Community Goes Both Ways

Perhaps like some of you, my Christian college years were colored with lots of language about intentional community, incarnational ministry, and walking with the poor. Due in large part to the work of Shane Claiborne and the New Monasticism movement, many of us millennial now-overseas-workers were first exposed to the ideas that led to us living overseas by examining Acts and trying to implement this “one-body-ness” as passionately as we could. Which was, and is, a beautiful thing.

For my husband and me, it also wasn’t without a lot of trauma. We not only got married and dove straight into living in community (picture us in one bedroom, 4 single guys in another, and one bathroom- for newlyweds!), we also were deeply involved with a homeless ministry in our community. One thing led to another, and we took in a drug-addicted couple as well. At 21, we were sure that love and community could get these new friends clean and on the path of righteousness. We were (at least partially, and definitely damagingly) wrong. Maybe you can relate to a moment of earnestness like this? 

This situation ended in a dumpster fire, as you can probably imagine. And, to be honest, it took me years to recover. While I believed in my head that the early believers in Acts were a beautiful example and living in community was good and that incarnational ministry was something to strive for, I was pretty positive that I wasn’t going that far in again. I had been burned enough, and now it was time to build a protective wall. So I did. 

For years, we settled into a life that required very little sacrifice of us. Sure, we led Bible studies and worked for nonprofits. We were generous with our finances as we were able. We led worship. Occasionally we even volunteered with a local homeless ministry. But we kept our distance. I kept my heart, and my home, safe.

Fast forward many years, and I found myself living in Rwanda, struggling deeply with depression, anxiety, and cultural stress. Doing life on my own, trying to handle everything myself, simply wasn’t working. I needed help.

Just as many of you have learned this lesson in our life abroad, I had to learn to hire out some of my life to make it more manageable. This was a harrowing process for me. I love being a homemaker and a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t like that I couldn’t do it all anymore. I felt some shame in that.

But I think the hardest part for me was letting SOMEONE in. Hiring someone to help in our home wasn’t like buying an appliance, it was beginning a relationship. Letting someone into my family. Trusting them. 

Often, this also meant bearing burdens that I wouldn’t choose to bear myself. Hearing stories of childhood trauma, or even present difficulties, that were incredibly sad. Needing to decide where to set boundaries, and where to engage. How best to help. How best to love. 

It’s hard to admit, but I often find myself dissociating from the people around me. Finding ways around the conversation. Throwing money at the problem, even. Hiding from the hard. Maybe you can relate here, too?

As I was reading the beginning of Acts again this week to prepare to write this, I was struck by how immediate the share-all-the-things attitude was adopted after the baptism of the Spirit and the repentance of the people. It’s the first thing Luke describes the people doing! Living in common with one another, selling their things so that no one is lacking. It’s a natural, passionate extension of the grace they’ve been given. A spirit-filled pivot from how they had been living before. 

As I pray through what my home looks like now, and how best to position my heart towards the people in my life, I am immediately convicted of my self-preservation and lack of abandon when it comes to loving well the Rwandans placed in front of me. That I am even asking “how to position my heart” is a red flag. My position should only be one thing: a natural extension of the grace and generosity shown to me, just like the heart position of the early believers.

So when I have to listen, I pray for the patience to listen well.

Where there is a need, I pray for the generosity and the means to responsibly meet it.

When there is a burden to carry for someone in my community, I pray for the self-abandonment to take my share of the weight. 

And when I have a need, a burden to share…

I pray for the humility to let those around me carry me. 

For the vulnerability to share my own heart and let others in. 

For the bravery to forge community—true, beautiful community—across cultural lines.

For the confidence in Christ’s provision for my family to share what I have.

I pray for the hope of heaven to remind me of the impermanence of all of this, anyway. 

And for past wounds to be healed as I, little by little, become more like the early believers, sharing all I have and blessing those around me, and being cared for and blessed in return.

What lessons have you learned about life in community?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

3 Comments

  1. JT December 11, 2021

    I have been in the very same place as Karli and have docked my ship in almost all the same ports, felt so many of the same feelings. The one difference that came about in my life is we gave so much of ourselves to what we felt was our authentic call to ministry, we neglected to minister to one another as a couple, to tend our own hearth. We lost ‘us,’ or perhpaps because we started so young, we never developed, evolved in our bond to one another. The results here were disastrous. Healing here and learning how to minister from this precipice has evolved finally, sadly into boundaries that should’ve been there from the beginning.

    1. Phyllis December 14, 2021

      Yes, so much is familiar here for me, too. 🙁 Is there anything specific that you can share about the healing and learning that you’re getting now?

  2. Rachel Bucher December 14, 2021

    I appreciate this post, Karli. My husband and I also started off marriage with high ideals and efforts for God. I think our hearts were in the right place but we’ve learned some wisdom along the way! It takes continual discernment to consider how we are to live our lives in surrender to God. What is he asking of us? What are we putting on ourselves that he’s not asking of us?
    I find these questions helpful because he promises that his yoke is easy and light.(Mt 11) I’ve been searching for that “yoke!”

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