As a graduate student I attended a large church where I knew only a handful of people. My studies were so demanding that I could do little more than show up on Sunday mornings. There were many weeks when that felt like a tremendous accomplishment as I sat mentally and emotionally exhausted and sleep deprived in my seat, desperate for something to nourish my starved soul. God graciously met me there, giving me huge doses of encouragement and peace and spiritual nourishment. I came and sang and learned and met with God and left, often without speaking a word to anyone else.
But I knew, even in the midst of that season, that this was not the way God wanted things to be long-term. When the preachers spoke on the importance of community, of being connected with a smaller group of people within this large church, of intimately and intentionally sharing life with them, it resonated deep within me as true. I knew that it was easy to slip in and out of church without really being a part of the church. That you could smile and shake hands and make friends without ever taking off the mask to reveal your broken, bleeding, messy life.
Y’all, community is hard and I am no good at it. It takes work and determination, grit and grace, and this introvert is often exhausted by the prospect before I even begin. But there are true benefits that make all the sweat and tears worth it. And when you let other people know your story, even the ugly and messy parts, it can reveal unexpected beauty.
I love to sing, and a typically Sunday morning will find me singing with abandon regardless of how on or off tune I might be. Sometimes, though, I stop and listen to the chorus rising around me. I hear the varied voices blending together and it is beautiful and stirs my heart in thanksgiving to God. And then I am reminded of the stories behind the voices and I am humbled:a dad of two young boys who is battling a degenerative disease a teenage girl fighting Lyme disease and all the complications that come with it couples teetering on the edge of divorce parents whose grown kids have rejected the faith they hold so dear the mama who is finding wholeness and life on the other side of a crippling depression a family one bill away from financial disaster the parents who buried their young child
These people singing with passion and sincerity to God in the midst of their pain is a beautiful thing. When I know their story their act of worship takes on greater meaning and power because I know what it means for them to surrender to God in the middle of their suffering. That when they tell God He is good and loving and wise it comes from a heart that knows what it is to break into thousands of pieces. This, this is a testimony far greater than any sermon. And when we stay on the fringes, when we keep each other at arms length, when we hold the story God is weaving from our tattered lives close to our chest we miss out on this unexpected gift.