I spend a lot of time with people. I love people; I care about people. I have a lot of compassion for hurting people, and whenever I am with hurting people, I find myself desperately wishing I could do more to help them. It’s difficult going through painful things, and it’s difficult watching friends go through painful things when you feel helpless to do anything about it. But I’ve learned that sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is just to be with someone in their pain.
One of the reasons I am in full-time ministry is because I want to help people grow and experience all the life that Jesus has for them. People matter.
And people matter to God. Jesus proved that at the cross.
But people are also problematic. They can be cruel and hurtful and they can stab you in the back.
My journey with people has been complicated. As a PK (“preacher’s kid”), I watched my parents go through a lot of pain because of things that people said and did. And so as a result, I often judged people internally, assuming I knew their motives and personalities – often without taking the time to get to know them.
I spent a lot of my life closing people off. Oh, I was friendly and went out of my way to help people; I would have said I loved people. But inwardly, it was another story. And trusting people? That was very difficult. I decided as a high school student that it was much better to not let too many people “in” – to not be vulnerable with too many people.
I would still get hurt, but not as deeply.
And then one sunny Florida afternoon, I was having lunch with a friend. He was a church-planter; I was pastoring an established church. We were both bi-vocational, struggling just to make ends meet, and working on the same job together. That day, we were talking about some different experiences we had gone through in ministry, life in general, and I don’t recall what else. He asked me something, and I brushed off his question with a vague response. I will never forget what he said to me next: “Don, you don’t make it very easy to get ‘in.”
I knew exactly what Tim was talking about. I was vigilant about keeping the walls up. Even with my friends. And he was frustrated because he was opening up to me about deep life stuff, and I was happy to listen to him and be there for him – but I wouldn’t take the same risks of opening up to him as he was taking with me.
What does any of this have to do with “being”?
One of the ways that we learn to “be” and that we just are able to “be” is to spend time in community with people. And the deeper you go, the more vulnerable you are, the more intimate the community becomes, the deeper the “being” becomes. In other words, in the act of being vulnerable and opening up and sharing your life, you are “being” in one of the ways that God created you to “be.”
That’s hard for me. But after that conversation with Tim a couple of decades ago, I’ve pushed myself to take risks.
It hasn’t been easy and I haven’t always been as “real” as I need to be. But I’m taking the journey, and I’m taking it with friends.
Here are a couple of ways I’ve intentionally tried to lean into community:
- A group in our church meets every week for “Coffee With Jesus.” Over the past few years, the make-up of the group has dramatically changed. It was difficult for me. It went from a “safe place” to a group with a few safe people, but many more people with whom I wasn’t sure I felt safe. But I took the risk of being real. And I survived. And now, that group is a safe place – which I would never have known if I hadn’t taken the risk of being willing to be vulnerable with my own life. (I’m learning, among other things, that you can’t really lead without being vulnerable. It’s important to set boundaries – Jesus certainly did – but a certain amount of self-disclosure is vital to effective leadership.
- A few years ago, a good friend invited another friend and I to spend a day with him in Erie. We went to Presque Isle and spent the day hanging out. We had a conversation about creating intentional, vulnerable, honest community within our group. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. We talked that day about things that we had never talked with anyone about before. It was a huge risk. But after a few years of intentionally getting together monthly, we talk about anything and everything. I’ve been asked some pretty hard questions in our times together. In fact, we’re getting together this afternoon because I asked them for some help with processing some crap in my life that has been stirred up with the physical issues I’m dealing with right now. It’s not always fun or comfortable, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
- Over the past few months, Jewel and I have had opportunities to connect deeply with two other couples who are going through some serious life struggles right now. We’ve shared openly with them about some very difficult issues in our lives, and they have done the same with us. Each time, it felt like a huge risk to me – old “stuff” tends to come flooding back, and the issue of “I’ve been burned before” rears its ugly head. But we are finding deep friendship and Christ-like support in walking through some very hard things. Without these friends, we would feel very alone in some of the things that we are journeying through right now. But with these friends, we feel loved and accepted and we know we’re not in this alone.
So what’s the bottom line of this long, rambling blog? It’s this – if you really want to learn to “be” you need to “be” in community. You need to take the risk of opening up to some people and talking about the deep things of your life – the joys, the pains, the trials, the fears, the doubts, all of it. You need to be wise; choose your friends wisely. But go deep. Being with the right people can help you “be” on a whole new level as you experience the Presence of God in deep community.
It’s a huge risk, I know. It sounds terrifying.
And it is.
But it’s worth it.
If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus: A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store. A paperback version will soon be available.