I recently sat with a small group of men during a discussion they were having. It wasn’t my practice to be with them, yet they graciously allowed me to intrude. All of the men were older than me. I felt a little out of place because I'm full-time staff, so I wasn’t sure if they were just accommodating my query to be included out of a sense of respect. As I sat there, I modestly and eagerly listened. It was almost a sacred time as they shared very deep, personal stories of pain and sorrow. They were gathered to discuss the Bible, but they were really sharing themselves. It took me a while to chime in, but when I did I felt their complete respect, attention and acceptance. It was a wonderfully humbling experience and this is what I learned.
Community is absolutely essential if we want to truly prosper and thrive. Community is the fuel that revs our engine. And Community gives us a perspective of change. Allow me to elaborate a bit.
I believe, one reason we are created is to create – explicitly and magnificently. No other species on the face of the planet creates as openly and diversely as humanity. This is what I loved about Robin Williams. He was an astonishingly creative human being (read my post, “Carpe Diem. Why I Miss Robin Williams”). Although I believe and need to have alone time to regenerate and create (see my posts on Sabbath and Introverts), there’s something very special that occurs when we participate in community – especially when we intentionally place ourselves among those we don’t naturally identify with! When we willingly do this we see perspectives and insights that we wouldn’t have discovered on our own and these can be catalysts for change.
Each of us has a story to tell. That story can be short or long, it really doesn’t matter. Your story is forged in the furnace of your joyous and heart wrenching experiences and lively, bemusing wanderings. My wanderings are completely different than yours and yours are different than the person’s next to you. The same is true for our distresses. But when we shut ourselves off from community, or we limit the community we participate in, we do others and ourselves a disservice. You see, although we may not share the exact same experiences there’s a commonality in humanity that should assist us in empathizing with others, if we make the effort. All the richness and depth that God has poured into us by His shaping of our lives gets stagnant, like a pond with no flow of fresh water in or out, when we choose to live in isolation.
I grew up in the country, on a small farm. During the dregs of summer I would be lulled to sleep by the trickle of the spring outside my window and the continuous symphony of frogs. I live in the suburbs now, far from a spring. However, God is good and He’s made sure to sweeten my summers with frogs but in a rather peculiar way.
The house next to ours has been abandoned for 4 years. The former dwellers had a pool, which although emptied when they left, has filled with rainwater since. Deep green algae, decaying leaves and plant debris make a wonderful atmosphere for frogs to lay their eggs. During the breeding season there’s a chorus of chirping and grunting that comes from our neighbor’s “pond”, each night. As stale and rank as the water is, frogs love a good soak. One day my wife recorded the frogs singing...from her bed…in the house…on the opposite side from the pool! They were that loud!
Now, stagnation may be great for amphibians, but not for humans. A fresh supply of water flowing in and out of our lives can make all the difference between positive growth or decay. Actively and willingly living in community provides one of those streams to flow through us. As I sat there listening to the gentlemen speak this Tuesday, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated. But I also felt an obligation to share my thoughts, when asked. And when I did I felt alive and encouraged as I allowed streams of refreshment to flow from me into them. It was a marvelous exchange and I’m eager to attend next week. They’re actually allowing me back!
Now, if this is a surprise to you, may I direct your attention to the Gospel of John chapter 4. Jesus shares this very idea with His listeners and it’s been faithfully recorded for us. Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman at a well; we get to listen in a bit.
We all understand the importance of water. Maybe not quite as thoroughly as those who have to work hard to get it, but we know that without water life ceases. Jesus knew this too, not only for physical refreshment but for spiritual vitality. Now, if I’m really thirsty you’d be aghast if I ran to the vacated house and took a gulp of pool stank. It’s unhealthy! It’s contaminated! And I’d stand a good chance of guzzling down a frog. No! I go to good, clean, healthy water that will aid my body in growing. So, why is it any different spiritually? How many of us spend our days slurping dirty, spiritual water when Jesus claims to not only be pure, but Living Water? And this is the cool part, if I’ve gone to Jesus for His water He promised that Living Water would flow from me! Doesn’t that excite you? It excites me and it’s the very thing I experienced with those men. I can’t wait to drink with them again, next Tuesday!
So, what kind of water are you drinking? Is it truly clean and pure, giving Life, or do you just think it does? Is there both physical and spiritual vigor in your day-to-day? Sometimes we've soaked so long in the same bath that we have nothing to compare it to. Maybe it's time to change the water?
So, here’s my challenge. Are you willing to closely examine the water you’ve been drinking to see if it’s “fit for a frog” or "fit for a king"? And, are you willing and desperate enough to enter into true community so that streams of refreshment, both for the body and the soul, can enter and depart? That can mean change is on the horizon. But we all know what doing the same thing does, day after day. Stagnation. Think about it. I dare you!