We need community- Lesson Three

I have the immense privilege of doing life with the best group of people I’ve ever met. There is no way to describe how amazing they are or how blessed I am to know them, and serve with them, and laugh with them. They are just the best group of people you’ll ever meet. We are a rag tag bunch of individuals, each with our own quirks, flaws, faults, and strengths, and yet somehow we have combined to create this amazing, unique family.

Since before I can remember my heart has longed for deep community. I’ve had dear friends, I’ve had groups that have come close, but nothing quite satisfied the longing. I prayed and prayed, and went from church to church looking for a group I could do life with, but for 3 of my 4 years at school I came up empty. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my friend David suggested that we lead a life group together, and then Radical was born. We prayed that God would bring the right people. We prayed and prayed and then prayed some more. We had a vision for this special little group; that it would honor God, that He would be the one leading it, that we would serve our community and the world, and that we would become not just friends, but family. Often I am overwhelmed with gratitude, because these people are such a blessing to my life.  We laugh together, and have a grand ol’ time, but it’s so much more than that. We live our lives together. We encourage one another in our endeavors, we impel one another closer to Christ, we rejoice together and mourn together, we serve together and pray together. I live with 5 other girls that are in this group, and some of the guys in our group are getting a house together in the neighborhood our church is in. This neighborhood is rather overcome by poverty, crime, and even drugs, and these modern day warriors are dedicated to showing the love of Christ to our neighbors. I’m so proud of them, and excited to be a part of what they are doing even in a small way.

I say all of that to prove a point. We were created to live life in community. The Christian book industry has tried to convince us that our walk with God is meant to be walked alone. That depth and growth with God can only be accomplished in a room by ourselves. I disagree. I’m not saying that alone time with God isn’t important, because it is! After all most of this book is about stillness, about taking time to be alone.  BUT community is so key in our growth, and in keeping our sanity. God has spoken to me more through these people than through any preacher or sermon. When I am with them I want to be better simply because of the way they live their lives. I’m learning so much about what it means to love without condition or expectation. I’m learning what it takes to include other people in my story, to take their feelings and thoughts into consideration when making a decision, because in the words of Donald Miller, “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me.”

When we live our faith alone, we start to believe that life is a movie and we are the stars. We slowly, accidentally, begin to believe that we don’t need anyone else, and that we are the most important person in our lives. When we live in community it causes us to live a more selfless life, a life that is for God and for others, not for ourselves. In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller quotes a man name Bill, who works at a Bed and Breakfast and selflessly serves the guests, treating them as better than himself. Donald Miller asked Bill how he kept a good attitude with so many people abusing his kindness, and Bill said something that is so essential for us to remember, “If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.” There are many times where I don’t want to put other people needs, and desires above my own, in fact there are many times where I don’t. But living in community is teaching me how. It’s forcing me out of my selfish, little comfort zone, into a place where I have to learn how to care for others more than I care for myself. I think that living in community is a little bit of heaven here on earth, just a taste of the amazing things we will experience with God.

I need to be clear, I am not saying that we should never spend time alone, with Abba, living out some of our faith in our own space. There are some things that God needs to whisper to us in the quiet. But we have have to careful of extremes entering into our life. We don’t want to spend so much time in community that we miss God’s still small voice, or that the busyness distracts us from His will, but we also don’t want to spend so much time in quiet and stillness that we miss the opportunity that community gives us. To love, and grow, and cherish, and be cherished. We have to be sure to pursue God in the quiet and in community. To seek his voice in silence, and amongst the people we do life with. To remember that life isn’t about us, it’s about God and people. As Luke 10:27 says, “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Slow Down- Lesson Two

      I am what one might call a “social butterfly“. I flit from one thing to the next, filling each moment of every day. Because of this undeniable fact, I also feel like a chicken with my head cut off a large majority of the time. I rush from work, to the grocery store, to making dinner and cleaning my apartment, and then people walk through the front door and I turn into Sarah, the entertainer. Then once people leave, I clean up the mess that’s left behind and try to catch a few hours of sleep before I start the process again the next day. Some days I feel so busy, that I can never give my undivided attention to one person. I will be having a conversation with someone, but in my head I will be naming off a laundry list of things I have to accomplish, or I’ll be looking for someone else I have to talk to. I get to a point where I am so busy that I miss the opportunity to fellowship in community. I have this unique and awesome chance to invest in someone’s life, to encourage and be encouraged by another, but instead I go through my day in hyper speed. I try to fill my life with so much community time, but I miss the point.

      I lead a small group at church, with my friend David, and in December we had a footie pajamas, karaoke, and pancake Christmas party. This was a normal Christmas party, but with everyone dressed in pajamas, eating pancakes, and signing cheesy songs from the 80s. A good amount of prep work went into making this party run smoothly, including cooking and baking a ton of food, and cleaning David’s house. So the day of the party rolls around and I get to David’s house and get to work. The baking took longer than expected and cleaning a house occupied by the male sex is not a task for the faint of heart, so it was 30 minutes before our pre-party service project and there was still a lot of work to do, so I said, “David, would it be ok if I didn’t visit with the elderly, and finished getting everything ready instead?” He replied with, “Sure Martha.” I know what you’re thinking, “Burn!” And if you’re not thinking that it’s probably because you don’t know the story of Mary and Martha, so travel with me, if you will, to a warm afternoon around the year 30 A.D.

      Mary and Martha are preparing for a very important visitor, perhaps the most important visitor one could ever welcome into their home. I imagine this sent Martha into a cooking and cleaning frenzy because she wanted everything to be perfect. I truly believe that her intentions were pure, her heart and motives were to please the one whom her soul loved, the Son of God, Jesus. But there was one large problem. She was so busy cooking and cleaning and serving that she wasn’t actually spending any time with Him. She was so busy that she was missing the point. So by now she’s beginning to get a tad frustrated with her sister Mary, who was sitting on her bum at Jesus’s feet. Why wasn’t she helping? She was leaving all the work to Martha! So she voiced her feelings, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” I imagine her frustrations brought her close to tears, that she felt deserted in her work. I also imagine that Jesus’s answer took her by surprise, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed- or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better , and it will not be taken away from her.” I love that Jesus’s response to Martha wasn’t condemning, or judgmental, instead He was simply showing her the way that was better. The way of stillness.

      I see so much of myself in Martha. At church you can find me serving on the hospitality team, brewing coffee, baking breakfast items, stressing about the number of volunteers for the week. At home you will often find me in the kitchen, cleaning, cooking, baking, getting drinks for people. The concept of rest and I are merely acquaintances, we never spend enough time together to truly become friends. I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn, so I apologize if it sounds that way. I tell you this because I need you to see I understand the plight of Martha. I understand her desire to please the savior through acts of service. But I also understand that part of her was trying to earn His love and be worthy of His grace through what she did. I understand because I am guilty of this. I serve because I love and appreciate God and people, and I want them to know it. But I also resist the help of others because I am trying to earn their friendship, and there are days where I serve because I fear that if I don’t God’s love for me will wane. My motivations are a mixed bag of love, fear, and obligation, and in the mix of it all, just like Martha, I miss the point, I miss Jesus.

      This is not to say that serving is wrong, because it isn’t. We are called to supplement our faith with action. But we are also called to sit at the feet of Jesus, enjoying His presence and absorbing His words. Just like Martha we are called to slow down, and be still. This means to be free from the fear of falling short, to be free from the fear of loosing love by not being or doing enough. To slow down and be still means we get to enjoy life; our friends, our family, and our God. It means we get to breathe a giant sigh of relief, sit down on the couch, put our feet up, and rest!

Contentment- Lesson One

One night after an awesome jam session at Andrew’s house, I was in Wendall (that’s the car’s name) with Steve, and we were talking about how we missed our families and wished we could be with them. Suddenly our conversation went from light and fluffy to deep when he said something that resonated deep within me, “There is something about the human condition, where we always want to be somewhere we’re not.” The truth of that statement hit me like a ton of bricks. I am so guilty of this… of wishing my life away because I want the next big thing. The next job, the next relationship, the next opportunity, and open door. Like a girl with curly hair always wishes her hair was straight, or a girl with straight hair always wishes her hair was curlier. Like we long for the heat of summer in winter, and long for the chill of winter in the heart of summertime. We quickly forget that right now we are where we once longed to be.

I had a friend in college who spent most of their first semester desiring a relationship, but once they got it, all they could do was talk about wanting to be engaged. It was all they could talk about for months, until they got engaged. Then once they got that, it was time for marriage (which I understand), but I thought once they got married they would we satisfied, but once they got that… well all they could talk about was having a baby.  They would cry and cry because they wanted a baby so bad. This newlywed was not content in their latest adventure, where they once so desperately longed to be. They needed the next adventure. They were never content with what they had, or with where they were. There was always something bigger or better to chase. I think that we can all see a little bit of ourselves in their story. The names and circumstances are specific to our own situation, but discontentment is the common theme, and the feeling of dissatisfaction only contributes to our inability to rest and be still.

God keeps speaking “be still in my presence, wait patiently.” He isn’t just speaking that to me, I think He’s speaking that to all of his children. “Be still and know that I am God. I will fight for you, you need only be STILL. Wait patiently, for I have heard your cry, when you wait on me, I will renew your strength.” Our God calls us to fight against the social norm of impatience and unGodly dissatisfaction, and to instead live a life completely satisfied in Him and in where He has us. Maybe that means being content in the uncomfortable, the boring, the small towns, or in singleness. we are content not because we are completely happy in where He has us, but because we understand it’s where we’re supposed to be, whether we like it or not. He’s calling us to something so much greater than what we have imagined for ourselves, and maybe that greater thing is going to happen right where we are, but we’re going to miss it because we are so focused on the next step.

My boss has this quote pinned to her cubicle wall, and while it’s rather corny, it’s incredibly true. “The fact that you’re alive today is proof positive that God has something special for you to do.” So that means that today, whether you’re in Lynchburg, VA, or New York City, NY, or in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, it doesn’t matter, God has something for you and I, right where we are. So in learning the art of being still, I am learning that contentment is a large part of the picture I am painting. Contentment in the quiet, in the mundane, in the busyness of life. Contentment in my job, in my house, in my small college town. Satisfaction in friendships, in ministry opportunities, and in my walk with God. I am seeing that discontentment is a breeding ground for brokenness. In it you can find insecurities, unmet expectations, and lost dreams; shattered hearts, disillusioned visions, and feelings of inadequacy.

Ultimately discontentment stems from distrust of God and His plan for our lives. Just last night I found myself laying in bed, discontent and impatient in certain circumstances, but really it felt like I was saying, “God, I’m not really sure if you have this one figured out. I’m not really sure I see your hand working this out for my good. I just don’t really trust you.” And then once again I heard Him whisper, so gently and sweetly, “Be still and be silent.” And so I was, and I fell asleep, and I woke up the next morning still feeling discontent, and once again my Abba said, “Be still, be silent.” And then He added one small, but oh so difficult word, “trust”. So I stood in the shower, hot water pouring down, with my hands open, breathing in “Abba” and out, “I belong to you”. There is healing power in the knowledge that I belong to the Abba. I am my beloved’s and He is worthy of my trust, and adoration. There is a purpose in everything, and I can be content in every circumstance. In the words of Paul, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who give me strength.”

Learning the art of being still (Forward)

I am 22 years old and have been in a constant state of striving since before I can remember. The older I get, the busier life is and the more acutely aware I am of my own brokenness, and inabilities. Up until this point, I have wasted so much time trying to fix myself, trying to maintain and achieve emotional health. I (or stupid satan) tricked myself into believing that filling my schedule would solve my problems and free me of insecurities, but if anything it has magnified my inadequacies. However, recently I began to hear a whisper. It started off very quiet, “be still and I will rescue you.” This whisper became a little louder and more persistent, “be still and know that I am God.” I realized it was the Abba, beckoning me gently and sweetly to come away with Him. The words of Song of Solomon echoed in my mind, “Arise my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone… Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.” I realized that He is calling me to a place where “fears are stilled and striving cease”. A place where I can finally rest and be free from the chains that are holding me back. I am so ready to be there with Him, so this is my story. The story of how I learned (and am still learning) the art of being still. The practice of being quiet and receiving His love. This is my journey towards peace. I hear His voice calling me, and like a sheep, I am following my shepherd to a field of rest, and of stillness, of quiet and of healing. As He whispers, “My darling; my beautiful one, come with me;” I answer, “I am my beloved’s and He is mine, and His banner over me is love.”