“You have no idea how dark it is when you walk away from those who love God.” This is a line I heard a few months ago, when I went to breakfast with someone who was returning to church after drifting away for many years. I was asking him questions about his spiritual journey and his time away, and this was his response. Walking with those who love Jesus makes such a difference in life.
Community is important. Being isolated makes every problem worse. Even though our world is more digitally connected than ever, we are more emotionally distant than ever. People are anxious and fragile. Tragically, those who need community most stay away from it the most. Community takes work, and you will have to overcome many disappointments to experience genuine life together. Others will have to endure disappointment with you, as well. It is together – through those real life disappointments – that we begin to experience the wonders of grace and real love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian with an amazing life story, wrote a book called Life Together. The first point he made in the book is that Christians must get over the illusion of “perfect community.” It does not exist. The sooner the illusion ends, the sooner authentic community can begin. Authentic community includes forgiveness, disappointment, healing, hard conversations, understanding, and acceptance.
Another great point Bonhoeffer made was that the person who can’t be alone is unfit for community, and the person who can’t be in community is unfit to be alone. The private devotional life is crucial for healthy community life, and genuine connections are crucial for healthy self-identity. For community to work, individuals need to spend time alone with God: reflecting, praying, immersed in God’s word, and accepting God’s forgiveness. For individuality to work, people need to spend time in community: serving, sharing, studying God’s word, and forgiving each other.
It is Christmastime. For many, this is a time of busy gatherings and hopeful connections. For others, it is a time of loneliness, sadness, and regret. No matter where we are at, Christ has come to bring real hope in the dark times. This is a season when many drifting people are willing to come back into community. As God leads them home, be ready greet them with open arms. We are the family of God, and you will never have to walk alone.