I'm single. I live by myself. I have scads of bursting bookshelves (that's right: scads). I enjoy the company of two impish but delightful rabbits. I love my job, but also look forward to coming home every night to a quiet place, remote control waiting, Netflix eager to entertain my company.
Don't get me wrong.
It can be pretty darn lonesome too. Living solo has its relational drawbacks for sure. But if I'm honest, I have a pretty large need for (or addiction to) personal space — quiet personal space.
Friends of mine have similar needs. Married for 10 years, they have two teenage children but you wouldn't know it to look at them. Most days it seems like they're feeding and entertaining the town's entire youth population. Some are camped out on the couch (or the floor or on the porch); others are playing video games; others are popping microwave popcorn in the kitchen; and others are tinkering with their bikes in the backyard.
"Christine" can be found doing nails with younger girls, and "Alex" is often under the hood of someone's busted up vehicle where he invites other youth to come watch how he fixes what's broken. Both Alex and Christine are pretty laid back, not too loud, and would rather not take centre stage. Alex is more of an introvert than Christine, but both need personal space now and then.
I sit in awe of these superheroes.
Sure, I can invite people over if they need a place to stay!… for a few nights.
Sure, I can share my stuff when people want to borrow a book, a few eggs, my bike!… as long as they give my books or bike back (the eggs they can keep).
Sure, I can have movie nights with my youth!… with the knowledge that the TV will be all mine once again come morning.
Sure… I can be hospitable!… for small periods of time.
Then my greedy hunger for personal quiet space kicks in, and I begin to resent to close quarters of others. I need air. Other people breathe the same air as I do. I begin to choke.
Some example I am for community. Real terrific.
Sometimes I can be that person who continually offers to help, offers a place for wanderers to stay, offers to make meals and so on; but inside I'm really hoping the person in front of me won't really take me up on the offer.
That sounds bad, doesn't it?
This is why I sit in awe of those gifted and called with hospitality. The door really is always open… the meal really is ready for another at the table… the lawn mower really is seen as a shared item… and it's okay if books aren't returned. That's not to say Alex and Christine don't have their tired moments… their "We need a BREAK!" moments… or their frustrated moments. Of course they do! Yet somehow God gifts them with space, breaks and blessings as needed.
Their lifestyle highlights my selfishness. Granted, some of how I live isn't all personal choice. It's not like I can force someone to marry me just so I can learn how to dwell in community (well I could, but the cops might have a thing or two to say about forcible confinement). My landlady is also pretty clear about how long guests can stay at my place. There are definitely factors beyond my control that contribute to how I live right now.
But still… what can I learn from Alex and Christine, and how they've chosen to live and worship?
The most I want to learn is how to not be resentful when I feel too much of my space, time and resources are being eaten up. How is the love still flowing when all the food in the fridge is gone, nailpolish is on the bedspread, the TV is being hogged for video games or the microwave catches on fire? When there seems to be no end of bodies taking up your space, how do you keep seeing Christ in all of it?
This isn't just a "Wow! Kudos to you guys for being superheroes covered in awesome sauce, but I would never want to do it myself!" type of deal. This is me seeing a weakness in myself, knowing there are community needs out there, and realizing I could maybe change some lifestyle patterns that keep that candle in the window lit… the door open… and the seat at the table ready.
I know there are many different ways to build community. Perhaps I have already lit a candle or two that welcomes an entirely different gaggle of people. Yet when I look at people like Alex and Christine, I am thankful that God has created such a pair together that local youth feel safe hanging out in a safe place, learning community in a messy house.
It seems that no matter how we build or grow community, a common element is that we need to be fully present.
How do we remain present with the people before us?
That seems a far larger challenge than at first thought. In fact… it sometimes makes me want to put away the chair at the table, take the light out of the window, and close all the doors.
Oh Lord… may it not be so. Give us the courage to open our arms and keep them open.