Saturday night was the goodbye party of very good friends of ours, moving from Seattle to California next week. This couple has been in our small group for the last 5 years, and before that, we’d been friends since all the way back to Whitworth College. We had been buddies before, but only once we lived together in Seattle and started raising kids and living life together did our real bond flourish. We became true friends. We have experienced “community” together.
Community is the new buzzword of the evangelical world, the darling of churches here and there. “Community”, we say the word and it rolls off our tongue like redemption or orthodoxy. But what does this word actually mean? And more importantly, if this sacred community with other people is the thing we should seek, how do we do it?
Well with these friends, we have truly done community. We have raised kids. We have buried kids. We have celebrated great accomplishments. And we have cried over disappointments. We have had moments of fantastic intimacy and other episodes of awkward distance. Why? Because real community means real people are involved. And when real people are involved, it’s not all just highlights and perfect moments. There is the good and the bad. The great times and the not so great. The higher than highs and the somewhat lows. But when you stick it out, with real friends like this, and don’t bail out when things get a little rough, well then you have begun to travel towards community. Because real intimacy isn’t something that happens overnight, it is forged though long relationships and challenges and joys. With these friends who are now moving away, we have forged a deep and true and beautiful friendship. We have journeyed together.
The goodbye party was supposed to end at 9pm and so by 9:15 I started to gather the kids and say our goodbyes. When I came back into the kitchen, I realized that though everyone else from the party had departed, our entire small group was all standing in a circle in the kitchen talking and crying. And then it hit me, something very sacred was happening here. Our small group which has been through so much in the last 5 years was losing an integral part of itself. And the reality was that everyone was grieving the loss of these dear friends. The gravity of the situation hit me: this was our last night as a small group together. I pulled up a stool and sat and took it all in.
In the movement of a life, few nights can really be seen as the beginning of something, fewer yet be seen as the end of something. More times than not, our lives are collections of small days and small moments, each stringing together to create the tapestry of our life. Fill your life with more good days than not, you’re going to live a good life. Choose good, serve others, live richly…the small moments are woven together to create something beautiful. But every so often, you have nights that you won’t forget. Times that weren’t really planned, but the spirit of God shows up and moments are shared with people who you won’t soon forget.
Saturday night was one of those nights. Speeches were made, tears were shed, this couple was celebrated. Soon Anna had a great idea to sing the doxology as a means to invoke the spirit of God into the midst of this farewell event. And so we circled up and grabbed hands and sang the doxology. I’m not sure if we were in tune or not, but it sounded perfect to me. A bunch of rag-tag sojourners on the journey of life saying goodbye to dear friends who are started the next exciting leg of their journey. Though I realize this sounds cliché, you have to trust me, it was a beautiful moment. One I won’t soon forget.
And now our friends will be gone from the day-to-day but still present in our hearts. I’m very sad when I think about them leaving, but excited for their new chapter. Community isn’t easy, and it is something that can be idealized from afar. “Oh I wish I had their friends” or “It would be easier to have intimacy with others if I only had ____”. Doesn’t matter how you fill in the blank, the point is that God made you to dwell in unity with others. And to do this you need to step out and start to connect with others. The bible encourages people in this verse and others to stir one another up for good deeds and continue to meet together. Community doesn’t happen without gathering. You can’t Facebook or Instagram or Tweet your way to true community. You need to spend time together. Might be in a small group or church setting, perhaps it’s a book club or bible study with friends from work or your neighborhood. Doesn’t matter how, the important thing is when. And the answer is now. Community takes a very long time. Start seeking it now, be patient in the process because though we’re wired for intimacy with others, we’ve also all got defensive walls a mile thick. As a result, it takes a LONG time to get to know others. Start now, be vulnerable and seek real relationships with others, and stay with it when challenges or conflict arises. Trust me, this isn’t the end of intimacy- it is the beginning. Stick it out, that’s where the best fruit of a friendship is found, after you go through the hard stuff.
J and L- blessings on your journey. We will miss you guys. Thanks for all the great times and support you have been to our family. Things won’t be the same here without you. See you in NorCal.