I felt it coming. Like a sneeze, like an uncontrollable giggle in a dead still cathedral. It is coming, bidden or unbidden, and it will have an impact.
I sat on our friends' couch, surrounded by community. People who were learning to know me well, people I was learning to know well in return, and the words came without my permission.
Perhaps it was from exhaustion, who knows. Perhaps because when we did our "guys here, girls there" conversations my wife had brought the other wives into the loop on our life at the moment. A family confrontation long aged, more like spoiled milk than fine wine, would be revisited soon and neither my wife nor I were excited about the proposition.
So I started talking. About the thickness in my soul, about the commandment-denying dishonor I wanted to let loose on the situation, about how a heart breaks when you see the blindness of someone else while they walk confidently into oncoming traffic.
Community is difficult for me. It has been for some time. As a pastor, I am often guarded and protected with my story. I don't tell it all, I tell the parts that illustrate messages and they are often "my story as it applies to YOU" moments more than anything else. The result is that it is difficult to get close, to allow people deeper than what will maintain the illusion of completion. I want to be the wise sage, not the flawed learner, and so I keep the mantle high and the attention diverted.
I broke that wall, and it felt awkward. I felt I was monopolizing the time, that I shouldn't have made this the issue we talked about because there were so many other things that were more important. My dear friends spoke good into my world, gently pressing on my need for definition and plans, and at the end of my emotional "sneeze" there was an atmosphere of safety and acceptance.
This is the joyful misery of community. Joyful in that you can be uplifted, misery in that you must open your chest and let the spirit and viscera spill out completely. Communities that encourage this are those that draw their members into safety, who long to listen to each other and know each other well, who truly embody Christ to each other and with each other.
The mystery of community isn't about the curriculum (if you read community as "small groups") or the venue (living room? Starbucks?) or even in the strategy (cell group? apprentice leaders?) - instead, the mystery of community is in the "with."
To be with those who are awkwardly - yet courageously - laying down the mantle of respectability to show you a bit of their soul.
To be with those who know and love God but can't seem to know and love themselves well.
To be with those who haven't seen joy for a long season, and to help them find their way again.
Because when people are with you - truly with you in the koinonia partnerships of "wills pointed together in the same direction" - you are changed in your inner ecology. Two or more are gathered, listening and intently expecting the Spirit of God to speak, Christ is there.
He is there because you are there. When people are with you, Christ is with you.
Who's with you today?