“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. And they’re really glad you came.” - Cheers theme song
“Well, no one told you life was gonna be this way. Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A. It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear. When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year, but, I’ll be there for you!” - Friends theme song
“….I like you very much. Just as you are.” - Mark Darcy, Bridget Jones’ Diary
“Living in a community is like camping together. For a month. In the desert. Without tents. All your stuff is scattered out there for everyone to see. C’mon – anybody can look captured for Christ an hour a week, from a distance, in his Sunday best. But your life is open to those you live in community with.” - Chapter 11, Waking the Dead
It was my freshman year of college. I had chosen to go to a little college on the very edge of Eastern Washington and I’m still not sure why. Like the procrastinator I am, I was one of the last ones to complete my housing application. So instead of ending up in the main freshman dorm (where I’m sure all the cool kids were), they put all us procrastinators in a little building called Charis.
This little building was originally built as temporary housing back in the 70’s when Spokane hosted the World Fair. And I’ve come to realize many Christian colleges have housing they use for dorms that was originally meant to be short term. But temporary things have a funny way of becoming permanent when you just don’t change them.
So there we were. I had a single room, in the sense that the room was only meant to house one person, but I had a roommate and a bunk bed, so apparently they were bound and determined to stuff two of us in there. The bathroom for the girl’s floor only had one stall, one urinal and communal showers. I could have complained, but I had procrastinated, so oh well. And by the time I found all this out, I was already there, thousands of miles from home, and it was too late to turn back.
That year, by far, was my favorite year of college. I built some of the richest friendships and was an undisputed member of this beautiful little company of misfits. My birthday was only a few weeks after school started and far from being forgotten, my Charis community had pitched together and thrown me a surprise party. I don’t remember a single gift I got on that birthday. But it stands out as one of my warmest birthday memories.
It is hard to overstate the importance of community, the essential comfort and support it brings. Maybe we don’t like to admit that we need it. But when we lose it, we try to re-create it in other ways – in online forums or Facebook communities. It ends up being a synthetic and flimsy substitute. It is easier to get offended, and be misunderstood. It is infinitely harder to feel acceptance at all, let alone the deep abiding knowledge that you are accepted, just as you are.
Eldredge continues to challenge us in this chapter, that the hard work we’re called to can only be accomplished by jumping in with both feet. It requires us to set aside our pride, insecurities, self-consciousness and anything else holding us back and find a group of fellow believers to live life with. Not just to meet with, or pray with, but to really “do life together.”
It is hard to re-create the daily intimacy that comes with dorm life. It is a time in your life where you are never alone. There is literally nowhere to hide your mess, literally and figuratively. But with all of that pretense stripped away, you are suddenly free to just be yourself. To be you, fully alive. And to let others do the same. The word Charis means “grace” in the Greek, which was fitting, because this community was a gift from God I didn’t even know I needed.
It had been years since I felt free enough to be who I really was with a group of people. But for the last few years, I have been so fortunate to be part of a vibrant, honest, tight-knit small group at Grace. They do know my story, and I know theirs. The truth is, we all have messy lives. But usually, we’re so busy trying to cover up our mess that we miss part of our glory. And when you have a small group like this, they look past the mess, and show you the beautiful parts of your story that you missed. They show you that even someone who thinks they’re known for their bad choices actually has a heart of wisdom. That the person who is always striving has been enough all along. That even the strongest person in the room can be vulnerable and ask for help, and it will never be held against them.
It has strengthened my friendships, my marriage, my parenting – literally every part of my life. And it has challenged me, and astounded me, and pushed me out of my comfort zone. And I am so thankful for all of it.
- Bekah Arias