stories about community • part 1
Lately, I can’t talk about [authentic] [healthy] community without mentioning the concepts of “vulnerability” and “acceptance”. As I begin to process this idea in this space, it’s helpful for me (maybe for you, too!) to consider the exact definitions of those words:
authentic: of undisputed origin; genuine. made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original. (in existentialist philosophy) relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.
healthy: doing well: successful or growing. good for your health. enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit. synonym: well.
community: a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. a similarity or identity.
vulnerability: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.
acceptance: the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group. willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation.
We all say that we need it, value it, want it – maybe our past experience with “community” has tarnished our present expectation of it – but what does good Community truly look like, with flesh on?
In my life, Community has been one of the most powerful elements that has catalyzed transformational spiritual growth.
I experienced this phenomena in a beautiful way when I lived in California after graduating from college. After enduring the painful ending of a relationship and feeling lost and purposeless, I applied to join a small group at my church. This small group was different in that it wasn’t a “come when you want/feel like it” model. It was specifically and strategically designed to cultivate safety and belonging so that vulnerability felt a bit more natural than it otherwise might.
During the first meeting, the expectation was set that members meet every two weeks, no exceptions. In the off weeks, one-on-one meetings between members were planned. Having this high expectation helped us to feel valued because we were worth showing up for, stay in touch because so much life can happen in the times between our meetings, and made it clear that this was a powerful environment that was worth prioritizing.
Candace, Bekah, Leah, and Jen were the ones who bravely shared their life stories – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly – and listened to mine. This was the first thing we did as a group: shared our stories. That may seem backward, to trust people up front instead of having them earn it before you vulnerably share your deepest, darkest secrets with them; but we had all sought that group in the first place because we wanted desperately to be known.
We needed someone to tell us that what we were feeling was normal.
We needed someone to tell us that we were going to be okay.
We needed someone to intervene for us and identify the lies we were believing.
We needed someone to tell us that hope was possible in the midst of our dire situations.
We needed something to tell us that we had what it took to thrive and make a difference in our world.
…and these statements are sometimes felt most powerfully when they come from someone who knows everything in your history that could communicate otherwise.
We spent so many hours praying over each other, declaring God’s goodness, holding up each other’s arms to believe for the breakthrough that we knew would come. We saw miracles in each others lives, heartbreaks, new jobs, losses of jobs, encounters of glory and power. We spoke boldly into the seasons we found ourselves in and transformation was the result. Each of us, being designed differently, brought something that the others needed, so that after each meeting, we all felt that we had either been ministered to or used our gifts to minister to the others.
I believe that you are not experiencing the abundance that Community can provide unless you are fully known and fully accepted in that exposure.
Further, I believe that your community isn’t as healthy as it could be if it’s not helping you take the next step in your journey to find healing, to be brave and take risks, to have your back and track with you in the process: celebrating, mourning, lamenting, rejoicing.
For me, in that season with my small group, taking risks looked like beginning the journey of being a public speaker to young people. These women encouraged the dream in my heart, prayed for me prior to my first speaking engagements, helped me process my insecurities about being inexperienced, unqualified, or just plain scared, and rejoiced with me as I grew and made mistakes and learned. I was empowered and encouraged towards changes in my life that made me a better human – all as a result of spending intentional and consistent time with these women for two and a half years.
[Just for fun, you can hear my thoughts fresh out of that season here.]
When is the last time you felt total acceptance from people in your life? What elements were apart of that experience (i.e. consider the definitions above: authenticity, vulnerability, need for health)?