Authentic Community Is Hard

We sat around a table for brunch on Easter Sunday last year. There were way too many of us to try and actually fit around said table so we turned the love seat around and tried to squeeze everybody in. Some of us ate our food with our plates on our knees like we were at a Sunday meal at the small town Baptist Church homecoming.

We laughed and we ignored social media and we shared stories because that's what friends make you want to do. It was perfect.

I can't remember who, but someone thought "I'd like to capture this sweet moment" so thankfully a picture came out of the whole experience. Our mouths were full with food yet they seemed to continuously creep open with laughter and words of both affection and sass; hearts full of love and a realization of what true, authentic community can look like. This was it.

It is moments like this that bring me closer to my creator and remind me of why I do the things I do.

I remember leaving this night full of hope in people and certain that bad things in the world didn't matter, even if it was only for a brief, 4 hour breakfast for dinner, around a table, creating memories with people I love. This night hit me in the gut with allllll the feels.

But what about the work it takes to get to this place with people?

As if this night couldn't have gotten any better, there was a comment left on my Instagram post at the end of the whole experience that struck me. We had out-of-state friends seriously considering moving to Atlanta. They were getting ready to pack up their belongings and start a new life in a new city. They needed a change.

One of those friends left a comment on the photo above after I posted it to Instagram. It's simplicity moved me in a powerful way:

"I'm coming."

That's all he needed to say to remind me of how powerful, compelling, pivotal, and absolutely gut-wrenching authentic community is.

You see, my friend was saying more than just "I'm coming;" he was saying "I need people" and he was saying "people matter" and he was saying "life is better when it's lived with people who believe in who I am." He was stating a desire he had to live in community with people. 

In 2 words, he summed up a very basic human necessity: other people.

And there I was - in this moment, around this table, forgetting the work it took to get us here. 

Listen - I know I've said it before: 'community' has become somewhat of a buzzword. But its benefits certainly outweigh its clichés. Because when the hard work is put in...when it is consistently chosen, continuously fought for, and notoriously believed in, authentic community has the power to transform lives and help sustain those willing to contribute to its sustenance. Authentic community has the power to move mountains and shake systems and impact generations. And while I've written about what the signs of authentic community are, I wanted to share with you a few things I've learned about how to embrace the difficulty in actually experiencing it...

1) Be present for the messy things, and the fun things will become more meaningful. 

Sure, the laughs and the parties and the game nights are fun and exciting, but the messes and the conflicts and the misunderstandings push friendships to places of strength and hope and belief in the stories being lived out. Don't embellish conflict, confront it. When you do, you'll come out on the other side believing the best about those you walk through life with. Because while you and your friends will make mistakes and break promises, community continues to give grace and believe the best. Authentic community is established on good things, but strengthened in the messy things.

2) Be honest, generous, and humble, and friendship will follow. 

This is so important, yet incredibly difficult. Sometimes it takes work to be fully present in moments of need or stress and give of yourself and your resources. But when you choose to be a teammate and not a superstar, people stay close to you. Pay attention to others and always choose people. Be to others what you needed when you were where they are. Because when you continuously show up for people and give of yourself to the world around you, people will want to do life with you. Authentic community is a product of character.

3) Don't compete for the right to be heard; instead, share the voice of those on the same mission. 

Instead of fighting and scraping for others to notice who you are or what you are working on, elevate others who are doing good work and share the good things about who they are. Cheer on those who are where you want to be and celebrate the victories of those doing good work around you. Remember: a higher tide lifts all ships. Authentic community provides you with your greatest resource: other people.

In the end, we are all just like my friend. We're all looking at the world, telling the beautiful things that we are headed their way. We notice the hate and the mess and the difficult things the world throws at us, but we ache for the hope and love and the life found in between. 

But are we willing to work for it?

To make it to the good things authentic community has to offer, we must put on our gloves and our work boots, throw on our hard hats, get behind the wheel of a bulldozer, and demolish the selfishness and greed and anger that get in our way of living a full life with people who need what we have to offer. 

Authentic community requires something of you while it simultaneously restores something in you.

I'm coming...are you?