This is the fifth and last post in our series “Discovering God, Discovering Womanhood, Discovering Me,” written to help women learn more their relationship with God as they delve into what it means to be a woman of faith. To read the fourth post, click here.
“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
This quote, penned by C.S. Lewis in his work The Four Loves encapsulates the root of what any community seeks to affirm: “You are not alone.”
We need community. We need to be surrounded with love and support. We need to be with those who will encourage us on our journey and in our struggles as they say to us,
“You are not alone.”
“I’ve been there.”
But how do we cope with imperfect communities, with flawed people who can’t keep their promises, or promises that seem so good but then quickly fall apart?
Many of us have been hurt by people who stand for one thing, but do another. Many of us have been wounded, and our trust has been compromised.
Sometimes I find myself filled with thoughts like: “Isn’t it just easier to do it on your own?” “Wouldn’t it be better to remain hidden rather than risk heartbreak?” Before I could tackle the questions about how my life needed to look within community, I needed to first sit with the questions about who I am, and who God is. I learned, with an equal part of dismay and relief, that I really can’t do this life thing on my own.
I am incomplete. But there is someone greater than myself, greater than anyone else, and He is not incomplete. He is not self seeking. He is Jesus.
And He wants to make me whole.
Looking for meaning and security in my friendships, involvement with service or even a Christian community never satisfied. If I made my connections the highest importance in my life, I’d be crushed when the group changed or broke apart, or the person let me down. I realized I was hiding my lack of identity and my own insecurity by becoming a part of “the group,” so when it would fall apart, I would too.
I still need to remind myself that nothing here on earth will ever fill the void, will heal me or make me perfect, not even myself. Only God, as the creator of all things, and the Father of all can be my refuge.
But what does that mean with regard to community? Surely we’re not all supposed to be hermits in the wild, dwelling solely with God and rejecting the rest of the world?
This isn’t God’s plan for all of humanity either. Community and the dwelling of persons together did not escape God’s attention. He gave Adam the desire to share a life with another, a one like him. He clearly told the first man, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Relationships (not just romantic ones) were designed and intended by God in the beginning, for all men, all women, and for their good.
After recognizing and believing that God alone can satisfy, we can begin to let go of expecting perfection from the communities and individuals around us. This expectation is the path to idolatry of heart—attributing qualities of God to something other than Him. It’s a case of mistaken identity, believing the creation to be just like the Creator, who is in fact the real presence behind what makes the creation desirable.
So how do we forge a path to invest in good community, while steering clear of idolatry?
Upon further examination of myself, I’m brought back to realize that one of the greatest gifts we have here on earth is one another. I am made to thrive within a safe and rightly-ordered community.
I am a member of the human race and a participant of the human experience, so I am therefore linked with those who share my nature. But it would be naïve to believe that I am meant to be intimately connected with every person simply on the grounds of our shared humanity. We must seek out places of community where we can be safe. Safe communities are found in people who do not cite themselves as the solution or the ones without problems, but are the ones who always point us back to God, recognizing that He is the source; He is the giver and provider.
It’s a present reality that there are people, even in our close proximity, who have hurt us and are not safe places of community. This is not an unchristian lack of forgiveness, but an important distinction to make—having the maturity to distance ourselves from those who will inhibit us from placing God first in our lives or will continue to hurt us.
The other threat to community is self-reliance. Whether fueled by hurt from others, shame, or an inability to ask for help, self-reliance isolates and hides from the vulnerability of being known. Entering into a real relationship with others includes the revealing of one’s self, that moves past the superficial “good natured” side of each one of us, and reveals the messy parts of our lives.
It’s an easy temptation to skip the revelation of our darkness and mess. The solutions the self-reliant opt to take are to sidestep the vulnerability and honesty while trying to either compensate with a more cheerful but shallow self, or to back off altogether. Both “solutions” have the same root, that one must “work through their stuff” before they can enter into community and be accepted.
God has established community as one aspect of the human experience. We were created to need others and to need Him. Whether we find ourselves in communities that are unsafe, or we are self-reliant, we’re cheating ourselves from the gifts that God our Father has designed to give us: the joy of being known, and the joy of being loved. Especially in our efforts to find healing and wholeness, we need good community with others that is rooted in honesty, and a mutual desire for the other’s good.
In high school and the beginning of college, still without a clear idea of who I was, I found myself vacillating from person to person, group to group, longing to find a true home in someone or something. Instead of choosing deep investments with a few trusted ones, I flung myself into a constant stream of people offering me attention and affirmation. I felt used, and felt like a broken record, not truly speaking for myself but rather performing in each conversation or encounter. I invested time into relationships that weren’t healthy for me, as I let friendships give meaning to my life and define my identity in social groups by who I was friends with. I self imposed the ideal of being “the perfect friend” who would never let anyone down, because if I let someone down, I believed they would leave me.
This unhealthy ideal I set for myself eventually transferred to my expectations of others, and I began to be jealous and self-conscious in my friendships. My own weakness then led me to be self-reliant, not letting anyone in to see my faults or the need I had for other people to give meaning to my life.
It wasn’t until my relationships at school began to fall apart that I realized that I had a disproportionate need for others rather than recognizing the need I had for God. It wasn’t until I took time to step away from the constant coffee dates and new “friendships” that I recognized my true self that was there all along, waiting to be embraced and lived out.
It is in the recognition of your true self that will allow you to fully enter into community with others. When you stop seeking for something or someone to make you whole and accept your true self as it is, the good and the bad, that you will then be able to know others in their true-selves, in their good and their bad.
Your true self is the you that remains regardless of the situation or environment.
It is your true self that God has chosen, died for, and loves with an everlasting love.
It is your true self that is meant to be in community with fellow sisters and brothers— encouraging one another in the truth.
I invite you, whether you feel you know the answer or not, to embrace the meaning and wholeness of your true self that is God given, but uniquely yours.
The title of this series is Discovering God, Discovering Womanhood, Discovering Me. My encouragement to you is to reflect on these three principles about your true self. I also encourage you to share your conclusions with a safe and trusted person in your life, to engage and understand each other better in the hopes of building a better community around you, one person at a time.
Who is God? More than a universal idea, but who is He to me?
What is Womanhood, and what does my participation in it look like?
Who am I? How can I embrace my true self in the context of community?