My sweet tooth accidentally brought me to the candy aisle the other day. For two minutes, I was unable to decide if I wanted the tropical starburst jellybeans or the regular ones – there were flavors in each that I liked and flavors that I disliked. How was I to choose? My indecisiveness left me feeling like I had made the wrong decision as I walked away with the tropical ones in hand.
If you are decisive, I envy you; I seemingly lack a decisive bone in my body. When I made the decision after graduation to move to a new, already-established community eight hours from home to pursue a challenging new job surrounded by a sea of new faces, I felt similar to the way I did leaving that candy aisle the other day: doubtful of my decision.
It didn’t help that along with doubt, I was overwhelmed with fear and insecurity. I was a freshman to the real world, yet this time I had neither orientation nor pre-established avenues for community like a floor of girls or an intercollegiate cross-country team.
As I stumbled along the road to finding community, I learned that my expectations and preconceived ideas about community kept me from building it. I mistakenly had the following perspective: community should make me feel valued and significant, community should bring me comfort as the outsider, and community should form quickly and effortlessly. With this mindset, even if I had meticulously followed each piece of advice or “how to” book related to finding a community as an outsider, I would still have been far from experiencing the richness of what God intended it to be.
The purpose of community is not to bring us worth…
…but to point us to where worth is found. In order for us to understand the foundational purpose of community, we need to realize two things about the One who created it: the relational God of love 1) creates everything for His glory, and 2) creates humans in His image. Simply put, we humans have been made relational by nature to glorify Him, not to bring value to our own name.
However, the devil, whose main purpose is to skew God’s creation and point our focus to the things of this earth, deceives us into believing the exact opposite of what God intended community to be for. The devil pushes us away from truth.
I have to be honest with you. Prior to understanding this, my mind knew the Bible should be read, but it was surely not my tendency to pick it up and read it every day—I felt it was enough that I experienced God through other people and His creation. What I failed to understand was that by not abiding in the Word to let it refocus my mind on truth, the relationships I made were in vain; even with my good intentions for building community, I was essentially striving to fulfill my fleshly desire to receive significance through human interaction and affirmation. The fullness of community would not be found until I set my mind on the Kingdom and not on storing things on this earth for myself.
Community might not actually be comfortable…
…but discomfort produces growth, whereas comfort breeds complacency. Being unable to control a situation and unsure if/where you belong are some of the most uncomfortable feelings we can have; yet, more often than not, they are both inevitable in new situations.
For months, this is how I felt. The devil shot lies at me that made it hard to press into relationships because they heightened feelings of insecurity, fear of vulnerability, and a lack of belonging. He knows that if he can get us to strive for earthly comfort and belonging, he can stunt authentic community growth and Kingdom focus.
However, when we grasp that we were not created to make a comfortable place for ourselves on this earth, the devil’s hold loosens. Our minds that are no longer confined to earthly limits are free to surrender to God’s plans that are far greater than anything we could dream up.
Lasting community doesn’t develop quickly or effortlessly…
…but it takes patience and intentionality. I was definitely in denial about this for a while. I assumed God was going to instantly plop me into the perfect, supportive community.
But this was the humbling I needed, a reminder that the control I “possessed” was an illusion. My impatience and discontentment suggested I knew what was best for me better than my God did.
Anything worthwhile takes time, including relationships. If we all expected someone else to welcome, include, and invite us, think of how many potential relationships would be missed. We need to intentionally ask and attentively listen to the needs of those around us. Slowly but surely, community will develop.
Whether you choose the “tropical jelly beans” of life or go with the original ones, they’re jelly beans either way. Whatever the path you choose, there will be difficult things, but there will also be beautiful things.
If you’re embarking on the adventure to find your place in a new community, your expectations will not be congruent with reality in one way or another. At times you may question if/where you belong, doubt your purpose, and get so discouraged that you want to give up trying.
But trust me, that’s not a bad place to be at all!
Going through each hardship and struggle brings us to our knees in humility. This humility softens our hearts so we can love more deeply, and this love is the foundational ingredient to community establishment — you won’t be so far off after all.
If you take anything away from this article, I pray that it is this: you were uniquely created not to belong to this earth or feel comfortable within it, but to prepare for the Kingdom that is coming. As you intentionally press into community with vulnerability, be ready for the growing pains of a reshaped perspective; it will radically change your heart to be more like the One who created it.
Thanks, Renee! From time to time I am amazed at the depth of insight of recent graduates/young adults, and their ability to articulate that insight. This is very much how I felt reading your post. Thanks for taking the time to put these thoughts together, and for the blessing that they will be for people of all ages who know instinctively that we were created to live in community and desire this precious gift. Your reflections are a great reminder that this gift depends more on being a neighbor than waiting for others to be neighborly!
Thank you so much for reaching out and letting me know your thoughts on the article! I am most encouraged by your words and pray that it continues to speak to people like it did you. It’s tough to remember to live for what is to come when we are so preoccupied by demanding to-do’s, busy schedules, and figuring out who we are made to be. I am grateful that I had professors like you that helped prepare me to step out into the post-college world and tackle unexpected, difficult things – thank YOU!