I snuggled under the comforter, watching a movie on my laptop. Just as the hero was about to reveal his undying love for the heroine, I heard the scratchy notes of a violin from the next room. As the practice session commenced, I sighed, paused the movie, and leaned against my bedroom wall. A glance at the clock told me it was 7:30 p.m. — study hours. I set aside my laptop and ventured out to get a mug of hot chocolate.
Bad timing. Several seniors were in the dining room, hovering around the only microwave to watch a bag of popcorn inflate. The girls were giggling about something, poking each other in the ribs, and letting out screeching peals of laughter.
Not in the mood to wait and listen, I turned back to my room. On the way, I ran into another girl.
“Hey,” she said. “Sorry to bother you on your day off, but could I borrow your hair gel?”
I took a deep breath. “Sure.”
Yes, it was my day off, but life in community never stops. The sharing of space never stops. The noise never stops.
For two years, I worked at a boarding school for missionary kids. I was a resident assistant in the dorm. The building is an old German guesthouse, and 30 other people lived there too: dorm parents, two other RAs, and 26 teenage girls.
Before I worked there, I defined “community” as a network of friends to rely on for help and spiritual accountability. I envisioned a church full of loving people who helped each other out as much as possible and saw each other more than just once a week. Maybe twice a week.
I didn’t think of people living together 24/7. I didn’t imagine that the various parts of the Body of Christ have so many blemishes, rough spots, and ugly patches. My vision of community was a Christian utopia where everyone got along and carried each other’s burdens without a complaint. Well, maybe one complaint per week.
When you live and work with people, you see every side of their personalities. They see every side of yours. Unknown faults are exposed. Within a month of beginning my job as a resident assistant, my ideas about community were shattered.
More clearly than before, I saw the real me: an impatient, easily frustrated, intensely self-centered creature. I’m desperately in need of Christ’s power to be anything but useless. Living in community brought my shortcomings before my eyes daily.
It was shocking, and depressed me at first. But I began to see the benefits. I realized that blows to my pride were opportunities to learn. Community life kept me humble, moldable. And I started to like it.
During my growing-up years, life was somewhat isolated. Individualism is so highly prized in our western culture that I thought it could do no harm and was more comfortable spending time alone. What I didn’t realize is that alone I was like a single piece of thread. Pieces of thread do not function well individually. They are tiny, thin strands that fray easily and break under minimal pressure. When many threads are woven together, their strength increases. Fabric can stretch without breaking. It can withstand far more pressure before ripping than a single thread can. God designed us to function in community, as parts of a whole — as individual threads embedded in the fabric of His Body.
A few years before I moved to Germany, God began to weave me into a few communities at school and church back in the States. I started warming up to the idea, but when I moved into the dorm, He revolutionized my thought. Through living in community, He gave me a passion for discipleship and a greater understanding of the Body of Christ.
When I moved back to the States in June 2008, I didn’t want to return to “normal” North American life. Before the move and during my transition to life here, Christian community was high on my prayer list. God answered with a small group at church: people who make an effort to spend time together on a regular basis. Some of us have joined a local refugee ministry and are tutoring a Burmese family in conversational English a couple of times per week. We’re scoring double: doing ministry together, which is a fulfilling experience, and deepening our fellowship as a community in the process.
The disillusionment, challenges, difficulties, and daily opportunities to die to self are overwhelming — but so are the benefits of community. Members of the Body might bicker with and annoy each other, but they also give and receive love, discipleship, and camaraderie. We are a thousand different colors and textures, but woven together we create a tapestry of unsurpassed beauty: a fabric of God’s design.