"No man is an island..."
My professor said this statement the other day in class as we were discussing how we experience brokenness in community. If I had it my way, community would only be about the good things: the ways I feel encouraged – the moments of fun and laughter because of a shared experience – the leaning in to each other when times are hard. I don’t really want the moments of tension – the misunderstood words that lead to hurt – the differing opinions that cause conflict.
Toward the end of college I lived with a few guys off campus in a house. We spent a lot of time intentionally creating space to love each other, encourage and challenge each other and really live life together. When faced with conflict we usually tried to think of creative solutions…
As any house full of males has probably proven – the dishes rarely got cleaned in our house. It was easy to use a pan, put it in the sink and hope that someone else would need it bad enough to clean it (then they would probably leave it in the sink for the next guy…) We made an agreement to hopefully hold each other accountable: if you left unclean dishes in the sink for more than 24 hours, they would go into your bed.
It only happened once (not because it worked so well but because the anger that ensued from coming home and finding dirty dishes in your bed seemed counterproductive…) But we all desired the same thing – how do we protect what we’re building from our own sinfulness, anger and pride (with a dash of laziness thrown in)?
It’s a valuable question, and an honorable sentiment, but I think it can misguide us sometimes. We often work overtime to keep conflict out of our lives. Other than the rare person that loves and thrives in conflict, most of us are people pleasers (even if the 'person' you are seeking to please is you, it’s still a form of people pleasing/avoiding conflict). We typically want to rush through problems, sweep them under the rug (or put them on someone’s bed) and hope that they don’t come up again.
By doing this I think we miss something important. We miss an opportunity for relationships and community to be a deeper spring of grace. I don’t think it’s a free license to wound others in order to provide healing...But we are often so afraid to lean into the conflict, lean into the discomfort of brokenness, that our relationships never really experience full healing. We worry about sustaining some appearance of community rather than actually having a healthy functioning community.
This is a hard pill to swallow. It means I have to extend the grace I so badly crave from others. It means the same community I so passionately seek to protect and build, is also the same community that will cause me significant pain. That is terrifying. I’m tempted to ask people to just throw my dirty dishes on my bed instead. At least then I can clean up the mess! But I have been challenged this week to think of my community differently – what if my community exists as much to build me up and encourage me as it does to teach me about grace? And what if part of learning grace is as much extending it to those who are sinful as it is me learning to accept it from others when I am incredibly sinful and selfish?
I love that in John chapter 13 we see Jesus washing his disciples’ feet out of love for them. These are the disciples who have been asking really stupid questions, keeping children away from Jesus, arguing about who’s greater and in the span of 24 hours will abandon him, deny him, fall asleep instead of praying for him…so not the greatest track record of being ‘good friends.’ Yet he still takes a moment to do something as mundane as cleaning the dirt off of their feet.
I think Jesus picked such a rag tag group of 12 so the rest of us would realize the point of community isn’t getting it right. The point of community is to experience brokenness, grace, healing and restoration - all of it - together.
We aren’t meant to experience brokenness alone.
We aren’t meant to experience healing alone.
What does it mean for you to experience both brokenness and healing in your community? How can you encourage health in your community?