to check in with several times a week or I feel isolated. We create structures and frameworks called missional communities and DNA groups to help facilitate living as family and loving and serving our city. Having co-led a group with my husband for quite some time now I am almost convinced of one thing: they don’t work.
Now before you get your feathers all ruffled, let me explain what I mean. I think perhaps these structures are like training wheels. They help you get the gist of real community, feel it out with a huge safety margin (show up weekly, participate in meals together, contribute, serve). You get the idea of what it means to live as a family, to have The Village, but perhaps these things are like the Law- they can’t change our heart. Showing up to a group meal weekly can’t make you be willing to share who you really are, what you struggle with, where you need help. I have seen it time and time again- people I have been in “community” with for years finally admitting that the life they were really living was not the one they were pretending to live. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t want to settle for surface relationships, and yet I don’t know how and where to find or create a place where people feel free to be real. I just know I long for more.
I think we as a church are finally seeing the need to invest in each other, love each other and take care of each other’s needs and not solely focus on the mission of serving outside of the Body of Christ. It is a beautiful thing to experience the unifying power of the Gospel- that Jesus breaks down dividing walls of gender, class, race, wealth and affinity and makes all of us ragamufins his children. You can hear some of mine and Mr. Uhler’s thoughts about it here.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. -John 13:34-35
I wish I had more answers. I don’t think abandoning the training wheels will help us ride this bike any better, but I long to leave the sidewalk of the cul-de-sac and ride down the highway unencumbered, wind in our hair.
What does your ideal community look like? How do you foster it?
Read more of the 31 days of conversation here