Sometimes, finding community is easy. College, for example: in no other time are we surrounded by our peers for 24 hours a day. Common interests, common place in life, all of which creates beautiful connections.
But sometimes finding community can be unexpectedly difficult.
For me, that time came immediately after college graduation. I found myself in Kansas City with a scant handful of distant acquaintances. This was a far cry from the close-knit and soul-feeding communities of college.
When I moved, Mr. S. wasn’t with me. We’re a year apart, and so he still needed to finish his degree. I don’t regret our relationship and the time I invested. (He’s my amazing husband today for a reason.) And at the same time, I made some big mistakes. I clung to old community at the expense of creating a new community. I dove into work at the expense of a work/life balance. I engrossed myself in reality TV at the expense of real people. Basically, I moped.
But what did I do right? I said yes.
I kept showing up at church and one day, while helping serve communion, I met Elizabeth. I’ve written about her before – the girl who taught me how to really scramble eggs – and she was the launching pad for genuine community post-college.
A few weeks after meeting her, when she invited me to a dinner party, I said no. I wasn’t sure about going out after a busy work week, I wasn’t sure about meeting new people. So after work that Friday evening, I went grocery shopping and planned to head home.
I gathered my groceries and headed towards the check out lines with Lean Cuisines and wine in my cart (this was before I learned to cook, friends). Behind me in line was someone who looked familiar: Elizabeth’s friend Chris. He said hello and invited me to come out to the dinner. Mmm, I’m tired, no thanks, appreciate the invitation, I said . . . some lame excuse like that.
Behind the lame excuses? A whole lot of insecurity. A whole lot of not-sure-these-new-people-will-like-me.
And I’ll never forget the man working the cash register that night. You go out tonight, he told me. Go home, put your groceries away, and then go to that party! he said.
I felt insecure, nervous and anxious. I wasn’t sure I had much to offer. I couldn’t see these fun, cool new people liking me or enjoying my company. But with persuasive people on both sides of me, what choice did I have? But yes. Yes. I said yes. In all of my brokenness and messiness, I said yes.
The people I spent time with that night are some of my dearest friends today. Over the next 18-ish-months, I got to know them well. I got to know their imperfections too, and I felt at home among these people who were broken and insecure, just like me. I got to know them so well, in fact, that when I moved a year and a half later, I cried big crocodile tears. Even though I was about to marry Mr. S., and such love was worth a cross-region move . . . that first “yes” was worth the tears.
When Mr. S. graduated and relocated, I
asked nicely begged him to help find us a community. I was nervous about finding a community of young adults in a town built on its university. I was nervous about finding a strong church in a smaller town. I was nervous about connecting with new friends when newly married. I was nervous, once again, that these new people just wouldn’t like me. In all my messiness, I said, what is there to like about me?
Almost as soon as he was done visiting churches, Mr. S. started showing up at events with the church we attend now. He got involved with a City Group (small group/community group, etc.) and the leaders of the group are our neighbors and dear, dear friends. We’ve gotten to know so many other couples in and out of our church and been blessed to fit into this precious community. The key to this success: saying yes. He said yes to spending time with people, and people became friends. He said yes to our City Group, and City Group members became friends. In all of our imperfection, we said yes.
We’ve built community outside our church as well . . . and we’ve said a heck of a lot of YES to get ourselves there. Seek out commonalities. Maybe it’s co-workers. Maybe it’s fellow students. Maybe it’s like-minded volunteers at a nonprofit that tugs at your heartstrings.Maybe it’s your neighbors. Maybe it’s the people who buy their morning coffee at the same coffee shop as you. Commonalities are everywhere and we are called to seek them out and then say yes when commonalities can become community.
The bigger reason behind this yes: God said yes first. God said yes to carrying our burden, to saving our broken souls, to scooping us up in a love unlike any other. That’s community: a glimpse of God’s grace and boundless love, here on Earth. Community is never perfect. Because we, the people who compose community, are never perfect. The key to making community work, I think, is saying yes to all facets of it. It’s okay to be vulnerable and imperfect and awful in our brokenness. There’s grace, freedom even, in saying yes.
This week, I’m blogging about community — what it means to me, how I’ve found it, why we need it more now than ever and how you might find it also. I’d love to hear your stories of community.
Linking up today with the fantastic Joy of Joy in this Journey. Every Wednesday, she hosts life:unmasked, where she invites us to share the vulnerable messy truth about us and how God is working in it.
Photo credit: My Scrabble board and Instagram iPhone app.