When You Want A Strong, Healthy Community
In the TV show, Grey’s Anatomy, there are two characters, Derek and Cristina, whose relationship is really moving. (I’m only on season 7, so no spoilers, please!) Cristina is the best friend of Derek’s wife, Meredith. She can be a difficult, needy character, and at one point, suffers a traumatic breakdown. But Derek knows how important she is to Meredith, so he takes Cristina under his wing and is kind and patient with her. He chooses to make his wife’s people, his people. Their relationship also reminds me of the story of Ruth, in the bible. (If you’re not familiar with it, you can read it here.) Ruth and her Mother-in-law, Naomi, are left destitute after the death of their husbands, living in patriarchal society that has no provision or protection for women outside of marriage. Grieving and distraught, Naomi moves back to Bethlehem and tries to persuade Ruth to go back to her own Mother’s house. But Ruth refuses, saying:
Where you go, I will go, Where you stay, I will stay, Your people will be my people, And your God, my God. Ruth 1:16
Like Derek, Ruth chooses to make Naomi’s people her people; she is kind and selfless and doesn’t abandon Naomi in her trauma.
We’re drawn to stories like these because they give us a glimpse into the lives of people who are loved, accepted and valued, even in their darkest moments. Isn’t that what we all really want? We want to belong in communities where our loneliness and loss are submerged in affection, where our needs are met and we are known and loved exactly as we are.
If we want to create communities like these, there are two vital ingredients we’ll need: vulnerability and generosity.
If we’re ever going to be really known, it’s going to involve some degree of vulnerability.
But vulnerability can be hard. When we take the risk of being honest about how we really are, there is always the chance that we will be misunderstood, or that someone will dismiss our brokenness with a trite cliché. Our requests for help might be denied, or people might think less of us once they know about our struggles. Rejection is painful and there are no guarantees that this won’t happen.
Vulnerability, however, is also ‘the birth place of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy and accountability, and authenticity. If we want… deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.’ Finding those trustworthy people that you can be mutually honest and open with is worth the risk, because that is precisely the place where genuine relationships can flourish. It’s the place where we can offer each other empathy and compassion. It’s creates the space for us to hold hope and encouragement for each other. It’s the place where we begin to feel less alone. When you feel known and affirmed without being judged, it is a powerful, healing thing.
When we make ourselves vulnerable, by talking about a need or a struggle or even a success, what we’re hoping for is a generous response.
It seems like this should be easy, but sometimes it’s not, because we live in a culture that constantly tells us there isn’t enough of anything to go around: money, possessions, power, success, love. There is an assumption that more for you is going to mean less for me. More praise for you will mean I’m noticed less. More power for you means I will have less influence. More money for you means my needs won’t get met. More success for you means there’s less room at the table for me.
There’s a moment in the story of Ruth that can help us here, though. When she first meets Boaz, Ruth is gleaning for grain in his field. He notices her and invites her to sit down for lunch with him and his workers, then sends her home with enough food for Naomi too. Instead of grasping tightly to his own possessions and seeing Ruth as competition for scarce resources, Boaz is generous to her and consequently opens his life up to love and blessing. As Parker Palmer points out, ‘Authentic abundance does not lie in stockpiles of food or cash or influence, but in belonging to a community where we can give those goods to others who need them — and receive them from others when we are in need.’
It’s interesting to notice that this seemingly small, domestic story becomes intertwined with the bigger story God is telling. If we fast forward a few generations, we find that a new son has been born into this family line, by the name of Jesus.
Like his ancestor, Boaz, Jesus also invites people to eat a meal with him, at his last supper. He welcomes the disciples who are well known. He makes room for the disciples who will later betray or abandon him. He made a space for those disciples that no one ever seems to remember. He made space for them and he makes space for us, too.
When we take bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus, part of what we’re remembering is his generosity towards us. His life, death and resurrection have made a way for us to be included in God’s family. We can make room for each other at the communion table and in our lives because this is exactly what Jesus has done for us.
In the call and response of vulnerability and generosity, we find that our lives become knitted together, creating a strong, powerful, beautiful community that reflects the heart of God.