And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15-17
When I was a senior in high school, my mom took me out of high school for a month (or at least it felt like a month) to go and visit colleges where I had been accepted. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but my mom is a feeler like me and believed that I would just “know” if I actually set my feet onto all the campuses.
Our first stop was to Texas. We went to Waco before it was the posterchild for farmhouse chic. It mostly smelled like a farmhouse at that point. Another stop in San Antonio and I was pretty certain that Texas wouldn’t be my new home. Our next stop was Malibu, California. My pen exploded all over my right hand on the plane ride there so every time I introduced myself to someone, they also shook the blue blotch all over my hand and probably feared that I was transmitting some communicable disease to them. Yet, there it was– that “feeling” I was meant to experience.
I remember walking through the the palm tree studded campus and and seeing friends eating lunch together outside, girls skipping towards another and embracing in a hug. Sure, there was also the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica mountains, but the most glamorous thing I saw was the potential for real, life-changing relationships.
So that was it. I knew I was going to leave my Midwestern roots behind to attend the Disneyland of colleges. I got to campus and had high expectations for this incredible community that I believed was promised to me. I thought, “God, you brought me here so I am assuming you are providing ten best friends for me in my first week of school.” But the first week went by, then the first few months, and then the first year and I hadn’t made many friends.
After freshmen year, sophomore year, and then junior year, I started thinking maybe this wasn’t the epic adventure the brochures had promised. Where was this epic, magazine-worthy community I had come here for? Why had I left all of my extraordinary friends behind for these boring ordinary moments here? I am in Malibu! Shouldn’t my community look like the Hollywood version of forever friends?
During this season I was reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in hopes that he could explain my situation, when I was incredibly convicted by my attitude :
“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”
–Bonhoeffer, Life Together.
My self-propelled ideal of what community should be was destroying the community I actually had. I didn’t invest in my friends because they weren’t meeting my unreal expectations for what they should be. We were ordinary. We did day-to-day things like eat in our cafeteria and study in the library. We watched movies and cooked pancakes in the dorm on Saturday mornings. We drove to church and drove back again week after week.
In the monotony, God was refining us. Our fellowship became extraordinary when we obeyed God with our ordinary.
We may all struggle with ordinary in some ways. We spin our wheels searching for perfect community when it doesn’t exist. Start friendship, get bored, stop friendship, repeat. We sometimes get lost in what real community is about as we search for a group of friends that travel to Instagram-worthy coffee shops and and dress as cool as Taylor Swift’s girl pack.
When I started appreciating the people over the “experience,” I began to discover- and enjoy- “ordinary” friends. The author of Colossians reminds me of how God’s community is often ordinary:
“…be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
This group of friends read the stories of Jesus, held one another accountable, sang songs and gave thanks for each other. I’ll be honest, there’s nothing extremely “pinterest-worthy” about that, but they had peace in their hearts. They were content with what God was doing through their friendships. God took whatever they did for Him, whether in word or deed, and used it to glorify His name. That sounds like a life full of rich, rooted community to me.
So, I have practiced again and again thankfulness for the people God has given me and allowed all of our ordinary to be made extraordinary by His grace.
Questions for Your Community:
What are some unhealthy expectations you’ve placed on your community? How does this hinder what God really wants for you and your friends?
How can you make steps towards giving thanks for the community you have?
List out the promises God has given us from His Word about our communities and pray for your expectations of community to align with God’s.