Community: By Choice
I was listening to a podcast (By Faith with Christine Hoover) this week. It's a show all about friendships. Nice, right?
Christine was interviewing Marissa Henley, a cancer survivor who wrote a book, "Loving Your Friend Through Cancer," based on how her own friends loved her during her battle with cancer. I don't have cancer but I could SOOO relate. So much of what they discussed was exactly what I've written here on the blog and processed out-loud with my friends. It was eery listening to their conversation because it was so familiar, yet I don't know either of these ladies.They spent several minutes talking about Marissa's community and how they supported her in countless ways. At one point, Christine asked Marissa, "How do you cultivate that kind of community?" Marissa paused a bit. I think that's a question she doesn't get asked very often. Her message is about how well her community loved on her when she needed it. She shares all the wonderful ways they supported her so that you can support your hurting friend in similar ways. She didn't have a quick answer for the step that comes before all that, the step where you build that kind of community.
That's something I've been thinking about, maybe obsessing about. How do we build a strong, supportive community? What choices do we make so that we get that result?I wish I had a formula. But the more I've thought and prayed through those questions, asking God, "How did I get such a great community," and, "Why do some friends have that kind of community and some don't," the more frustrated I've become. Because I'm learning that it's not about me. I don't think I have a great community because I created it. I think it's a gift. A gift that should be treasured and cared for. A gift that I must steward just like any other talent or treasure. Have you thought of your community as a gift to be stewarded?
How do we steward our community? I think it's as simple as this: we notice them. Notice when they aren't at an event. Notice when they are present in body but not present in spirit. Notice what's going on in their lives and say something about it. And then listen. And when they share the littlest bit of need, jump to fill it. (If you can.) Don't assume someone else will take care of the need. She's YOUR community. YOU take care of it.
I was reading the Joseph story this week. Such a great story of God's sovereignty. This time, when I read it, something new popped out. When Joseph was in jail, the morning after the Baker and the Cupbearer had nightmares, Joseph noticed that they were not themselves.
When Joseph arrived in the morning, he noticed that they were feeling low. So he asked them, the two officials of Pharaoh who had been thrown into jail with him, “What’s wrong? Why the long faces?” - Genesis 40:6-7 (The Message)
Joseph's job was pretty crummy. He had troubles of his own. No one would have expected Joseph to notice those men. No one would have expected him to speak up and listen to them. But he did. In that jail, those men had become his community so he treasured them. He stewarded the gift of their presence in his life.There may not be a formula for how to create an awesome, supportive community, but I think noticing your friends is a strong step in the right direction.
Another piece in choosing your community is to treasure a variety of friends. It would be so easy to find a few people just like me and close the doors to my perfect little community. But what a loss, that would be. I need "no friends," the friends that remind me to say no to too many things. I need "challenge friends," the friends who ask me the unaskable questions. I need older friends with all their wisdom and younger friends with all their exuberance for life and risk. I need friends who I can rely on and friends who rely on me. I need friends near and friends far. Old friends and new friends. A variety of friendships grows me and enriches my community.
My Swedish Godmother says friends are like a tapestry. Each thread woven together in and through the others. If we focus on just one thread we only see that color. But if we step back, we see the entire image of the tapestry as a beautiful whole. We need a variety of friends to make a beautiful community.
Steward your variety of friends by keeping in touch. Send a hand-written note to old friends on your Christmas letter. There's something to a hand-written message that relays intentional care. It says that you haven't forgotten your old friend. You still notice them.And listen to your variety of friends. You need to hear different opinions. God's story written into each friend gives them different perspectives on His character. You need that when you are confused about what God is doing in your life. You need their perspective when your perspective is narrow, or lost.
And be the variety that your friends need too. Speak your opinion when God nudges you to do so. You may be the perspective they need in their confusion.
And might I push you a bit? I think you need to seek out different kinds of friends. I'm serious. Age doesn't matter. You are never too old to make a new friend.
Parents tell their kids to, "Choose your friends wisely," and that's good advice. I'll add, "And treasure them sacrificially." It costs something to be in a community. To keep a community. So steward your community sacrificially. Take time out of your busy schedule to notice her. Text her when you think of her. Schedule a coffee date regularly. Pursue her. Because she's worth it. The world isn't telling her that, so make it your job.
So, Friend, who needs you to text her today? Who needs to be noticed? Who do you need to seek out as a potential friend? Will you call her today?