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I always thought people were the toughest part of navigating life until I opened up my life to them.

My good friend Kori broke her foot this summer. It was a pretty major break, and even with crutches, it was difficult for her to get around. One Sunday after services, our friends Dave and Reba and I came over to Kori’s house with lunch and a plan to take her to the grocery store. After solving several of the world’s problems over Firehouse subs, Kori and her crutches, me and my cane, and Reba and her sense of adventure piled into Reba’s SUV for a trek to Kroger.

Arriving at the store, Kori hopped into one of the motorized carts, I carried the crutches, and Reba kept us from getting out of hand. We were a sight to behold. People were jumping out of our way and feeling awfully sorry for us. Bless their hearts. But we were having a blast. Believe it or not, the adventure went off without a hitch, and the groceries made it home safely.

Friends1Aren’t you wondering where I’m going with this? I love this story because it captures my joy for my community; the surprise at how God has changed me through them. But I haven’t always felt that way.

I have a history of discontentment with the idea of community, particularly church community that failed to meet my expectations. I used to think people were exhausting. They would talk off my ear because they felt they knew me from my music, or they were uncomfortable because I couldn’t see and would speak loudly and slowly. Sometimes, it seemed they would run away, but I’m now doubtful my perceptions were true.

To avoid that awkwardness, I spent most of my Sunday mornings away from home at other people’s churches, connecting with folks I would probably never see again. When I was home, work kept me busy and I kept to a close group of friends. A larger community seemed unwieldy and messy. It was much easier to isolate. (The reason this song resonates with me.)

Then four years ago, I became part of a church where I had to show up — I was a worship leader. To lead well, I needed to know the folks I was leading. I slowly began to get involved – connecting in small groups and intentionally pursuing relationships. Digging into community changed me in more ways than I can count, though my story about Kori, Reba and Dave sums it up. That day in the store, I realized what an integral part of life and tremendous blessing community had become. Even the day-to-day act of helping each other out felt priceless. Their loving me and me loving them had transformed my heart.

Friends3For an introvert like me, community can be challenging. But I remind myself it is a process. We all have our BFFs, but for the most part, we come to know each other when we keep showing up and giving of ourselves. Being with people like Reba and Dave, who so freely offer themselves up to others, reminds me that real community requires opening up to give away part of myself. If you refuse to share your heart, it’s impossible to truly connect.

I used to think I needed to appear “put-together,” but I’ve learned it’s usually the vulnerable, broken parts of my story that have the most potential to disarm and even encourage those around me. If we’re willing to share our burdens, over time, we learn better how to love and serve each other.

Most importantly, to experience the love of God on this earth we need to be in each other’s lives. People often tell me they can have church on their own, listening to a sermon and reading their Bible for insight. I used to think I could do that, too. But it just isn’t true. God certainly reveals truth to our hearts during times alone with Him, but I’ve come to believe He speaks most often through others.

If you’re a busy person like me, connecting to community probably sounds too hard. Let me encourage you to take a small step in the direction of others. It is in loving others we discover more about ourselves and about the beautiful heart of our great Creator.

Friends2Phil. 2:1-2 says: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

Paul doesn’t say to keep the good stuff to ourselves; he challenges us to allow the blessings and gifts in our lives to motivate heart connections with each other. As we celebrate the holiday season, I am beyond thankful for the many folks I’ve become one in spirit with. I hope you have these friendships, too. And if not, now is a great time to start!

How has community had a profound impact on your life?