Changed by Community
BY GRACE ALLEN
I ran. I wanted to be far removed from the pain, but everything reminded me of the height from which I had fallen. Eighteen long months of struggling, being crushed down until there was nothing left to pulverize, trapped by fear in an abusive relationship. “Broken” doesn’t even come close to describing me. But I was not ready to take action, was not ready to let go of him; the only temporary fix I saw was isolation.
So, I convinced myself of my community’s absence.
I must have overstayed my welcome in their open arms. Perhaps I confided too much brokenness and pain, refusing to do anything to help myself, I thought.
Hiding in the shadows of my own heart, I convinced myself it was better this way, better to not have them around.I ostracized myself. I couldn’t see how I could be loved by mere humans when I felt unlovable, even by my perfect Savior.
As I ran further and further from my community and from God Himself, I only had one prayer: that soon, I could have the strength to stop and let go, let the brokenness consume me, let the ashes settle, and begin to rebuild what I had burnt down.
That day finally came, but the ashes took months to settle.
And birthed from the ashes has come the most beautiful reality: my Jesus still loves me, and my community is still here. Despite how fast I ran and how hard I worked to keep my pace, I could not outrun either.
My community was waiting for me. I was still welcomed into in their open arms.
As a teenager, I was shrouded in loneliness. But I loved watching documentaries and reading autobiographies or memoirs. Listening to people tell their stories fascinated me. They experienced so much and came out on the other side. And from this I had created my own little world. I had daily adventures, I had my group of people I did everything with, I was always learning, and I was always telling stories. I even relived reality or special moments from days past in my imagination, creating alternate endings for each. My world was the envy of everyone who heard about it. But it was a "world" where only I belonged.
In this created world with a population of exactly one, my image of God was static. It never changed. It never grew. It was never challenged.
When you grow up in the church as I did, you often hear the words “fellowship” and “community.” These words are even used in the titles of local churches all over the place. So, you would think I had an intimate knowledge of what these words meant and how they were supposed to help me grow as a young woman, as a Christian. But these words meant nothing to me.
I didn’t understand, couldn’t have understood, what community was and the impact God meant for it to have on my life.
Not until I was in college did I realize that living in my own world without deeper understanding cost me something: people.
During two short years at school, God placed people around me. Suddenly every single door that could’ve led to more information about myself was open. It felt as if every day brought with it a new lesson, or revealed a new personality nuance. And these people who were living life with me, perhaps without them even knowing, were giving me the tools to live a life of faith and strength.
Since then — and since the end of my recent self-imposed, 18-month marathon — community and fellowship have changed me. I am no longer the lonely young girl sitting by herself wishing for this amazing world I lived in my head. Looking at the 10 years that connect 24-year-old me (thriving in community) to 14-year-old me (lost in my own world), I realize what community has meant to me, and how my image of God was finally challenged and altered with the arrival of good company.
From others, I get differing opinions and their wisdom. They give me new perspectives, which make my roots grow deeper.
Community is uncomfortable, too. It’s asking a group of people to hold a mirror up to me so I can get to know myself better. It involves so much vulnerability, and anytime vulnerability is involved, there will be fear, uncertainty, and resistance. But it also brings comfort, strength, encouragement, and accountability.
"Community is uncomfortable, too. It’s asking a group of people to hold a mirror up to me so I can get to know myself better."
It creates a safe place where I can know others and be known by others. And when the storms of life come in and isolate me, it is going to be community that helps pull me back out — the tangible hands of God bringing me to safety once again.
Years ago, God saw that I would need companions to endure a long season of brokenness.
When I finally let go, my community was and has been my rock to stand on, my shoulder to cry on, the bandages on my healing heart.
My sister brought comfort. She never held all my bad decisions against me, especially the decision to keep my struggles from her. God had saved her from her own broken past and her love assured me He offered me the same healing.
A dear friend thousands of miles from me brought an understanding heart through so many phone calls. She was suffering, too. Our circumstances weren’t the same, not by a long shot, but the pain was. Despite circumstances, she knows Christ saved her for so many more good things to come. If she can inspire any of her friends to know one thing about Jesus, it would be the belief that the good things He promises do indeed come true for us. And she never let me forget it.
My people are God’s hands and feet, His arms and legs, His heart ever-reaching for me. They are the disciples ministering to the least of these (me) just as Jesus commanded.
Without my community, I wouldn’t have become the woman I am today. Without my community, I wouldn’t have had the courage to take care of myself, take action as I needed to do. Their simple presence in my life — not even their words — showed me that I can do anything.
God used them to strengthen me, to give me the courage to finally leap. It was painful, it was scary, but worth it.
Coming out of a season of isolation and suffering, all I want is to be near my people — my parents, my best friends, but physical distance separates us. In a season of homesickness and loneliness that I never knew I could feel, my community chases me down just as the Holy Spirit does. It offers unconditional love, and a hand up when the pain is able to sink me. It blows up my image of God. It’s His way of showing me the depths of His own love.