It was good and it was grace and it was gift I never expected; in fact, I had imagined the opposite.

Headed to a place thousands of miles from home where we didn’t know a soul, not speaking or understanding the language, differences in culture and customs, there was ZERO expectation of finding community.  Sure, my husband would be meeting people through work, but how long would it take me to meet people.  And not just how long, but how?

An overseas move, even if it’s only temporary, requires enormous preparation.  With a mile-long Must-Get-Done List, it was easy enough to push apprehension and fear to the farthest corners of my mind–isolation, loneliness, missing my children and homesickness–all lingered as possibility.  But I was determined not to wallow in possibilities before I even left home, so I just talked to God about it and asked others to pray.

And then we landed 4,800 miles from home.

Instead of meeting isolation and loneliness, however, we found a warm and friendly people welcoming us into their homes and lives, obliterating misconceptions and perceived barriers and stereotypes.

Germans have a wonderful tradition called Stammtisch, loosely defined as a gathering among regulars.  In the past sometimes associated with social status, today Stammtish is all about community, intimacy and common interests(1).  Two on-going invites were extend–one my husband and I could attend for dinner each week, and a separate women’s twice-a-month breakfast group–immediately brought me together with the same people on a regular basis.  Our common ground was the ability to speak English, half a dozen nationalities mingling as one.

I (re)learned a valuable lesson from the generosity and kindness of these strangers:  community matters.

Over the past seven months I’ve imagined what my life would have looked like in Germany without these gatherings; lonely thoughts answer.  And though community isn’t limited to those who follow Christ (i.e., stammtisch is not a faith-based gathering), when you share a common faith, roots grow deep and wide…they reach for eternity.

Because it’s important to God we talk a lot about community at incourage; it’s why we created an event to encourage you to connect with the women in your backyard. We know God is relational and we’re created in his image.  As early as Creation, it’s clear humans are wired for community because it wasn’t good for the one to be alone.  

Finding and nurturing community makes a significant difference in quality of life and is unquestionably worth the effort.

I’ve endured seasons when community was ellusive and I’ve taken for granted times of plenty.  Both perspectives inform my response to Lisa-Jo’s question for us this week:   ”What does community mean to you?

Community is…

an answer to prayer (Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.)

an illustration of the body of Christ (“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body…”)

In community, among the company of others…

I thrive.

I’m energized.

I’m able to give…and receive.

Wounded places are healed.

I become fully alive, more like myself than when I’m isolated.

And here’s the jaw-dropping paradox:

Community doesn’t happen when I’m seeking community.

Community happens when I’m seeking Christ.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else,
and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

~ Matthew 6:33 NLT

When I was scurrying around preparing for our assignment in Germany, I already mentioned I talked to God about it and asked others to pray.  He knew my heart, what I feared would be lacking.  I trusted this opportunity was of his choosing, for his purposes.

I didn’t pray for community; I prayed that God would reveal himself in ways we couldn’t anticipate, that we’d trust his leading and be Christ to those who might not yet know him.

I’m a little ashamed to be surprised at the beautiful community we’ve discovered.  But isn’t that just like Jesus to respond in a way we might not expect, ultimately far better than we hoped or imagined?  How would you complete the sentence, “Community is______”?   How has community surprised you?

By Robin Dance who’s currently wrestling time relative to motherhood, stillness and the Divine.  If you hurry there’s still time to enter her giveaway for one of Lisa Leonard’s Heartfelt Collection pieces.

 

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  1. 1

    The book of Acts in practice is as you witness. The sense of community is one I pray to be re-established in the body of Christ. The very things you feared when visiting a new country is often what many people meet when visiting a new fellowship, the hand of fellowship is not extended. We are a country who values independence and do not see the call to biblical depencency, many people who come from overseas have expressed this and are saddened by this condition of the American church. I pray your sharing will enspire other to see such and do likewise.

    • 2

      Eileen,

      I think because Americans are more likely to move away from the place they grew up, and we live in a way that requires us to drive EVERYWHERE, our general culture isn’t closely knit. The contrast I’ve seen abroad–families often live in generations’ old homes and children don’t go far from home as adults–has been striking. I long for the lifestyle of the Acts church….truly doing all of life together.

  2. 3

    “Community doesn’t happen when I’m seeking community.
    Community happens when I’m seeking Christ.”

    Thanks for this reminder this morning; I needed it.

    • 4

      Steph,

      :) …that thought was spurred by a conversation with my daughter; it’s a reminder I know I need often…happy if it speaks truth into your life!

  3. 5

    This is excellent truth. “Community doesn’t happen when I’m seeking community. Community happens when I’m seeking Christ.” This reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. Such a great resource when it comes to talking about community and how NOT to idealize it, but to receive from Jesus THROUGH weak, imperfect people….how to seek Jesus and not JUST community, etc.

    Anyway, really loved your post today. Thanks so much. :) Blessings to you today!

    • 6

      Dana,

      Life Together is one of my top five favorite books; and get this: I tried desperately to find my copy, knowing I was going to write this post. I’m afraid I’ve loaned it out, though, but I can’t remember to whom :( . And I want THAT copy because of notes I’ve jotted in the margins! I am so, so sad it’s gone missing…

      Thanks for mentioning it; I thought about referencing it in my post anyway (as a resource) but didn’t since I there wasn’t anything specific I had mentioned.

      But…some GREAT Bonhoeffer quotes:
      http://www.pensieve.me/2011/06/the-wisdom-of-bonhoeffer.html

      Oh, my…when I googled to find that, I found an OLD post from my first blog, one in which I connected Bonhoeffer and All American Rejects (band). For fun, if you have interest (not trying to be a link queen!!):

      http://openconversation.blogspot.com/2006/01/all-american-rejectsand-bonhoeffer.html

      Wild…

      • 7

        Haha… so fun. :) I’ll check these out later during my son’s nap.

        That book is a lifesaver… We are trying to do super intentional community here in inner city Kansas City with our church family… Lots of mistakes and failures, but lots of beauty in the midst of all of it. :)

        Anyway… Excited to check out your liny-links. :) And thanks for responding to me. :)

  4. 8
    virginia says:

    community is my extended family anywhere and everywhere

  5. 9

    Community is people who call when the whole world slips into a black hole and listens.

  6. 10

    “A gathering of regulars.”

    Love that picture Robin! So glad God has gone before you and made a place for you. He is good like that!

  7. 11

    “Community doesn’t happen when I’m seeking community. Community happens when I’m seeking Christ.”

    Hear that? That’s the sound of the smack upside the head I needed. :-) I’ve been struggling for a long time with feeling like I don’t belong anywhere, like I don’t have a community, like I’m always on the outside looking in. But what I just realized is I’ve been putting community above Christ. That explains a lot.

  8. 12

    Community is people sharing with each other with their masks off. Being authentic, real, raw even.
    Having been used to the mask-wearing community, I have been totally surprised and found healing in community without masks. It has helped me be set free from hiding and instead be open and real in front of others, with others. To know now that it’s ok to not be ok. To know that others are there for me and with me no matter how we are all doing.

  9. 13

    We desire to make a big impact on others by striving to do big things. The best way to impact a person is through their heart…a heart is delicate and needs soft loving gestures of kindness. Small thoughtful actions are better than big rehearsed productions. Be free, forgive quickly, love big, and touch softly.you are valuable just as you are.

    Mark 12:30-31 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

    I love this Quote:
    “Preach the Gospel at where ever you go, if necessary, use words” – St. Francis of Assisi

  10. 14
    Beth Williams says:

    Community is a group of likeminded people doing what they enjoy and encouraging each other at the same time.

    It could range from Bible study, to friends getting together, to a group of ham radio poeple all listening for a frequency. Just the enjoyment of friends!

  11. 15

    Community is a safe place. One where you can be real, without fear of rejection or judgement. A place to share, learn and encourage. I often find myself sitting on the sidelines, watching. I really began to open up to community a couple of years ago.

    Community made me realize I had trust issues, thus my hesitancy to comment/participate.

    I think I have been putting too much emphasis on community versus Christ. Thanks for the reminder.

    ~Debra

  12. 16
    muchalone says:

    “Community doesn’t happen when I’m seeking community. Community happens when I’m seeking Christ.”

    I don’t have friends…and I was just encouraged to make Jesus my best friend…I can do that…and I’m relieved knowing that He cannot lie…and He’ll never tell me that I don’t matter to Him.

    But whose name do I put on a kid’s emergency card at school?

    • 17
      Handsfull says:

      Muchalone, I’m so sorry that you are feeling so isolated – I’ve been there too, and it’s a bone-deep hurt.
      The only answer I have is to pray. You need people who love you for who you are, and also love your kids. Pray for the courage to try again, to take a risk and speak to someone who looks like they could become a friend. And pray that God will bring the right people across your path. He truly does care about this part of your life – somewhere in the bible it says “He sets the lonely in families”.
      I am praying for you too :)

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