It’s another night of spaghetti and sauce overloaded with meat. Noodles sticking to the insides of stainless steel pans and tomato sauce splashed against the stove top, drying until I come along with a sopping wet sponge to clean it up.
Half-filled mason jars are scattered around on top of our old bookcases and paint-covered trunks. We’ve always used mason jars. Our moms always washed out the jam after the summer supply was spread, and we were left with jar after jar shoved into cupboards. I’m carrying on the tradition, filling my shelves with the remainders of stocked pantries and farmer’s market purchases. I feel like this is poetic for what we’re doing here. We want what has stood the test of time; things that are ok with feeling used. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Friends and strangers have kicked up their feet and I’m lending a book to someone I’ve just met. We are forging a little community here over hot rolls fresh out of the oven that soak up sauce and brownies that melt in our mouths. It’s amazing how one invitation of food becomes an invitation for hearts to feast. I want every person whose shadow passes through our doorway to know they’re loved, they have a place, a meal, a makeshift family, a stack of books to peruse, a jar of water, a friend to ask them “Tell me what your life looks like these days” and then sticks around for the answer.
I love community and I will keep finding a way to make space for it.
But even still, I feel wary of community for community’s sake. I want to turn the fresh rolls and red sauce into broken bread and holy wine. I don’t want our community to function for its own sake; for our own satisfaction and self-congratulatory pats on the back that say, “Look, we have accomplished it.” I’ve just started leading a women’s discipleship group at our house and one of the primary calls for the group was to not be a place to meet your new 10 best friends. This hooked me. Discipleship is not the cool kids club. True community is not elite, exclusive or always comfortable. We want our home filled with people, not just to grow in friendship and relationship, but to grow in roots and truth.
Stop me at the stove and tell me what’s really going on. Let’s talk for a minute about how to win hearts and not just follow rules.
We’ll be honest with you and tell you what has been hard about the years in our lives and the lives in our marriage.
Ask the question about how to deal with this major cultural issue and we’ll unpack it here, where we’ll look to the Word for answers, where we want to be people of the Gospel and of grace. And we’ll make a lot of mistakes. We’ve already screwed up and surely we’ll screw it up again, but that’s why we want to keep pointing to Jesus.
My husband and I have talked about the (not-so) new mantra that suggests we can dispose of “negative people” and “toxic relationships” to improve our lives. Cut them off, some say. “Break up” with the friendship. Surround yourself with people who make you a better person.
And while I know that all relationships need boundaries, I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing the point with building circles out of our 10 best friends. Us four, no more. Granted, we are not designed to be doormats for the world but we are meant to lay down our lives (and sometimes, that might look an awful lot like letting someone walk all over you.) We are called die to ourselves. We cannot save the world. We cannot fix the broken world. We cannot smart-talk our way to a hardened heart or make enough spaghetti to dissolve the hunger of arrogance and hatred.
But we can be the fish and the bread. And we can be broken so that some will see the miracle that a life broken for Jesus does not fall apart, but is instead multiplied. We can love Jesus, serve Him and do it all in a messy, imperfect sort of way and let him use our crumbs and lunch scraps to serve the world.
Maybe this is the hardest lesson of all. We can’t just break up with broken people, but we can be broken up for them.
I don’t know how to do this well. I want my new 10 best friends to be with me all the time. I want to know that I’m always and forever in a group of peers who love me, respect me, cherish me and value me.
I don’t want to be in a group of peers who might eventually deny me, betray me, lie to me and question me.
But that’s who Jesus is. And I am a far cry from that kind of community leader.
“Everything you have is given to you to push back darkness around you,” my pastor said. I scribbled it down quickly. Push back darkness. In me. In our town. In community. In our home. Everything I have is not given to me to make my life suitable for me and the 10 people who I think are are the most awesome 10 people I have ever met. Everything I have is not meant to make me feel better about myself.
“When you primarily look at yourself,” my pastor said later in his message, “whether you see a slug or a rockstar, when we’re not just thinking too high of ourselves but rather think about ourselves too much — that’s pride.”
I write down as much as I can until my hand almost cramps in the forever posture of trying to write down something I'm sure to forget. Amidst a culture that says to put yourself first, close the doors, save more, fulfill your own dreams, prolong youth — God calls us to die to love a little more every day. Like the one we follow, our lives will feel spent, split and spilt and because He did, we can do this without pressure to perform, the need to impress or the panicky feeling that suggests we aren’t building ourselves up enough. Maybe in the dismantling of our pride, we can find that the best community isn’t built on us at all.
What a relief.