People ask me all the time about what it is like to live in a close community of people at camp.
I never know how to answer that question. Are they wanting the short or long answer? And how honest can I be? Even if I hated it, I could never actually say that. I don’t hate it, but it’s my life, and life tends to go up and down. I’m human and I struggle with stuff, and in my life, “stuff” is sometimes….living in community.
But some of the very best moments of my life happen because we live in community. And some of the hardest, most rewarding lessons of my life have been learned because we live in community.
So here are my reasons for why it is good for me to live in community:
1. Growing a flexible, loving, and unselfish attitude.
I think God looked down from heaven and saw my lovely, structured, controlled little life in Niverville, and decided to shake things up a bit. He knew I needed a constant reminder to include people in my day. In those personality test things, I tend to come out as being very task-oriented. That’s great for getting check marks on my to-do list, but not so great for putting people first in my life. Especially in spontaneous ways. I really do love spending time with people, but being spontaneous has always stressed me out.
But guess what. Here at camp, my little plan is continually challenged. I am always being reminded that the selfish tendencies must be destroyed. I have to lay down my desires, or I will live a very grumpy life. It’s taken me a long time to figure that out.
In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes a chapter about living in community. He writes about how hard it can be to adjust to community life:
When you live on your own for years, you begin to think the world belongs to you. You begin to think all space is your space and all time is your time.
The whole chapter is pretty fantastic, but I especially loved this part:
One morning, before anybody woke up, Bill and I were drinking coffee at the dining room table. I told him I lived with five guys and that it was very difficult for me because I liked my space and needed my privacy. I asked him how he kept such a good attitude all of the time with so many people abusing his kindness. Bill set down his coffee and looked me in the eye. “Don,” he said. “If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.”
2. Learning to live out my faith in the setting of relationships.
I can be extremely holy when I am by myself, praying and reading my Bible. Except that doesn’t count for much. To bask in the holiness of my own devotions is not the point. The point is to get my heart in the right place before God, and then go live that out with all the other people He loves.
God is about relationships. I need to be about relationships. I could do that anywhere, even if I had a nice house on a nice street in a nice town. Except that I have a tendency to forget about my neighbors. At camp, it’s pretty much impossible to forget my neighbors. They eat lunch and supper with me every day. They share my washer and dryer, they come to every social event I am ever part of, they work with my husband, they play with my children. We do church and ministry and life together.
They invade my life in a way that is good for me. Sometimes I can get tired of that, in the same way that a muscle gets sore when it is being exercised and strengthened. It wants to be left alone. But it’s not good for muscles to be left alone. That was never the point.
God touches people’s lives through relationships – with Him, and with other people.
A few weeks ago, a speaker at camp said this:
Individualism is dangerous. It takes us away from the very center of what God is about – He is about community, love, and relationships. Individualism steals the joy of life.
It’s funny, because I think that I will be happier if I can control every aspect of my life, but it’s actually the opposite. Left to my own devices, I can plan every blessing out of my life! I leave no room for God to work, and who is happy under those circumstances? Not me! His ideas are usually unexpected, and a lot better than anything I could come up with on my own.
This stuff still is not coming easy for me, but we are working on it. When stuff happens that frustrates me, and makes me long for our private, cozy little house in Niverville, I try to thank God for the opportunity to grow. I try to remember that people make life better – even when they don’t do things the way I think they should. I try to thank God that I am forced into a situation where flexibility, love, unselfishness and relationships are not optional. I try to put people ahead of my comfort and my to-do list.
Any other tips out there for how to live happily in community?