i have been wanting to write this post for a while. it has been especially impressed on my heart in the past few months and i thought in honor of the-day-after-mother’s day i’d actually write it.
i think that the purpose of community–“the church”–is to have a place, whatever that looks like, to learn to love God & others and to be loved by God & others. like so many things that matter, i do not think it magically drops out of the sky. it comes through hard work invested in intimate relationship–whether that be our journey with God or our journey with people–and an openness to the movement of the spirit of God in us and through us. and these relationships–God & people–are all tangled up together. Jesus summed up the law–love God, love your neighbors, love yourselves. that is the essence of the journey. i also think they are wonderfully interdependent. i always say “you can’t love God without loving your neighbors, you can’t love your neighbors without loving God, and it’s hard to love either one when we don’t love ourselves.”
over the years i have taken a lot of flak for over-promoting “healing” in the church. i think the problem is so many people are scared of the word “recovery & healing.” and in my opinion the reason that people are afraid of it is because they are afraid of what they might find (i know i was at first!). healing means we will have to look at what’s missing, what’s broken, what’s hurting, what’s wounded, what is in desperate need of change. it requires a humility that scares a lot of people half to death. i think the word “healing” is synonymous with “spiritual transformation.” our formation into the image of Christ is us becoming more whole in our ability to love God, our neighbors, ourselves. and that formation can seem bloody, brutal, and oh-so-beautiful.
the part we sometimes forget is what an important role each of us play in each other’s formation. God uses us in the weirdest, wildest ways to pass on his whole heart to his children. this is why incarnational, redemptive community is so important. there are so many different aspects to God’s character that one person here on earth can’t reflect them all. but the visible sum of a lot of diverse & powerful & healing relationships through true community is how this transforms people in amazing ways.
we need each other. we all have a story of brokenness, no matter how big or small. some of that is through our family of origin, other is through different life experiences. for others we just haven’t been exposed to diverse relationships so we don’t even know what we’re missing. many know this, but i am an adult child of an alcoholic. look at the “here’s what ACOA’s might be like list” and i struggle with almost every characteristic. i have experienced healing in many incredible ways over the years, and God continues to redeem. a core issue for me is i have always wanted a tangible dad who was present, fighting for me, protecting me, loving me, cheering me on. my dad just can’t do it the way i wish he could for all kinds of reasons. but in the past 5+ years i have entered into deep & transforming relationship with my friend in community, mike. we are healing for each other in different ways; we always joke that i am his mother, daughter, sister, friend, and teammate and he is my father, son, brother, friend, and teammate–all at once, in some mysterious way. part of my soul has been restored through this relationship and i am so much more free because of it, on more solid ground, more whole.
there’s not enough space to go on and on about all the different aspects of our relationship but here’s what’s clear: if we had been afraid to enter into each other’s lives, we would have missed so much of God’s heart. i think all of the separation of men and women from each other is damaging. women always in one group, men in another is not a reflection of the kingdom (i am not saying it doesn’t have it’s place, i am saying that it’s way overused). side-by-side, in the trenches of real life together, learning, healing, growing, transforming. i think that was always the idea of true redemptive community. that God would use others to redeem parts in us that needed redeeming.
none of us can be all things to all people. but we all have a part to play. and we all have holes that need filling. here are a few ways i think we can begin to live some of this out.
it starts with cultivating real, intimate relationship with each other & that will require intention, time, and risk. i do not believe “going to” church will do the trick. it will mean being together–men & women in the same room, around the same table–sharing our stories, our fears, dreams, hurts, hopes and generally spending time together beyond just the periphery. it means engaging in conflict, weeping together, celebrating together, nurturing an interdependence that is sometimes foreign for many of us (especially in a world & culture that espouses independence, control, and selfishness).
we have to learn to take sexual weirdness out of the picture and that takes practice. i think this may be the hardest one to learn, especially in a world with so much sexual brokenness. i could go on and on about this issue, but i think one of the reasons there is so much sexual brokenness is because we have not learned how to be together as brothers & sisters, as equals, with a purity of heart and spirit. the onus on this doesn’t all fall on just men. both sides have to learn much of what hasn’t been taught to us, because we have been fed both subtle and direct messages that say “men and women can never be just friends.” i think this is an evil tool the enemy has used against humanity that has perpetuated division & fear & control. we have lost the heart of brotherly & sisterly love. one of the reasons i am so passionate about co-pastoring–men and women side-by-side sharing–is that it is a way to live this out tangibly and not re-create unequal, imbalanced power dynamics that are so limiting . i have a lot of brothers. we meet for coffee sometimes, we call each other when we need perspective. we challenge and encourage each other in love. we fight. it is real. it is pure. it is healing. i had been taught a lot of things early in life how to use my sexuality to get what i needed, to fill an emotional void that needed filling. much damage was done to me & i am sure i inflicted my share of damage, too, by using people this way. now, learning how to have healthy intimate relationships with men other than just my husband has strengthened me in ways i can’t describe. my friend dan brennan at faith dance writes almost exclusively about this issue, offering amazing perspectives on cross-gender friendships.
start to notice places in our hearts, our story, our spiritual experiences that need noticing. what’s missing? what do i long for? what am i afraid of? what are some of the barriers to letting myself experience some of these different dynamics of relationship? what is God trying to reveal to me that i may not want to look at? what parts of God’s character is hard for me to believe? this requires a quietness, an inner searching, humility. i have a gut reflex all the time that says “i don’t want to need anyone! i can’t need anyone!” it comes from my history and i battle against it constantly. i know i am not alone in this spirit of self-reliance that shuts us down to these kinds of intimate relationships, not only with each other but with God as well.
it does take a village. none of us are God. none of us alone can fill the huge and blaring gaps in some of our experiences. it’s way too much pressure to have to fill the shoes of all of these roles; not to mention it is literally impossible. the healthy approach in my opinion is to just bring whatever we can to the relationship and let God do the rest, bring the others, and use others in small & meaningful ways, too. this is why diversity in community is so important–we need all kinds of voices, roles, perspectives, differences. the weird tension is that at the same time we need others, we also have to make sure we don’t demand or expect more from each other than is realistic. become willing to be thankful for small things that change, heal, reveal helps take the pressure off.
oh, i think so much of this is missing in the body of Christ. many have adopted the ways of the world & forgotten our roots. messy, organic, intense, healing community was always the idea, the family of God growing up together & spreading the love we were learning to the world. let’s listen to what God is stirring up in us & be brave enough to be mothers & fathers & brothers & sisters & daughters & sons to each other, whatever it looks like for each of us, a beautiful reflection of God’s wholeness lived out together.