Life in Community

Just when I think I have finally learned something, some new provocation arises to prove to me that I really haven’t gotten it at all. And that, in turn, helps to teach me my great need to bear with others since they are probably learning at the same rate I am, which means slowly. In other words, I give them plenty of opportunities to bear with me.
For example, living in community means expecting a certain amount of bumps and collisions, which requires extending forgiveness and taking it easy. A community is full of characters of all sorts, and this means there will be lots of bungling on all sides, including my side. But just knowing this is not enough. Just when I think I have this down pat, I find that I have either given offense to someone, or I am provoked by someone in an unexpected way. How I react to this demonstrates whether I really understand this community living thing or not.
If I am careless with my tongue, whether it is in complaining, over-sharing, criticizing, or thinking out loud, it is easy to justify my behavior. After all, I am fully aware that my motives were clean as a whistle. But if someone else complains, over-shares, criticizes, etc., it is not nearly so easy to justify their behavior as it was my own.
The same sort of thing applies to expectations. Here’s a typical scenario: You hire someone in the church community to do a job for you, say mow the lawn. But they are late. Or they never show up at all. Or they do a crummy job. Or they strike for higher wages. All these things are unacceptable, and I am wondering, “What kind of Christian is this person?” But then shortly after this episode, I forget to show up for an appointment. Or due to unexpected interruptions or phone calls, I fail to do something I said I would do. I can always understand my own circumstances far better than I can understand someone else’s. And I find it is easy to “forgive” myself; it’s those other people that I think need to be straightened out.
If we would keep a record of our own wrongs, it would be easier to forgive others theirs. When my kids were little, I learned that getting upset about spills and breakage was worse than the spill itself. If I reacted impatiently when the milk got knocked over, God always saw to it that within mere moments I would drop and break a glass or pitcher. I learned to be quick to forgive such carelessness. Pride always comes before a big fall.
There are always plenty of provocations: someone backed into your car, didn’t return a book or movie they borrowed, forgot to pay you back the money they owed you, didn’t say thanks, didn’t show up when they said they would, forgot your birthday, broke your favorite mug, didn’t say hi, stepped on your toe, and didn’t invite you to the party. Only love will cover a multitude of sins, and we need quite a bit of it to slosh around in if we want to enjoy real Christian love in community.
Once there was a family that dropped in unexpectedly for dinner and then complained about the food. Oh that was bad. But the more years that go by, the funnier that story becomes. You’re kidding aren’t you? Nope. Someone really did that? Oh yes. And it was actually pretty funny at the time. It takes all kinds to make a world and we need to enjoy the good story material we find all around us, even if it’s the kind of story material that we can never share beyond our family members. We are a ripe bunch, and it makes far more sense to enjoy the ripeness than to get worked up over every little bump. And as I reflect on that meal, it really was pretty bad!
Thank goodness that we have the Lord’s Table to come to every week to be reminded that He graciously continues to feed us, love us, bear with us, forgive us, and call us His children. We need constant reminders. And if God will stoop to invite us to His table, surely we can extend love and forgiveness to all those in our community who need it as much as we do.

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7 thoughts on “Life in Community

  1. As I sat at my dining room table reading this wonderful post, I said to my oldest daughter, “I just love Nancy Wilson! She reproves me more than anyone I know!” And it is, as the Scripture says, “oil upon my head!” (Psa. 141:5) Thank you, Nancy!

  2. “If I reacted impatiently when the milk got knocked over, God always saw to it that within mere moments I would drop and break a glass or pitcher.”

    Hilarious!!! And so true . . .

  3. How do you communicate with really contrary people? I know one or two Christians who disagree with nearly everything that anyone else says, but who become very incensed if anyone else disagrees with them…I even had one of these ask me a direct question, which I tried to evade to no avail. When I was forced to admit that I didn’t fully agree with the exegesis of her pastor on a certain passage, I was lectured for pride and disrespect. It’s very hard to get around these people, when you’re trying to make friendly conversation…they say it’s too shallow if you don’t discuss theology, but if you discuss theology, you can’t say anything without being reprimanded (even when I’m striving for common ground) and if I try to quietly write letters less frequently (or whatever) I am rebuked for neglect. People tell me that I have a knack for tactfulness, but this situation stumps me. I try not to be resentful, but it is hard to know how to interact. If you have time, would you mind giving me some advice?

    Thanks! I love your website!

  4. Thanks for this. I have been living in community for much longer than I had anticipated and the Lord is certainly using it as a way to clean up a lot of my junk. (And when I say “living,” I mean ACTUALLY living with many different people who I would not have chosen to live with for MUCH longer (we’re talking over a year now) than I thought. So, it was a good reminder…we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others by their actions. Not good. Thanks again.

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