Imperfect Community or Safe Isolation

Ann Voskamp has a way of getting inside my head. For those unfamiliar, she has written a book called “One Thousand Gifts” that ended up on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for quite some time. She never expected this and her future writing has thus far not been affected by this success – a rare treat indeed.

Ann weaves words together, creating a blanket that covers me and makes me cry. It is simultaneously frustrating and life replenishing. So yesterday she did it again. In a contributing piece to the blog {in}courage she wrote about why we need community. Only because she is Ann, she pushed the envelope; she wrote about why we need community even when we’re hurting. That’s a big caveat.

You see, I can find community in many places when I’m not hurting. I have a community with my coffee shop as we laugh and joke together; I have a community with my neighbors as we exchange conversation and slowly move into knowing each other a little better; I even have a community of sorts on the subway of glaring people – that’s when I’m not hurting. When I’m not hurting I trust and open up. That’s when I’m not hurting.

But when I’m hurting? My inside self curls into a tight fetal position as I try and protect my wounds; my inside self doesn’t want anyone too close because close means I’ll have to share; my inside self screams “leave me alone” even as it cries out “I don’t want to be alone”. When I’m hurting I want to hide and self isolate and medicate – that’s what happens when I’m hurting.

So Ann Voskamp comes along with her post and she writes about me. Oh it’s a different name and a different place and different DNA – but really it’s me. She is honest about where community fails and insistent on why we still need it. And though I want to accuse her of not knowing what it is like to be hurt by community I know deep down that she knows exactly what it’s like to be hurt – she wouldn’t be able to write the way she does if she hadn’t experienced it.

“You belong in the imperfect pews, you belong in the community that disappoints yet is anointed to keep on pointing to Him who cannot disappoint, you belong to the club of all the failing passing on all His mercy, all the members of the marred sisterhood being impossibly redeemed by love, lit by transparency, perfected by grace.”from Why You Need Community{even when you’re hurting} 4.12.12.

I’ll close with the words of my friend who read it and says “the message that imperfect community is better in every way than safe isolation is an important one for all of us…” What do you think? How have you made community work even when it’s hurt you? 

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17 thoughts on “Imperfect Community or Safe Isolation

  1. Faith, community, pain and how to carry on being a community after being traumatized. I did get to a point a couple of years ago where I couldn’t take any more. I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown and it was because of what was happening at church. It has felt like a long hard road back but I’m so glad I stayed on it. I love the quote about the imperfect church pointing to a perfect Christ. Such a great mystery. That God can use imperfect people like me not despite their weaknesses but because of them, that he is the Great Restorer and that there is nothing beyond his restoration, not even a broken church. It makes him so much more glorious and the community that is healed after the storm is so much more beautiful because his grace is so much more evident.

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    1. Absolutely love this comment Sophie! Beautiful description of restoration and grace. I find it interesting that in a post like this so many comments reflect the experience of walking through the hurt of community and coming out on the other side with a new reality and new definition. Thank you for adding yours.

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  2. I immediately think of a song:
    “Are we happy plastic people
    Under shiny plastic steeples
    With walls around our weakness
    And smiles to hide our pain?”

    I think that’s the key to real, fruitful community life – being real. The people who have been ‘community’, so to speak, to me; the people who have been there when I just felt like hiding; the friends who have loved me when I was a mess, and who didn’t care that I was a mess … they were the ones that I know are always going to stick with me. They point me to God just by their lives. And we all know that we belong in the community of the imperfect. But together, we encourage each other. We fall back on each other when things get hard. We are community. We’re brothers and sisters. And I deeply treasure that.

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    1. My first thought as I read the words to that song were of the “I’m a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie World, I’m made of plastic, it’s fantastic….” etc. basically the same philosophy. But the words you ended with “And I deeply treasure that” are the ones that hit me – those are treasured people and as Lisa says – I want to be one!

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  3. How much of this is a culturally conditioned sense of independence? I lived in both North Africa and South Asia and in both places people desired to suffer in community. Your father died and people would flood into your house and stay for hours. You have the flu or a toothache and every friend and neighbor was expected to visit or they would cause offense. You just underwent serious surgery and people would fill up your communal hospital room, bring food and almost have a party as they condole with you. As a westerner, I had to constantly remind myself that I needed to treat people in pain the opposite of how I would want to be treated. While some of this communal grieving was probably not helpful and it certainly did not extend to socially unacceptable sources of pain, (like getting a divorce or having a child flunk out of high school), it still seemed like it would ultimately bring healing quicker than our method of suffering alone.

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    1. So this is really good Anne – I’ve been thinking about this since I read it a bit earlier today. In Pakistan, when someone dies you grieve fully, loudly and communally – here we swallow it up and then go on antidepressants because we are still feeling sad a month later…..I know that’s a gross generalization but I totally get this. I think for me, and the other blog posts say it better, I couldn’t believe that I was in a country that talked SO much about community but didn’t have a clue how to do it…..that was the adjustment piece for me. So when I started out, it’s not that I didn’t want community, I did desperately, but I found that my cultural view of community looked really different than others. Others needed their space, I didn’t want mine. I could go on and on but I’m so glad you brought this up.

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  4. When you talk about community, what do you mean exactly? It originally means shared by all; sharing tangible things or things like roads and setting up a common market, getting along well enough to have a common commerce. Does anyone really want to have their hurts shared by all? My faith community hasn’t hurt me, however individuals representing a faith community have. A community has to prioritize according to its goals, for the common good of the community. I think what sets us up for disappointment is when we witness the faith community joining together for a common cause in one case, and not another. (Particularly not my cause! lol ) The faith “community” endeavors to teach us about a very personal relationship with God, within and through the “community”, a medium which is by nature, very impersonal.
    Communities have pecking orders, I see this clearly in my “community of chickens”. (real chickens) As far as I know, none of the chickens takes the pecking order personally! But when I see all but one on the roost, knowing only 8 out of 9 can fit, I feel human emotions of pity for that lowly chicken. I tend to think the same way about community. “It’s business, it’s not personal.” I want to and I do feel loved by my friends, with my friends I am never in isolation. Expecting the same of my community is just a recipe for disaster. “Faith community” is not the Holy Spirit, but if we should ever confuse the two then yes, we feel like hiding, because we feel rejected utterly!

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    1. This is so interesting – I agree that how we define it is critical. I think as long as I expect my local church to be community, I’m disappointed. But when I look at different friends around and feel their presence, I feel like I have community. I love your bringing in the chickens, and feel sad that one is left out…..As I said to Anne above – community is defined based on our cultural understanding of what that is and how it looks. And ultimately I think that I’ve had to learn that there are those that can’t, for whatever reason, walk us through this….and then there are those that can, sometimes those we least expect. Thank you for your insight and bringing this up.

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  5. I was so struck this time during Holy Week that Jesus did not save himself! If ever there was proof of his diety it’s in that. I want to save myself, protect myself. It hurts too bad. Jesus did not save himself but faced the crucifixion ‘for the joy set before him’— which included, in part, the promise of redeemed community. He forgave quickly. He loved freely.

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    1. Oh boy……you’re right and I don’t want to admit it because I do want to save myself. I’ve just written a post called “Love well and Trust Carefully….” it sort of brings up some of this stuff. I love you girl! So.much.

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      1. I look forward to reading that. My husband always says we need to love everyone but trust no one (yet we have failed at this miserably and tend to trust easily).

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  6. I finally read Ann’s post last night after it was shared several times on Facebook yesterday. (It seems I only read things after they are shared at least 3 times lately!) This and your post feel like God’s gentle hand pushing me out of my apartment so that I will find a new community in my new environment. My internal reaction is to only do what absolutely needs to be done for my kids and nothing else because making new friends is hard and I like my OLD friends better anyway! (Do I sound like a tantrumming 3 year old?) So thank you for being a vehicle for God’s prodding today! :)

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    1. Jayna – you sound like me!! Alot of times I am one of the last to decide “Ok well if it’s been share x many times I might as well read it…..!” I totally get your internal reaction. When I moved to Cairo it was our third move in three years and I had 3 little kids. I was raw and vulnerable. I just say that to let you know that I think I know how to pray. I’m so with you.

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  7. WOW Marilyn! This hits home.I can totally resonate with your reactions, espeacially when we get hurt. Self protection, retreat, and isolation top my list. How have I made community work even when it’s hurt me? Forgiveness and for me It’s been a process that began with retreat and isolation. Running to sit in God’s lap where it’s safe for a
    while. Sharing my pain with him while in return, recieving His comfort.

    There have been many season’s when I have experienced deep hurt from within my faith community, when I wanted to run screaming and never return, but then I would hear the Lord’s voice gently reminding me that this is His bride, and that He gave Himself up for her. To be formed into His image, the image of Christ, I must somehow learn to do the same within community. It means learning somehow to live in tension.;0)

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    1. Forgiveness…a noun and a verb….I get it. And what you have said about the Church being precious is huge. That’s what I’ve been convicted of. Still have a lot of work on that though I think it’s one of the things I love about Alpha….somehow being free from cliches and with people that are looking with fresh eyes is healing and makes me realize that this is real, this is true, these are the words to Eternal Life…

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