Coming back from Christmas break in Ohio with my friends and family, I have taken some time to mull over some of the questions Tyler and I were asked. From the Denver weather to what we will be doing next year, people wanted to hear about our adventures.
But some of my favorites were the questions about what it is like to live with 5 other people in an intentional community. They were usually followed by laughter and funny stories.
But if I could go past the funny stories, the explanation of sharing chores, and trying to get SooHwi to understand American football (to no avail), I would say:
My time in community has been spent watching the excessive, selfish, and protective layers of myself be chipped slowly away to expose what is underneath.
I walked into this community as a person sure of who she was. Strong and confident. Excited for what I had to offer my community. Someone whose life experience and story has shaped how the big and small areas of life are done. This is not a bad thing! But the result is a set of life patters that I follow thanks to mentors who have spoken into my life, mistakes I have made and learned from, and previous communities I have been a part of.
But what I didn’t realize was that I was moving into a house full of other human beings who have been molded by their own stories and who do life according to their experiences. And they are better and deeper people because of those things.
But they also live life different than me because of those stories.
It’s a deep concept that we each move and act in life based on how we have watched others go before us. We each make decisions based on what we are passionate about and what is meaningful to us. And I see this carried out in everyday ways in our house. For example:
- I have never seen the dish washer loaded so many different ways. But it is. Usually based on how our family did it back home.
- We each have different ways we want to approach our weekends based on how we want to relax or get stuff done.
- And the always beautiful experience of what 6 people are like when they are hungry and running out of groceries!
In each of these examples, I know how I would respond to them (since clearly, my way of loading the dishwasher is best.). And I do self care and planning and cleaning and hospitality based on what I am used to, my life experiences, and what is meaningful to me.
But our community cannot thrive if I am constantly trying to convince them to do things my way just because it means a lot to me. Then I am smothering the ideas and actions they have that are just as meaningful to them. A community is nothing if the members do not feel invited to be who they long to become.
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says about community:
“God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom…God made this person in His image.”
And this is where the chipping away part happens.
- When I see that it is pride that makes me think that I know the best way to clean the bathroom.
- When I see it is my fear of being uncomfortable that keeps me from accepting plans made by someone else.
- It is selfishness that keeps me from admitting my role in the blame.
- And it is my love of indulgences that convinces me to spend my extra time on myself instead of with my community.
These layers I have built up have made me think I am bigger, more influential, and have more to offer than what I really do. And what my community even needs from me.
But as I choose service instead of selfishness.
As I lean into my fear and let others plan my weekend.
I can feel these excess layers give way and begin to crumble.
It is scary to not have those layers to protect you and make you feel important. But with these layers gone I have heard the Lord’s voice much more clearly, reminding me who I am underneath it all. This new raw and exposed version of me.
And I can see myself beginning to love this me that I am meeting through my community.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: Harper & Row
Publishers, Inc. 1954.