(The following entry reflects on Steve Carter’s message Who Are You Listening To?, part one of the series Where’s God in All of This? If you missed it or would like a refresher of it, both the video and the transcript are available for you.)
Assemble. Examine. Refocus.
But maybe there’s a fourth word, too. An underlying one. Henri Nouwen said, “The real danger facing us is to distrust our desire for community. It is a God-given desire without which our lives lose their vitality and our hearts grow cold.”
I don’t know exactly how, but, along the way somewhere, some beastly thought took root—that God “expected more from me.” Community was a gift for other people. But if I were truly whole, if I were truly holy, if I were truly “in communion with God,” I wouldn’t need that and I wouldn’t even want that. So if I typed growing up, adulthood, spiritual maturity into the dictionary in my brain, it’s what came up—self-sufficiency (dependent on God, of course). And, by that logic, if I had set off after Christ when I could still impress the other humans if I spoke in complete sentences (and said things like “This is precisely what I had been looking for” in a tiny, new voice), I ran out of excuses to remain a spiritual child very fast—especially once I was done being a physical one.
I do read that and say, oi, that sounds daft.
This idea of community isn’t too good to be true for me.
As Jon Foreman sings, You want peace, but there’s war in your head.
In college, like any good academic expanding her proverbial horizons, I read John Ortberg’s description of the “human-shaped void” in Everybody’s Normal till You Get to Know Them:
“God creates a man in his own image. God looks at this man... and he says, ‘Not good.’
...This is a radical comment about the fundamental importance of human relationships. What is striking is that the Fall has not yet occurred. There is no sin, no disobedience, nothing, to mar the relationship between God and man.
The human being is in a state of perfect intimacy with God. ...Yet the word God uses to describe him is ‘alone.’ And God says that this aloneness is ‘not good.’
Sometimes in church circles when people feel lonely, we will tell them not to expect too much from human relationships, that there is inside every human being a God-shaped void that no other person can fill. That is true. But apparently, according to the writer of Genesis, God creates inside this man a kind of ‘human-shaped void’ that God himself will not fill.
...Community is what you were created for. It is God’s desire for your life. It is the one indispensable condition for human flourishing.”
The desire for human connection wasn’t a sin. And the lack of it wouldn’t be holy.
But distrust, it doesn’t end there.
I know a fascinating word.
It means, “to withdraw one’s feelings of attachment from (a person, idea, or object), as in anticipation of a future loss.”
It’s a word that, well, gives words to my fallen proclivity.
One day, at my church while in school, this happened.
Someone was walking towards the building doors—both sets of them shut—with burdensome equipment in each hand.
A second someone offered help.
The first someone kicked at the first door, at the second door, and said, “I need to be able to do this myself. If I accept the help now, I’ll get used to it, but then, the day no one’s around to help me, I’ll be screwed.”
To that first someone, I wanted to say, you can’t possibly live like that.
Bother, we can’t live like that.
But what had been expressed was also language I was fluent in. Surrendering to something beautiful and life-giving that you could come to depend on and then lose—there’s nothing more terrifying, nothing more difficult.
But what if it is God’s desire? What if it is the one indispensable condition for human flourishing?
Courage, dear heart.
(If you’re lacking in community and long for voices that will speak into your life, send word to Meghan—she can help you find an inner circle.)