I'd thought we were becoming friends. We'd been meeting about once a week, connecting through a small group setting and one-on-one, starting to open up and share some vulnerable pieces. Then, out of nowhere, she flipped the switch. All of a sudden, her hostility and trust issues came piling out on me. I couldn't even figure out what she was talking about, but somehow, she'd decided it was all my fault.
She stopped coming to group. She stopped responding to my messages. I kept trying for a while, until it no longer felt appropriate. Then I decided to remember her in my prayers and leave her alone.
Not long after, something bad happened to her. I watched her fill Facebook with grief, anger, and confusion. I watched our mutual acquaintances respond with a perfectly predictable outpouring of public sympathy—par for the course of digital relationships.
I didn't want to say anything to her, especially not where others could see. I didn't want to be vulnerable to her. I didn't want to reach out again. I didn't want to care. I didn't want to give this wounded creature another chance to bite me.
After all, there were plenty of other people I could pour into instead... people who did answer my messages. But I couldn't get her off my mind. God kept poking me with the thought of her. And there I was, acting like a Jonah, whining and avoiding and procrastinating. Because it meant reaching out. It meant going out on a limb. It meant being vulnerable to rejection.
In a book called Daring Greatly, the author discusses vulnerability in terms of "showing up and letting yourself be seen." Contemplating the ministry of vulnerability over these recent weeks, I've reflected so far on the vulnerability of disclosure and the vulnerability of proximity. These areas of vulnerability drive into many fears of showing up and letting ourselves be seen... putting ourselves in places where other people can get to us, and revealing ourselves as people with wounds and weaknesses of our own.
I tried to ignore God's voice after I heard the news about my acquaintance, but He wouldn't let me off the hook. Every time I looked at my phone, I was reminded.
So I reached out. I did not post something on Facebook for the world to see. I dialed her phone number, and she answered. I expressed concern. She expressed appreciation. It was awkward for both of us. We didn't try to pretend we had more to say than we did. It was bittersweet. It was enough. For a moment, there was community.
There's something about food and fellowship that brings us together as family. That's a holiday tradition that was sorely missing from my experience growing up, partly because my family is scattered from one end of the country to the other and no one really feels like traveling to see each other. For reasons like that, and other reasons that still hurt to talk about, the Thanksgiving holiday is very personal for me, and I love this annual meal more than any other community event at our church.
We've heard dozens of stories from folks who were touched in some way through the gathering this year. For those who served and those who came to be served, we were all there for the same reasons: food, fellowship, a place at the table, a place to feel welcome, a place to be a part of. Bring your social anxieties along; we've all got 'em, too. Grab a fork, take a hand, pick up a kid, sit down with an elder, look into someone's eyes, break some bread, mean the words of the day: "Happy Thanksgiving." We filled the church with conversation and laughter and hearts singing praises. That's the kind of day that can fill in the empty spots.
But there was one man whose name I did not learn. We were told there was a man staying at a local hotel, a man who was without a home. We were told he would be calling in to the church office to ask for a meal to be delivered. I kept checking the voicemail in the office all afternoon, but we did not hear from that man.
My heart is full and joyous, and I am blessed. And I am still wondering what happened to that man on Thanksgiving Day. Did he hesitate to call because he didn't know anyone, or because he didn't want to be any trouble? Was he ashamed to call because he didn't want anyone to know his circumstances? Did he call but then hang up without leaving a message? Did he even have the right phone number?
People say things like "Count your blessings" and "Can't you just look on the bright side?"
Sure. Remember, I live with depression every day. Believe me, if I couldn't see the blessings or the bright side, I would have quit this ministry thing before I even got started.
The funny thing is, I'm one of the most annoyingly optimistic people you will meet. (Just ask my husband.) Even my lead pastor has poked fun at me for being a crusader. He's seen me fall on my face plenty of times, too. And he's said to me, "Don't stop."
I think about the 330+ people who shared in moments of community last week, and I smile. And I think about the heart of our Lord, surrounded by the warmth of His flock, still searching the hilltops for that one lost sheep.
I wonder if anyone ever told Jesus, "Look on the bright side. There are plenty of other sheep."
But I already know how He would respond.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." ~ John 10:11
My first thought was actually a lot of thoughts all in one. That figures and That sucks and Ouch and I kinda had a feeling that was going to happen. But what I messaged back was I understand. Because I do. Oh, how I do. Connection can be overwhelming. Community can be just too much to deal with on top of everything else.
The next morning, I texted a friend and let her know I'd fallen on my face. It was everything I'd feared, my worst-case scenario come true, and it wasn't that big of a deal. This friend happens to know that, but she also knows me well enough to know I was crying when I sent the text message. She heard my heart, and together, we hurt over our hurting friend. For a moment, there was community.
Yes, I count my blessings. Yes, I look on the bright side. God is in the moments. Moments of interaction, moments of connection, moments of understanding, moments of commiseration, moments of community... moments of vulnerability.
Often the result of daring greatly isn't a victory march as much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue." (Daring Greatly)
In the old life, I took any kind of rejection I could get as an excuse to give up on people. I'd feel a twinge of empathy and think "Oh, I should do something," and then I'd pick a reason to never do anything at all. I would always wonder what happened to that person. And never knowing is a chicken$#!& way to live.
I think about that sometimes, when I'm feeling discouraged. When I feel tempted to give up on community in the moment, I remember what that's like. And God always brings me another moment to try again.
Next >>> Community Can Be Bittersweet (Part Two): Passing the Peace