We belong to a culture that is oversaturated with interactions —Instagram likes, small talk at the office, Facebook comments, chit-chat about the weather while waiting for the bus. But we often lack genuine connection. In a world filled to the brim with folks who bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27), shouldn't we desire more than these fleeting exchanges? What would it look like to have relationships that were intentional, authentic, and vulnerable? How would it feel to invite others to truly know us, and seek to know them in return?
Living in Community
It's 5:15 in the morning. My four housemates and I shuffle down the stairs, groggily get settled onto the mismatched sofas, blink the sleep out of our eyes. After we've all arrived, Connor takes his turn leading us in worship. We begin with a song, inviting God into our early morning with croaking vocal chords still rusty with sleep. He reads a passage of Scripture, followed by a short reflection, then we pray together. For the remainder of the hour, until our first housemate leaves to begin her commute to work, we spend time in silence, dispersed throughout the house.
At this point, you may be asking, "What is going on?"
My housemates and I have committed to a year of Christian service and life in community, called Mission Year. We volunteered to live together in an under-resourced neighborhood of North Philadelphia to learn how to live out the biblical call to love God and love our neighbor. This is a daunting task that required uprooting my life, living with people I'd never met before, and being part of a neighborhood very different from where I grew up. It has invited me to start living out my beliefs, alongside others, on a daily basis.
Our shared spiritual practices have become some of my greatest resources in taking on this challenge. Every week we meet one-on-one with someone from the group, have a team meeting, share meals, and practice daily quiet hours. I have learned that even my time of silence is intricately intertwined with my relationships. Even though we aren't talking, we are offering one another support and accountability to seek God. This practice keeps us connected to God individually and as a group, and carries over into our interactions throughout the day.
Scripture roots our practice of faith within the context of community, particularly when we look to the early church. The book of Acts portrays the earliest followers of Jesus as an intentional community of believers who practiced radical generosity (Acts 4:32) and hospitality amongst themselves and guests (Acts 2:46-47). Likewise, the writers of New Testament epistles consistently exhorted readers to practice their faith within the context of an inclusive community (Romans 12:4-5, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 John 4:11).
Seeking Deeper Intimacy
Yet like many biblical teachings, living in community isn't easy. In order to be known, we have to be seen—and sometimes there are parts of ourselves that we prefer to keep hidden. For many of us, it has been hard to have others see our weaknesses or share in our emotional wounds. Yet it is through such vulnerability that we begin to live out Paul's promise that Christ's power is "made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). God's Spirit works through us, in spite of our limitations. We have been able to support one another and be supported, in the midst of difficulties, learning what it means to, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2, NKJV).
Living in such close proximity to others also means that our brokenness will inevitably be exposed. This could be something seemingly small, like laziness when we fail to do the dishes. Or it may be more deeply rooted, like an outburst of anger or judgmental response. We cannot hide our flaws (Romans 3:23). However, there is beauty even in the hard process of confession and gentle restoration (Galatians 6:1), knowing that we remain accepted and beloved by each other in a way that mirrors God's miraculous and merciful love for us (Romans 8:35-39). And rooted within that kind of enduring community of grace, we are given the freedom to share hard truths with each other that spur us towards growth, trusting that, "As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17, NIV).
Taking the First Step
Living in community isn't easy, but it is attainable! Just an hour a week to practice vulnerability, confession, truth telling, and offer grace to one person can bear tremendous fruit like I've described here. Who in your life could you invite into this venture with you? Who knows, five o'clock in the morning could become the most transformative hour of your day.
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