A while ago I wrote this post on the way Christians often talk about and think about singleness and marriage. In it I discussed the reality that we will all have different seasons of life. Not just in the context of our relationship status – but because life is messy and it changes frequently and you never know what is around the corner.
Whether you are single, married, childless, a parent, divorced, engaged, going through grief or joy or loss or gain the truth is we need each other. We need community.
Life on your own can be very lonely and very hard. There’s all kinds of ways to be lonely of course, no matter what your circumstances. But community – real community – helps. At least it should.
I think the need for and longing for a community is true of all people. But maybe it’s especially true when you are trying to follow Jesus. Trying to do your best, not just coasting through. Trying to be more Godly, more giving, less self-centered: it is impossible to do without community.
People are really good at playing the-grass-is-greener game: we always want what we can see in others’ lives. Single people long for marriage and the closeness of family life. Parents in the midst of children and naptime routines long for the unstructured hours of singleness. What I’ve just described might not be your fantasy of choice, but we all have them – the ideal life, the better life, the longing for different circumstances which will surely fix the ache inside us.
No one’s life circumstances are ideal or the same. Not all married people have children (or will ever have children, or want children, for a number of reasons). Not all single people get married (or will ever be married, or want to be married for a number of reasons). Not everyone can be neatly divided into single or married or any of the other categories we use. It gets so complicated stepping around these issues: is hanging out with other married couples excluding our single friends? How can we be helpful to the friends in the midst of a relationship crisis? Is doing this fun thing on a weeknight excluding our friends with children? Is talking online about the joys of parenting insensitive?
But Christian community isn’t about delicately stepping around the messiness of life. Christian life is wading into the mess with each other. Community is about all of us welcomed in together, no exceptions. It means that families are no longer exclusive, tight knit units that feel sacred and untouchable. It means those without kids might sometimes volunteering for babysitting (or hanging out washing if that’s more your thing). It means sharing your kids with those who might have wanted their own but don’t. It means married couples don’t seal themselves off or only socially see other married couples. It means single people don’t exclusively do expensive things at night if it makes it hard for those with children to join in. It might mean that your fun social event provides lego and a kids movie even if it isn’t your ‘vibe.’
All these things are possible – and are necessary. Life without a family and without community can be very, very lonely. Life with young kids and little or no support can be very, very difficult. Life can be lonely and difficult in so many ways and for so many reasons – heartbreak, same sex attraction, infertility, post natal depression, loss, grief, fragile mental health and all the other things the world decides to throws at us.
The world hasn’t been right for a very long time. But God doesn’t leave us in the mess alone, even when we feel lonely. God sent Jesus into the world to fix all that has gone wrong between us and in us.
At the cross, Jesus tore down all the barriers dividing us – the ones dividing people then: Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave and free – and the ones dividing us today: married, single, parent, childless and more. All the life seasons and circumstances that get between us don’t need to anymore.
We still have that ache, that things would be different. We know that things still aren’t right, because they’re not. But in Jesus we have a promise of eternity where the ache will be filled and we’ll never be lonely because we will be in God’s presence, face to face.
In the meantime, God has given us community. He has given us the church, which isn’t a building but a group of people united by grace. Saved from brokenness into life. A group of people who are better together when we support and sacrifice and give up for each other – knowing that there’s a whole community surrounding you doing the same thing for you. This mutual giving to each other, the mutual putting each other first is the only way human relationships can survive and be healthy, I think.
This kind of sacrificial love mimics and points to Jesus’ love and sacrifice at the cross. Community like this paints a picture of what it will be like in heaven, when the ache is filled and the brokenness gone. In the meantime, we press on with loving each other, not just in spite of life being hard sometimes but because life this side of heaven is hard, for almost all the people around you, whether you know it or not. So we do community. We meet together and eat together and laugh and cry together. We press on in Jesus and his name, loving each other for his sake.