The Value of Community
My childhood pastor (and now father-in-law) used to often say "The only thing you can take to heaven is your relationship with God and your relationship with others." I'm paraphasing, but the idea is solid. You aren't going to heaven without a relationship with God and if possible we should live peaceably with others, our relationships will last for eternity.
I follow other traveling families on social media and I have noticed a common theme - community. I think when you travel a lot, you notice the human need for community and for friendship, or fellowship as it is often called in church life. Before we traveled around the country, we lived like everybody else and in one sense you could say that I took for granted the built-in community that you get by going to the same church several times a week, seeing the same neighbors every day, and having a routine that is consistent. In another sense I can see that even back then, in what sometimes seems like a lifetime ago, I had to make the choice to participate in community, to be friendly when, for me, it was sometimes easier to keep to myself.
Now that we are living this nomadic lifestyle, it takes even more effort to maintain friendships and build community. We are always meeting new people, and I find myself frequently pleasantly surprised at the connections we are able to make with people whom we have just met. I like how C.S. Lewis puts it; "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'"
So the making of new friends isn't really the difficult part. It seems that I could get along with just about anybody for a short time, finding common ground in one place or another. Disclaimer: this has not always been easy for me, I find myself naturally awkward and shy. After years of being pushed by my parents to make friends, or at least conversations, or at the very least, eye contact, and then 20 years of marriage to a very outgoing husband, I have found myself not only able to be friendly, but actually enjoying the process of meeting new people! Do not fear, fellow introverts of the world, friendliness can be learned!
Maintaining friendships is harder. If you live a regular, stationary life the difficulty might be that after being with someone for a while, you find things they do that get on your nerves, or find out that they might happen to have different political views, or whatever.
In this nomadic lifestyle, it is difficult to maintain community because of obvious reasons. The distance is the main obstacle. It takes effort, I can't rely on the fact that I will see the same lovely faces three times a week at church. I have to make that phone call or send that message and set a date and time and then we can sit together and eat and talk and laugh.
I remember fondly a time this past spring when a friend reached out and made that connection a reality for me. I had posted something on facebook about being with family for easter and how it was such a blessing. A friend of mine commented "When are you coming down to visit?" and I didn't know for sure so I just said that I missed them and hoped to see them soon. That answer didn't satisfy and she called me up. I am so thankful for persistent friends! She set the whole thing up and we visited with her and several other friends the next day. It was just what I needed.
I think I am guilty of using social media to fill the void of community sometimes. I feel like it isn't just me, too many of us are sucked into a virtual world and missing out on the real one. The irony is not lost on me while I sit here typing on my blog that I will post online. Looking at pictures and commenting about loved ones' lives is great and I love to be able to see their lives and keep up. But it is a weak replacement for the real thing. Not only that, too often I miss out on my own little community - my husband and 5 kids!
We had breakfast with an older gentleman a short while ago and he showed us his flip cell phone. He said if he wants to talk to someone, he will call them because calling is better than texting. He demonstrated by acting like he was talking to a friend "It's so good to hear your voice! I have missed talking to you! How are you today?" He's right. But I don't see myself going back to a flip phone.
I still see the value of these online tools, and I regularly use texting. I think they have their place. But they also have their limits. Texting is great for short bits of information, but not so much for a meaningful conversation. Social media is great for friends and family gossip, I mean updates, (hehehe) but it is a weak substitute for actual community.
Can we also just talk about how spending time with friends AND food is a great idea? This isn't a new thought, it is even in the Bible: "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people..." Acts 2:46-47 We have found that when you spend time over a meal with people, your relationship deepens. This is true with new friends, old friends, family, and especially within our immediate family.
Something pretty cool has happened on the road as we have been traveling, we find ourselves returning to places we have been before, and reconnecting with people. It is pretty cool because it seems that with friendship, you can pick up right where you left off. The kids have made friends along the way, and it is cool to see them excited to go back and visit.
I've also noticed that I value my time with my friends and family more. I don't get to see them as often so I have realized how precious that time is. I think traveling has affected all 7 of us in this way. I have really been working on being intentional with my time and appreciating the people I happen to be with.
Thank you for reading this post as I talk about community. I hope that you are all enjoying that sense of community and friendship in your own lives!
If you would like to find out more about our ministry, Kingdom Pursuit Ministries, go to www.kpministry.org