Getting Friendship Backward–What Really Goes First?

Community is the word for October. In that spirit, I’ve invited a friend Andrea Stunz to guest blog today. She has a great message about community, friendship, and being totally honest with ourselves. I love it, and I’m sure you will, too.

Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Romans 12:10 (The Voice)
Friends don’t care how old you are.

I’ve gotten it backwards for a whole lotta years. Not on purpose but out of just not knowing how to do it right. Not being taught. I do selfish very well. Too well. Don’t we all? I’m just shy of 50 years old and I think God may finally be getting through to me and helping me understand how this whole friend thing works.

First, you have to be a friend. Then you get to have a friend.
Ahhhhh….. soooo….. Well, I’ve been trying that out and guess what? It’s working!
But it’s not easy for this control freak.
I’m putting myself out there more and with a different outlook. I’m trying new things. I’m risking.That’s the hardest part. Risk. Being vulnerable. Knowing that if I truly let myself be a friend to have a friend it might hurt at some point. Knowing that it will most definitely hurt at some point. I don’t like that part. The hardest part for me in all of this relationship business is being willing to be hurt. Because it will happen. Even by those who aren’t supposed to hurt me. They aren’t God. God is the only “person” who will never disappoint me.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ~C.S. Lewis
Somewhere along the way I decided that risking heart exposure wasn’t worth the pain. What I’m finally learning is that risk is not always worth it but it is sometimes worth it. Love is costly, but anything of value costs. Being willing to be broken is also being willing to accept redemption.
If I let myself be a friend and have a friend then it might just might turn out okay or even better than okay. It might actually be great!
Or how crazy you are.

The thing with friendship is that we can have a lot of them but not all of them have to be bff’s. If we follow the model of Jesus, he had a three “bff’s” in his inner circle. Three that he went all in with. Three that he shared his guts with. Then his circles broadened. As his circles broadened so did the amount of information he shared with them. Not because he didn’t want to but because those he would be sharing with couldn’t handle it or wouldn’t receive it.

I am coming to realize that those who can’t handle me don’t deserve me. That may sound harsh, but this control freak has to have some boundaries. I can still love and share Jesus and share my life with everyone but I don’t have to share my guts with everyone. We’ve told our kids countless times that you don’t have to be friends with everyone but you do have to be friendly. I’ve got friendly down. I’m working on being a friend. Got trust issues? I do! My trust issues include trusting God enough to put people in my life whom I can trust. Then, the onus is on me that once he does that to not squander it. I have to trust and try. Once the loneliness gets lonely enough, we’ll either choose to move out of it or resolve to stay in it. I’m finally in the place where I’m choosing to move out of it.
Relationships are messy and what I’m coming to learn (not having arrived just yet but learning) is that messy = living and living = messy. I’ve gone far too long without really living and then getting all upset because no one else was helping me live it. Ridiculous, right? But it’s true and ridiculous and I’m tired of not living. Life is so much better when it’s lived.
“In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
There will be strong and unfriendly winds that will make a mess of our lives. On those blustery days, the kindness, prayers, and simple-but-profound ministry of the presence of dear friends will be the anchor to our unraveling, the rescue to our storm.  ~Dr. Leslie Parrott

Those kinds of friends are few and far between. I have a few of those and they know my mess and love me anyway and come to my rescue. Some have known my mess and chosen not to love me and that hurts but there’s nothing I can do about that now. Somewhere along the way I got in my head that people were just supposed to know when I was hurting and miraculously come to my rescue. What I’m realizing now is that I have to let them in. I have to take the risk. The power of the lies of thinking I need control and not trusting because it hurts are a relationship killer. Somewhere along the way I got in my head that if I shared too much or exposed myself they wouldn’t stick around. But now I know that if they don’t stick around then one of us still has work to do. I can’t fix them but I can work on fixing me. I need to be careful and have some boundaries but isolation is not where it’s at.

Remember we were meant to be in community. Don’t isolate yourself. Insulate your heart but don’t isolate your body. ~Patsy Clairmont
God has been faithful to show me the way. I’ve forced myself to become more involved in a few things at church – which really is not bad at all once I’m there. I’m purposely asking old friends and new friends to lunch or coffee and just letting whatever happens happen. It’s mostly been wonderful. Not easy and not without some anxiety and heart palpitations but wonderful. I also signed up to get some email tips from (in)Courage on “how to be the friend you wished you had.” God is lovingly but clearly telling me that I need to figure out how to be a friend before I can have a friend. I’m getting it. Slowly, but I am.
So in all of this, I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I have not arrived. I’m trying to be brave. I’m willing to risk. I think…
God help me. Amen.
~Andrea
“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.” ~Maya Angelou

Andrea is: “A homemaker, a traveler, a seeker, a writer, a pilgrim. I love cooking and sharing good food with others who love good food. I take pictures that tell a story, my story, God’s story. An almost empty nester. A fellow struggler. A fellow stumbler. In need of God’s grace. Oh, and coffee. Grace and coffee. Then I’m good. Oh, and a sunrise. Grace, coffee and a sunrise. THEN I’m good. Oh, and my grandson. Grace, coffee, a sunrise and my grandson. … you get the picture. 🙂 I have many favorite scriptures but my “go to” scripture which seems to encompass all I may be stumbling through or rejoicing in is always this: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

This was originally published on Andrea’s blog, here. Check out the rest of her writing while you’re there!

Community: You Keep Using that Word


Is community a game of risk?
As you might know, I’m working on a book. Rather, we’re working on a book. (We as in two of us, together.) Just Hear Me Out: Conversations in the Generation Gap. And you can find out all about it here. (We have a fun video!)

It is, as the name implies, a conversation. About church, faith, leadership, and all the messy bits in between that cause generations to argue and be general turkeys rather than work together. About what we value, envision, and fear as different generations. One of those recurrent themes is community.

Conveniently, community is also my blog theme for October. So today, I thought we’d run with an excerpt from the book.

Community—You keep using that word.


Emily (the Millennial):What do we value in church? Community, first-off. We want to be accepted as we are, which can be good and bad. Everyone wants a community they can belong to, though. We just need to make it clear that this is a community that goes both ways, and that while we accept everyone, we also push everyone to look at issues in their lives.

Or full of loaded questions?

Jill (The Baby Boomer): Community may be your new buzzword. Yet almost all the Boomers we talked to for this book also cited community as an important value in church. Everyone wants that family feeling. But if you’re not feeling it, either we’re doing it wrong, or we don’t mean the same thing by that word. One difference is that when we Boomers talk about loyalty to a church body, we are also talking community. The two are not separable to us. The church we are inisour community. It’s the same word you use—but it means something subtly different.


Emily:Like what?

Cheers for Friends


Jill:Companionship, social events, comfort, friendship, welcome. These are all mentioned as important church considerations to the Boomer generation. Basically, I think we all hope to find our best friend at church. We all hope to fit in there and find people we can be like, talk to easily, and rely on in times of need.

We still operate under smaller circles of interaction than you do. Yes, we are on Facebook, but we don’t really have the global “families” that you do. Ours are closer to home. We still look to our nearest outlets for friends and companionship. The family comes first. Work is often second. Somewhere in there, the church is a consideration, especially if the family doesn’t work out the way we had hoped. And when we go there, we seek an atmosphere like that iconic TV show of the 80’s, Cheers—a place where everybody knows your name.

Your generation found the same thing in Friends. The difference was, in Cheers, they still went home to family in the end. In Friends, those people were the family. A not so subtle shift.

Does just trying feel like a trivial pursuit?

Emily: The concept behind Friends is independence and community outside of immediate family–a building of a chosen family. It’s odd that the show is called Friends, then, instead of family. Perhaps it’s because all of the main characters have messed up relationships with their actual family, and so the Central Perk regulars decide to hold Friendship up to a higher standard than their memories with Family.


Jill: But knowing one another’s name isn’t the same as knowing them. Most Boomers, like Millennials, say that they yearn for a place to be real, to tell the truth and be accepted with their messy lives. But again, you aren’t getting that vibe from us. Truth is, I don’t either, so something is clearly more important to Boomers than the genuineness we claim to want as much as you do.

Safety versus Authenticity


And something is. We value safety. We value looking good and presenting a stoic front over being vulnerable. Where you find it safe to be among peers telling true tales, we find it safe to pull in privately and keep our stories to ourselves. That’s changing, between pressure from our kids (you guys) and simply being sick and tired of the whole false front game.

Or maybe we just don’t have a clue.
In a larger worldview, where your response to a frightening, unpredictable world is to say “What the heck, let’s go kayak a waterfall, it’s all the same,” ours was to wall ourselves off and play Risk with our lives, strategizing political and social moves to protect our territory (while preferably expanding it). So those values of authenticity and community? We like the sound of them, but we want to define the terms.

Emily: As a Risk enthusiast, may I just say this is game usually ends in multiple people upset and one winner lording it over everyone else. Until the next game. When everyone gangs up on the last winner and distrusts any alliances formed.

Jill: Community and authenticity. Two hallmark values of your generation. Two words we want to love but pull back from. Where are we going to come together, then, in faith and doing church if we can’t agree on the definition of these terms?

And bonus–our favorite community-inducing
board game. You’ll get to know each other.
Fast.

Spoilers? No, we are not going to give them to you. What do you think the answers to that question are? I would love your input, your definitions, your experiences with community and faith.  

And . . . If you’d like to be part of the ongoing research/launch/fun team for the project, find me on facebook and talk to me.

Don’t Mess with Texas

I went to a party a week ago. Really, almost two weeks ago, and really, it will have been a month before you read this. I went to a party in Austin, Texas at Jen Hatmaker’s house. For those who do not know, Jen is an author, speaker, mom, wife, and everyone’s best friend, plus she helps lead an awesome church that is basically being Jesus except with cowboy boots. 

Apparently, the house I partied at was made famous on HGTV, but since I only get to watch HGTV in hotel rooms (we watched a lot of it going to Texas and back) I would not know that detail.

She invited her launch team to a party. I am still amazed at that fact, and I am still amazed that I picked up and just drove to get there. It’s still surreal.
Everyone else involved seems to have written about it immediately. As in, they must have gone back to their hotel rooms in Austin and blogged at midnight, people, because that’s how fast some of them managed to get these reflections posted.

I did not.

Yes, we really drove there. And loved it.
I went back to my room, meandered around Texas for another two days, drove back to Chicago in another three, and spent a week returning to life and processing what had happened. Because I am All. About. Processing. And not so much about getting things done right away. Let’s assume it’s all for good reasons and not basic procrastination.

Being on the launch team has been a gift. In five months’ time, a group of 500 of us have somehow made a community online that defied Christian stereotypes. We are a people of random ages, backgrounds, political theories, theologies, and colors. We disagree. But we don’t fight. We don’t call names. We don’t compare. We do pray for one another, encourage one another, and mourn with one another. We even give one another our time, money, and coffee mugs. That’s community, people. And until the party, most of us had never met.

Now, here’s the thing. I’m an introvert. I don’t do parties. I don’t do people I’ve never met. In large quantities. E-V-E-R.

So this was hard. I loved it, but it was hard. (Most lovely things are.) Sometimes I socialized and hugged and told stories and listened. Sometimes, I sat and just watched the buzz around me. I’m not the person to sit on Jen’s porch and take selfies. I’m not the one who will approach her to talk about life, even though I feel (like so many others) that we could be bffs. I’m not the girl who will sit in the middle of a table of strangers and draw them in.

The day after the party, many of us went to the Hatmakers’ church. (I know, she would hate having it called her church. It’s Jesus’ church. But it’s easier for identification purposes.) She made a comment during the sermon about it looking like a sorority house in the congregation. And it kind of did.

Which is exactly the place on earth I would feel the least comfortable.
I am so not a sorority kind of girl.


In the book we launched, Jen talks about community. She tells tales of how we have the tools and the ability to reach out where we are, with who we are and what we have, to create the community the world craves. And I realized something about that while I was taking my dear sweet time processing what the party had meant.

I love those women, and I will continue to love them and support them and do life with them. Even those I never see again. I am so grateful for their presence and for the party and for the woman who brought us there.

But community needs to happen where I am. It needs to happen on my back porch, in my church, in my coffee shop or library or park, where I live. The point of the book was to push us out into creating that, not to make us comfortable with a safe group of people we don’t have to see on a daily basis. That is a wonderful thing too—but it’s not the main thing. It can springboard us into the main thing by encouraging us along, but it isn’t the thing itself.

Wouldn’t you know, looking again at her book today, that’s exactly what she says,

“Online life is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will never replace someone looking you in the eye, padding around your kitchen in bare feet, making you take a blind taste test on various olives, walking in your front door without knocking.”


My community needs to be where I am. And that’s even harder and scarier than a strange farmhouse in Texas.

Because its up to me. Up to my insecurities, imperfections, and fears. But that’s the point.

“When your worn-out kitchen table hosts good people and good conversation, when it provides a safe place to break bread and share wine, your house becomes a sanctuary, holy as a cathedral. If you have a porch, then you have an altar to gather around. If you can make a pot of chili and use a cell phone, then you can create community. If you want to wait until your house is perfect and you aren’t nervous, then just forget it. This is an imperfect apparatus, thank goodness. It requires people with true faces, courageously being seen.” (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)


I can make chili. (I don’t like to eat it, but I can make it. It’s one of the few things I like to make.) I have a porch falling-apart-deck. I can be seen.

At our house, we have a formula to test how well people know us. Appliance repairpersons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and salespeople will knock on the front door. Friends will knock on the back door. Real friends will walk in it.




In October, I want to focus on this idea of community. How do you create community? Please share your ideas, things that have worked, things that have been disasters, and thoughts for the future. I would love to see your creativity and questions!


Absolute proof I was in Texas.

Discipling Today’s Kids Like Yesterday’s Church

Because kids can sign a church charter.
And mean it.
Third installment of discipleship articles published in Light and Life Communications.


Most Christian parents have one main goal—ensure their kids grow into mature believers. But we also know the scary statistics. About sixty percent of those raised in Christian homes walk away from their faith. Only four percent of Millennials attend church regularly. Discipling kids has never been so important or so challenging.

But what does that discipleship look like now? A lot like it looked in the beginning.

Community

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need….They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2.42-46).

The number one reason youth stay in the church is they have seen a Christian lifestyle modeled with integrity–first in their parents and then between their parents and other church members. Their parents genuinely love God andhis people. They’ve grown up in a community—not a building.
An Acts-like community of believers doesn’t seem very normal in today’s disposable-relaytionship culture, does it? But if we could keep our kids in church, would it be worth it to start making some changes in our priorities, schedule, finances, or church programs to create that community? What would it look like for your family?
Relationships

When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos teaching), they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18.26).

Barnabas mentored Paul and John Mark. Paul mentored Silas and Timothy. Priscilla and Aquila mentored Apollos. It’s tough to find a place in the new church where relationships did nottake priority and disciples were not made as a result. Young people remain in churches where someone took individual time to listen, model, and mentor.

*If you have teens, who in your church could come alongside your child in this kind of relationship? How will you move forward on that?

Empowerment

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (1 Timothy 4.12, 2 Timothy 1.6).

Paul felt young people should be active in the ministry of the church, not fans watching the game. When young people feel valued, they are much more likely to find value in church. We need to stop calling youth the church of tomorrow and empower them to be the church today. They are not a threat to our power. They are our hope. Yes, they will make mistakes. So do we. Life is an imprecise science.

*What gifts do your children have from the Holy Spirit?
*How can you help them fan them into flames of ministry?

 *Where is there room for that in your church?

It’s not as difficult as we make it to disciple kids. Just–listen. And take time. Not much has really changed in that respect in 2000 years.

on the same team

By now, most of you have probably seen this video. I love this video. I hope you have enjoyed it as well. But there is a specific reason I love it.

What do I love about this besides a) She’s a GYMNAST, or b) She’s freaking awesome, or c) She’s an inspiration to short women everywhere?

I love the crowd. They may be the best part of this video. At every moment, you can hear them. Cheering her on. Holding their collective breath when she falters. Screaming at her that she can do it and she’s amazing. And she was. And so were they.


No one put her down for being a woman in a (previously) man’s sport. No one yelled that they could do it better. No one called her out on her form or finesse. They crazily, noisily, exuberantly cheered her every effort. They held her up when she struggled. They were a community. They were one.

You go, girl.
I’ve seen this before. When my daughter and I ran (ran as in, walked, but let’s not quibble) a Mud Run, I watched a crowd of women cheer another woman, overweight and on my side of older, as she attempted to run up a muddy hill and pull herself over with a rope. She did it, too. Probably because a noisy group of complete strangers stood there cheering her from the bottom.

We’e all seen the runner who stops, potentially losing a chance at today’s glory, to help another runner in need.

The amateur athletic community knows something the church needs to know. They know they won’t run any faster or compete any stronger by criticizing someone else’s form. They know they won’t improve a personal best by wishing for someone else’s fall. They know cheering helps us all to do better.

They know they need one another to push everyone toward being their best.

They know what community really means.

Church people—we don’t.

The New Testament uses a couple words when it talks about church and believers together. One is koinonia—a term that means to be in fellowship, sharing, united, in community. Another is oikos—which basically calls the church to be an extended family. People who are there for one another through everything, even weird uncles and difficult cousins. 

The Bible also uses the phrase “one another” often when referring to how believers are supposed to do life together. Be devoted to and honor one another (Romans 12.10), serve one another, (Galatians 5.13), accept one another (Romans 15.7), encourage one another (Hebrews 3.13), be kind to one another (Ephesians 4.32).

How are believers supposed to act toward one another? Like that. Like a team. Like a community. Like runners who look at one another as people on the same track with the same goal who help each other to do their best.

How do we act all too often? Um, not so much.

If a church member offends us, we’re more likely to walk away and find someone else than to say, “Hey, you’re family. Let’s work this out. I love you.”

If we disagree with someone’s point of view, we seem all too happy to use personal insult to “prove” we know better than to listen and learn.

One of the largest reasons given among Millennials for why they are leaving the church is this one—too many Christians would rather infight than love their world together. Too many are so focused on being right that they have forgotten how to be Christlike. They want us to care more about a hurting world than about our personal preferences.

Completely lost in the ensuing madness are Jesus’ words: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Perhaps, Jesus himself is completely lost in the madness as well. That is an indictment we should not be able to live with.

I’m picturing the revolution that might happen if, instead of calling someone out when we are unhappy, we racked our brains for ways to serve and honor that person.

This is not easy. It’s certainly a personal challenge for me. I can think of a number of people I strongly disagree with that I really do not want to honor. But what if I tried? What might happen?

This isn’t to say we always agree with one another. We don’t. We can’t and shouldn’t. But we can disagree compassionately, thoughtfully, without personal conviction or vendetta entering the picture. We can offer forgiveness, even when it isn’t asked for. Because that’s what the whole “one another” thing is about. We’re supposed to be different in a culture that considers relationships disposable. What if we were?

What if you tried, today? What would it look like?

Our team. We did it–together.
Over the next few weeks, I am planning to do a series of posts on another blog I work on about the church—what it is, what it’s supposed to be, and where it’s going. Please join me. Please tell me what you think about those questions. I’d love your ideas.