Shoulder-to-Shoulder Community

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Over the past few months, I’ve been in the beginning stages of putting together a magazine centered around the idea of community. In this span of time, I’ve had meetings about community, sent countless emails about community, I’ve asked questions about the value in community, I’ve brainstormed around the one thing we oughta all know about community, I’ve sought awe-inspiring stories about community, I’ve tried to redefine community without lowering the bar of what community can be, I’ve talked about what Jesus intended with community, I’ve typed the word community so many times that I’ve questioned if I’m spelling it right anymore, and I’ve said the word community so many times that it has honestly started to lose all meaning.

And in all of that, I have tried my absolute hardest to just keep it at arm’s length. Coordinate, edit, and write other people’s stories. Don’t internalize any of this. You got a job to do, Schmidt.

So. That went well.

When I think of the relationships I have with my closest friends I gotta admit that, even though today I kinda resent stories this clean, the early stages were all pretty simple. I wasn’t dying to get into community and finding closed doors. I just sorta stumbled upon some humans. And I liked ‘em. Circle time on the first day. Handshake by the center doors. A few awkward first meetings in the common room of a dorm, sure, but just a few. That time you plopped down next to me and said you wanted to pursue me as a friend? I mean, yeah. Okay. Talked me into it. Easy.

But those aren’t necessarily the stories I’d want to celebrate. And maybe it’s just because they were so easy, or maybe it’s because when I think of us, I don’t think of the first impressions. I find that the most memorable moments I have with my people are rarely the ones that would inspire much awe in others. Far from beautiful snapshots of community to be featured anywhere.

I think of sitting on the floor of that grimy club bathroom wiping away your tears. Or fiddling with those salt and pepper shakers to distract myself from how anxious I was— how dangerously close I was to telling you how many lies you believed from my mouth. I remember the phone call when I wanted to think that I loved you too much to see it your way, but we both knew I’m just too stubborn to entertain the thought that I may be wrong. Parking lot confessions. Corner booth disagreements. Punctuation-less texts.

Do I think these are my most shining moments of friendship? Absolutely not. I want to show off the mix CDs I made after your break-up, the 30 days of encouragement jar, the cards I wrote you both on her birthday. But they’re not the whole story. The whole story is as messy as it is astonishing. I don’t know if the good stuff is as good if you don’t get dragged through the bad a time or two.

That’s what’s tricky about rose-colored-community. Not only is it alienating, exclusive, annoying, and inaccessible. It’s not the whole story.

There are a handful of people in my life who, even with all the incredibly compelling reasons not to, choose to trust me. Choose to fearlessly let me into their worlds. Who take my hand in theirs as often as they desperately reach out for mine. Sometimes it can look like standing shoulder-to-shoulder in prayer, but sometimes it’s unlinking hands ‘cause I clearly just went too far. It’s loving each other even when we feel far from loving toward each other.

I guess I don’t really know what to do with any of this. I just know that in a world of social media and church magazines, I’d hate to think that anything is getting portrayed as less than what it is. An incredibly imperfect attempt at God’s best. As if any of us have ever figured anything out.

I think it comes in glimpses and I don’t want to take those glimpses for granted. I think God wants us to come alongside each other and to do everything we can to show up and love the people He’s given us to love with all we’ve got. We are going to screw this up so much, so often, so badly. I am far from having any clue how to do this well.

But I gotta believe that that’s okay. I gotta believe that we were never gonna get this just right this side of heaven. That we should do what we’re able to selflessly give, to be outstandingly considerate, to love without bounds, but that when we can’t, there’s someone who can. Always.

I guess I accidentally ended up internalizing community, but I think that’s just cause it was already in there. That innate desire we all have to be fully understood and loved that finds flickers of satisfaction in car-ride singing, knowing glances, and lifelong friendships? It’s hard to not want to show it off when you find it. It’s harder to want to show it off when you can’t. I want to make sure I’m embracing that tension with as much balance, understanding, and grace as possible.

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