Don't get me wrong, I love living in community. As an American, I know that it is something that is seriously lacking in our society and something I crave whenever I go back to the states. Since most of my adult life has been lived on mission bases in community with people from all over the world, it has impacted my life deeply.
But it's not easy.
The whole idea of living in community appeals somehow to our desire for a utopia and ultimately our longing for heaven, like a faint echo in our hearts of what we were fashioned for. People have been trying to create the perfect community for centuries - think of the Amish, think of Hindu temples and the hippie movement and countless others. But in this fallen world, when community falls inescapably short of our ideals, it usually ends up creating three different types of people...loners, liars, and lovers.
Firstly, loners are the type of people who have given up on community all together. They are usually slightly skeptical of those within the community and wary of people interfering in their personal lives. So in an attempt to maintain some sort of a semblance of privacy, they take part in community from a distance choosing where and when to participate, who and how to love. As a community, we feel snubbed by their general refusal of us. And since we really don't know them enough to be able to pick out their faults, we end up just making some of our own. We label them proud, cold, angry, rebellious or maybe just depressed and continue the cycle of mistrust.
Then there are the liars. The liars are the ones who have accepted community as a part of their day to day lives and have mastered the art of sharing their good sides and hiding the rest. They are the supreme actors, loved by all, except for the few who are close enough to see the duplicity of their lives. Like the loners, the liars are wary of sharing too much with the community, but still long for their approval and acceptance. So they share just enough to make everyone happy. The liars live an exhausting life of false perfectionism, balancing enough time with the community to maintain their persona and at the same time keeping their passions, their dreams, and their faults far enough away from prying fingers.
Lastly there are the lovers. The lovers are the ones who have truly opened their hearts to the community. They are able to love through all the ugliness around them, having realized that offensive behavior and abrasive words are only poor disguises for people who are hurting deeply. Keenly aware of their own faults and of the grace of God in their lives, they are able to unashamedly accept and fully embrace the imperfect, messed-up, hurting family that God has placed them in.
In Hannah Hurnard's book, Hinds Feet on High Places, there is a dialogue between "Much-Afraid" and "The Shepherd" about love:
“To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”
She nodded miserably and then said shamefacedly, “Yes, very much afraid of it.”
“But it is so happy to love,” said the Shepherd quietly. “It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.”
Isn't this the the essence of the problem with living in community? Fear.
We are so afraid. Afraid of the ugliness of others sin...or maybe afraid of our own. Afraid of what will incur if we get tangled up together with these messed-up people. Afraid of how we will handle it. Afraid of what people will say, what people will think. Afraid of the reality of sin and brokenness encroaching on our search for perfection.
But just look for a moment at the people that Jesus was living with. They were loud and violent and argumentative. They fell asleep in prayer meetings. They were thieves and liars and complainers. They even betrayed their own leader! Those weren't just the ones he was ministering to - those were the ones he was eating and sleeping and praying with! Those were the ones who were beside him when he was preaching to the multitudes, when he was embracing the children and praying for the sick.
Sometimes in all our efforts to create "community" we forget that we are not trying to create a perfect people but a people whose love for each other in our human, imperfect, fallen states gives the world a little glimpse of the Father's love for us. Like it says in 1 Peter 4: 8, "Love covers a multitude of sins," a community of true lovers has the capacity to cover an immense amount of sin and hurt and pain and to be conduits of healing and restoration to each other. Because, after all, there is no perfection there is only the grace of a perfect God working itself out in our lives.
Having mostly lived somewhere between the liar and the loner categories, I can say for sure that it is the easiest way to cope with life in community - it's much easier to judge and to criticize from the outside without ever getting our hands dirty, without ever having to carry the responsibility of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and without ever exposing ourselves to them. But I can also say that living there on the fringe never affords us the opportunity of experiencing the blessing, the life, the healing, and the joy that the body of Christ as a community of believers is meant to be.
So dear friends lets be lovers. Let's dare to open our hearts to the ones He has placed us with. Let's dare to be real with them and to give them a chance. Let's dare to let go of our false idea of perfection and embrace the messy, ugly, crazy reality of our wounded hurting hearts.
Let's be lovers.
"Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace." 1 Peter 4:8-9