Paul’s exhortation to the church in Romans 12 paints a really lovely picture of what a community can be – cheerful, hospitable, encouraging. It brings to mind all the best experiences I’ve had with community, and what Paul says about members of the body being gifted differently couldn’t be truer, in my experience.
There are women God brought into my life explicitly to increase my daily dose of joy – you know, the kind of friend who is ultra-talented at making you laugh at the turn of a hat! How I admire their ability to take things in stride. I think this kind of joy demonstrates a deep ability to trust God.
Then there are friends whose generosity has astounded me. I’m so grateful for the beauty of selfless and cheerful giving, because there is little as powerful and convicting.
And I pray we all have friends who challenge us; women we can look to for wisdom, who will be the Nathan to our David in moments of weakness, and the Elizabeth to our Mary in times of distress. Giving us these friends, in my opinion, is one of God’s greatest demonstrations of His love for us.
I’ve basically just described my circle of friends as the female equivalent of the Fellowship of the Ring... which is pretty much what they are, minus the swords. They are a force to be reckoned with, and I’m grateful to know them.
Seriously though, Tolkien could not have been more accurate in his assessment of how community can help carry a burden. Nor could he have shown better the tendency of the human heart to want to carry that burden alone.
Despite constant demonstrations of how much community can help, I find myself attempting to deal with things on my own, first. Not that I necessarily refuse help, but even when sharing or being vulnerable with my community, I’m preoccupied with how I can present myself in the best possible light. How can I show what I’m already doing to deal with my problems, or how can I make sure they see that I’m ok?
Bear with the analogy a little longer: I, like Frodo, am deeply distrustful of the consequences of sharing my burden. Will it make me look weak? And can I truly depend on the people I’m sharing with to understand? What will they do with this information?
I recently discovered what seems to be the strongest cure for this distrust, and I think it’s one of the most powerful things Paul says in Romans 12:
“Let love be genuine.”
When you realise your community has no intentions other than to genuinely love you, it can be the most disarming experience. Earlier this year, I found myself struggling to trust God through my circumstances. When I finally talked to friends about it, I didn’t realise how much I was expecting to hear certain things – that reading my Bible would help, to reflect on God’s faithfulness in the past, how I needed to pray with others – until I heard none of it.
It was all true, but my friends recognised that in that moment, I simply needed to mourn. And they mourned with me, genuinely feeling the loss I felt, never pushing me to do something about it. There was no room for insecurity, and I felt no need to explain myself. Whatever their own struggle may have been, they remained constant in loving me through mine, And gradually, it became clear that I would learn to trust God again.
My challenge has been to give as I’ve received, remembering that Paul’s charge to love genuinely is the best foundation for community. It puts everything else he says into perspective. I often get wrapped up in assessing my contribution to my community: Am I joyful? Giving? Wise? Which member of the Fellowship would I be? (Gimli, I hope.)
But these measurements seem irrelevant when I instead focus on loving people, truly and genuinely. Loving people as I am loved, by the One who created community to reflect Himself, is the best thing I can do. It’s also the only hope I have of seeing everything else Paul talks about in Romans 12:
“Outdo one another in showing honour... Seek to show hospitality... Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
I’ve watched as these things come so much more naturally in a community that genuinely loves each other. I don't believe there's a better place to grow than a community like that.
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