Thursday, November 7, 2013

I Want To See How This Show Ends!

When he was a kid, my husband used to pretend he was in a television show. He narrated everything he did like he was “filmed before a live studio audience.”

He doesn’t play that game anymore, but it made me think about life in a smaller community and how it can sometimes feel like being on stage. I had that feeling recently when entering the high school gym for conferences. The gym was lined with teachers at tables and parents and kids walking around. In fact, it resembled one of my common nightmares of being in a crowd and feeling overwhelmed.

Quickly though, I noticed several friendly faces and started to chat with people. My daughter held our place in line when I got sidetracked in conversation, signaling me to talk to more of her teachers. Before I knew it we’d been there for almost two hours!

Later, a familiar sense of blessing filled me to live in a community where my kids have extra moms and dads looking out for them, where giving is just something you do and where the value of everyone knowing your business means that you get extra prayers and help when it counts.

I recently read a great book called “Wisdom Distilled From the Daily,” by Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who provides a translation for living the Rule of St. Benedict outside the walls of a monastery. Chittister explains that personal and spiritual growth never happen in isolation. They develop and expand through the relationships, tensions and challenges of living in community. As we live with others who are different and similar to us, we see ourselves in new ways — sometimes wonderful and sometimes disturbing ways. But this awareness only happens if we are brave enough to persist in a community and gain wisdom from our experiences. People who move from place to place every few years never gain the richness of what Chittister calls “stability.”

I moved to Milaca in 2003, making this my family’s 10th year of living in community. As an adult, I’ve never lived somewhere long enough to experience roots curling into well-trod soil or clouds changing outfits across seasons. Here my children have grown from babies to adolescents. My garden has grown from four raised beds to ten. My pet count has grown from one to four. My marriage has grown from independence to teamwork. My spirit has grown in this soil and under these clouds.

Here is the best part about community. We get the privilege of experiencing relationships in which life isn’t always peaceful or friendly or joyful, but they move us to reach beyond our comfort zones, to listen and confess, to give of ourselves and hope in the best for everyone. Community is the sum of all its parts, not just the ones we like or prefer. If we’re growing with open hearts and minds, we will experience joy and sorrow, blessing and disappointment, hope and doubt. This is the common humanity of parenting, marriage, grandparenting, friendship, work, worship, volunteering and anything worth a broken heart. If our hearts break sometimes, it’s only because we care. The show goes on.

In community we have the space — the grace — to fail and heal. But we have to stand still long enough — sometimes years — to see things come full circle. Mobility, instant gratification and self may be natural desires, but community occurs through hand-knit sweaters and book reports, a plowed and seeded field, a bandshell restoration, building an entire house or making a five-course meal. We sweat and doubt and see progress slowly, but the result is beautiful.

If we can teach our kids anything about living in community, we should teach them to slow down, work with their hands in soil and paint, be gentle to friends and family when they fall, and wake up early to watch the earth reflected in new light. It’s not instant gratification and rarely fame before a live studio audience, but it’s worth tuning in.

Phil 4:8-9 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things...practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."