A few years ago now I moved into my husband’s grandmother’s house with his uncle and aunt on one side of us and his parents on the other. We also have two grandmothers who live with each of those families. So, there are four generations living in the same few houses. We see one another regularly and my kids play in all the yards like they are their own. People thought I was crazy when I moved here. “Why would you want to live next door to your in-laws?” And I will say there have been moments when I wondered what I did, but for the most part, it’s been great to have that support around us. It’s been a rough 10 years and we have needed the family support around us to make it through. And since then two more of my husband’s sisters and families have moved across the street. It’s very unusual though, for this day and age, to have your family live next door. Most people don’t even have family in the same state, I didn’t growing up.
Loneliness and isolation are epidemics in our society today. They are worse for your health than smoking 10 cigarettes a day or being obese! You might think that loneliness and isolation are the same thing, but they aren’t if you look at them closer. Isolation refers to being physically separated from others, something we all experienced during the pandemic. We were forced to be separated. Loneliness, on the other hand, is feeling alone. Everyone has had the experience of being in a room full of people and still feeling lonely. Our society is so individualistic that we have lost the value of community and having deep relationships with others. People used to live in a much more communal way and spent time together in person regularly. Now we scroll and post and think we have connected to others, but we haven’t really. We are settling for the illusion of community. It’s safer to scroll and like than it is to sit with someone face to face and have a conversation. Real connection is scary and messy.
How many people have been hurt by someone else? Like deeply hurt? Someone said or did something that cut you deeply. You thought you could trust someone and they betrayed you. Everyone has had that experience. It’s hard to want to trust again. But we must. One-third of people report being lonely. It’s such a health concern that the CDC has done multiple studies on it. We have to trust and seek out community for our physical and mental well-being. We were made to be in community. Even God himself is in a community with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus had a community. He had many followers and there were crowds everywhere, but he was intentional with his community of 12 disciples and then even more closely connected with his inner circle of three.
So what would this community look like and how do we find it? So many of us attend church, have an exercise group or even a close friendship but are never getting past the surface of life. We talk about the weather, or the latest movie or even our families but never venture into real vulnerability. Is there anyone with whom you talk about the real hurts and pains in your life? Is there anyone you confess your deepest faults to? Does anyone really know how your marriage is really doing? Or are we just letting people see the IG version of ourselves. Unfortunately, in my experience, the church is one of the worst offenders in this. We go to church and put on our best selves for people. We ask each other “how are you?” and you better reply with “fine” if you are a normal Christian and “blessed” if you are a super Christian. We portray only what we think is acceptable. We never tell people our deepest hurts or sins. We fear rejection and being made to feel less than.
We adopted our daughter Kaki from Hong Kong at age 11. She had severe intellectual disability and other health challenges. Everyone around us thought we were super Christians for adopting her. They put us on a pedestal and we felt isolated. Everyone was watching and hoping this would be a miracle for her and our family. For years we hid the pain we were experiencing even from our family. How could we tell people how terrible life was with her? How could we tell them she was raging every day and trying to hurt us and the boys? We felt like a failure. We struggled with big questions about whether this was really what God wanted and we hated our situation. A few people were around us enough to figure out there were major issues, but not many. We had her with us for 6 years before she died tragically. We still cannot understand completely what God’s purpose in all that was, maybe we never will. But instead of turning to our community, we turned inward to shame. We didn’t have the community we needed to get through that because we hadn’t been intentional about building it. We did have friends who were there for us, but very few. I am determined to do things differently.
My hope for community is a group of people in my life that do life together. We eat meals together and talk about real things. They know how I’m really doing. And I know how they really are. We are close enough to get annoyed with each other and love each other enough to work through issues. We are of all ages and colors and political/social groups. We encourage each other to become better. We work through difficult things together. I think it’s possible. I think it’s desperately needed. I’ll leave you with lyrics to a song that encourages me to pursue this level of community.
All Together By Mike Donehey
No more playin’ Mr. Nice Guy
I’m done pretendin’ that I’m alright
I fake a laugh, keep actin’ upper class
Like I’ve never had a struggle in my whole life
oh, can I tell you the state I’m in?
(Ooh, ooh-ooh) cracks are where the light gets in
Maybe we don’t have to have it all together
What if grace made it safe to tell you the truth? Oh
Maybe we can make a shelter for each other
Turnin’ lies into light and we’ll make it through
All together, all together
Love keeps our broken pieces all together
I want a church that looks like 12 steps
Where all are honest and accepted
But it’s gonna take myself to cultivate
The kind of life that others haven’t seen yet
Am I the only one who struggles here and now?
Am I the only one who wrestles with my doubt?
And if I tell you all my secrets, will you go runnin’ out?
There’s only one way to find out
There’s only one way to find out