The Subtle Power of Community - by Yolanda Lichty
For two years we sat in classes together, drank coffee from brown mugs, sang tight harmonies in choir, prayed in hush tones Saturday nights, rambled through the local nature reserves hunting fairy garden wonders. We each brought our own home town, our own church culture, our own set of broken pieces.
I’d entered the small Anabaptist college emotionally exhausted, not because I’d done a list of sinful things, but because I’d run too long on “Me and Jesus,” to borrow a song title. Below the surface, too deep to identify, currents threatened to pull me under.
What nobody had ever told eight-year-old me when I placed a red rose on Mommy’s coffin that February day is that loss is a hole that grows with you. The more I became, the more I longed for the relationship that could never be, but I buried that longing. I didn’t know then that it’s healthy every now and then to cry and say, “I miss you,” to the mother she could have been. In an effort to escape pity—especially self-pity—I’d shut myself off from grief.
I was trying to be loveable, and in my mind, that meant being perfect. It meant stuffing any little bit of neediness down inside myself and moving on. It meant not admitting my desires and my guilt. It meant holding this all in and holding my head up and holding it all together. I didn’t know then that guilt is a healthy emotion that leads us to repentance; but Satan would have us self-destruct, hiding it all under shame.
How did I get from Then to Now?
Heart change comes incrementally, and each increment sounds different.
I am sitting by the fireplace, when a fellow student strokes his full brown beard and tells me that we’ll always have unanswered questions. I am feeling the grain of the varnished wood table as a fellow student shows me her beautiful water colour, a pool of pain she painted after her childhood friend died of cancer. I am perched on a picnic table, surrounded by my classmates, as we listen to our blonde friend, asking us to pray for his family as they consider adoption.
I am eating supper when I say something embarrassing, feel the heat rise to my cheeks, and cover my face only to have two friends exchange knowing looks and say, “That’s it, that’s what we love about you.” All these years I’ve spent hiding my face when I laugh because I think it’s too red and too ugly, and they love this about me?
It’s night and too late. We should be in bed, but we’re talking and talking, when she says, “You just feel things so deeply,” and she holds me, and we cry.
The power of community is in its subtility.
The power of God brings us different communities in different seasons.
My childhood community did much for me and my family in our early years of grief. I wouldn’t have been ready then, to reckon with the enormity of loss. When I was ready, God gave me a community especially suited for that season.
These days, God’s called me to change church communities, to enter into a community whose vision and mission align with the giftings and ministries He’s asking me to do.
It’s an awkward transplanting. I still have stray roots in my former community. I’m still trying to find where the water and the sunshine are, when to drop out of one church chat group and enter another.
Still, knowing what I know about community, I claim the power of a few shared words, hymns, laughs, silences. I know there will be disagreements, discouraging days, deep loneliness. But I know these people will change and shape me, and I them, one increment at a time.
Yolanda is a writer, teacher, and lover of The Word
(John 1). She shares grace and truth through the lens of Anabaptist culture at travelight94.com and @travelight94.