I have been discussing community (and the sad lack of it in our lives) with a friend of mine (http://wherewelive.blogspot.com) and this afternoon I happened upon someone's blog (http://www.johnalanturner.blogspot.com) who mentioned that he had moved his family across the country in order that they might be close to friends - be a part of a community. Hey - I really admire the man's courage to pursue the things he believes are valuable to the health of his family, but just the opposite happened to my friend and I: due to different circumstances, we both made the choice to move away from a great community of supportive friends into the barren wasteland of strangers, people of un-like mind, and unfamiliar surroundings. The novelty is exciting for a few months, but then the silent phone and the empty front steps start to wear on your pioneering spirit. If you are going where you think God has called you to be, shouldn't friends be easy to make? Alas, it seems not.
Friends are those rare jewels that pop up in the course of your life that seem to be discovered quite by coincidence at first (if you believe in coincidence) and then you begin the life-long process of intentionally polishing and deepening the lustre of the relationship. I cannot quite put my finger on what quality makes a good friend, but the characteristics will be somewhat different for each person. We all value kindness, compassion, adventure, and faithfulness, but what makes one person more dear to my heart than another? I cannot say, but I know that even if I meet the nicest person in the world that doesn't mean they will become my best friend. It just doesn't work that way. There seems to be something ordained about the whole thing and I am not being fatalistic, just saying that the concept of community really is outside of reason. Like a seed you can plant it, water it, take care of it, protect it, make sure it is healthy, but you really have no say in what it will look like in the end.
I have the most unlikely of friends, I will admit. And many of them are not people I would have picked out of a line-up as "most likely to become a valuable part of my life." I am struck with the wonder of being in a strange place with strange people and seeing how human beings who are worlds apart can become very close. These are not comfortable friends I have made. It is a constant challenge to communicate and get together and keep the friendship growing. Misunderstandings arise and love has to cover them. Our cultures and ways of doing things and different experiences and different schedules often stand between us, but no barrier is insurmountable when love churns deep beneath the surface.
So how does one find community? Funny thing is, I set out to write something about how I must go out and build community, look around me, reach out to the lonely, be the initiator, make the effort to get in touch with people, you catch my drift. But instead, as I started to write, it dawned on me that community came and found me, it sneaked up behind me and bit me in the butt, and all my plans to build something similar to what I knew before turned out to be relatively useless. I am still involved in building community, oh yes, but I don't go out and find the people; God brings them across my path and my task is to hold onto them, to not let them go, to open my heart to them, to put myself at their disposal, to give to and receive from them, to see them as they really are, to encourage them and challenge them, to be on the receiving end of loving truth and criticism, to hold nothing back, and above all, to enjoy them!
And to all my totally unlikely but totally lovable friends out there...YOU ROCK!!!