I hated middle school. I remember it as the worst time of my life. I didn’t struggle academically or get into much trouble, but I hated it. I hated feeling like a perpetual outsider, like I would never fit in. I remember one morning before school, I perceived people laughing behind me and looked back. Oh, no. They are laughing at me. I asked what they were laughing about and got blank stares. Soon people were bringing their friends by. I went to the bathroom and discovered I had left a tag on the back of my new jeans. Better than a hole, I guess.
I don’t thank God enough for the brevity of those days. I have rarely felt such strong desire to find friendships and community as I felt in those days. However, the desires for community have lingered. My community has changed and shifted hundreds of times since middle school. Friends have come, and friends have gone. There have been seasons of rich community and seasons that felt more like a dry spell.
I’ve recently been learning about one way we can hamstring our community from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his classic work Life Together, Bonhoeffer explains that striving for perfection in community can be harmful:
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
This was a convicting word for me. Too often, I’ve had a vision for what I wanted my community to become. I’ve imagined people I’d like to be in community with: their interests, their talents and their lack of problems. I missed out on the community God had provided because I was chasing what Bonhoeffer called a wish dream. I believe there are times I’ve pushed my community toward some personal expectation and it has — just as Bonhoeffer predicted — been destructive. Instead of coming to my community with a heart ready to encourage and serve, I have at times come with complaints and protests. I’ve let my dissatisfaction with my community hurt my community.
Like all good teachers, Bonhoeffer offers wise counsel to those struggling with similar feelings. If you are currently frustrated with your community, listen to this advice:
In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things … If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
One of the healing balms for our frustrations with community is gratitude to God for providing that community. Just as my middle school self had to learn to overcome the insecurities and challenges of that time, we also must learn to thank God for the imperfections and difficulties of our particular community relationships. We need to learn that the Christian community is not a gift God curtails to some particular dream or ideal, but rather a diverse group of growing people God brings together for mutual edification. God alone knows how much we need our communities and how much they need us. If you’ve been frustrated with your community or lack thereof, reinforce your efforts in thanksgiving and service. We must learn to let go of our ideals and graciously let Christ build His church.
Copyright 2013 Andrew Hess. All Rights Reserved.