A teenage boy sat across from me for his initial therapy intake. Head down and foot tapping, I was pretty certain he could hear the clock ticking as loud as I could.
“So enough of this assessment junk, what’s something really cool that I should know about you?”
For maybe the first time in an hour I saw eyes peek out of his Beiber-inspired bangs with a glimmer of pride.
“Well… I’m kind of Instagram famous…”
“Instagram famous, huh?”
“Yeah, I get at least 50 likes for every picture I post. Wanna see?”
Photos of daily teen life spread across the computer screen as he explained what each one was, but nothing was more prominent than the infamous selfie. Under the arm-stretched portraits were hashtags like: #50likespleeze #likemyphoto #likes4likes #amIcute ? Really though, what I saw was: Do you see me? Am I known? Can you help me feel loved?
I’ve read plenty of pieces deeming social media and the “selfie” proof of the demise of social skills and rise of narcissism in this next generation. Sure, I’ve shared these feelings, but I can’t help being curious about the ways these newly developing norms are revealing innate aspects of us. While each “like” or comment may provide reinforcement, validation, etc. I think ultimately they help us feel known and connected to others. It’s no wonder these avenues to connection have taken off like wildfire.
We are designed to be in relationship, to connect, to be known. Connection gives us joy, fulfillment, purpose. Inversely, separation and withdrawal brings loneliness, anxiety, and sadness. I believe God designed us this way for two major reasons: to desire and seek relationship with God through Jesus and to seek relationship with each other. Cue agreeable nod from all Christians in the room. These thoughts might be easy to endorse, but it seems acting on them has become less easy in our Church culture. Why? Because truly being in community is messy.
Here’s the problem with true community: it’s made up of humans, and humans suck sometimes. All of us. We’re annoying, we have weird quirks, we make rude comments, we offend, we judge, we disappoint, and the list goes on. It’s not always a church pamphlet of smiling people BFF-ing it at bible studies and camping trips with Kumbaya playing faintly in the background.
So if we all suck and community can be difficult, then why on earth does God want us to work so hard on creating it? For a lot of reasons. Definitely more than I’m equipped or qualified to explain, but here’s a few that are good reminders for me:
- Going to church is scary when you don’t know anyone, even if you’re already a Christian. Seriously, it’s like the first day of school meets the sin judgment zone. I for one have spent more than one Sunday hiding in the back of a new church simultaneously hoping no one would notice me and everyone would accept me. People like going where they are known and loved: make it church.
- Having a community brings accountability. I’m not talking about the kind that is twisted into shame inducing judgment, but rather the fact that it creates witness to our lives, actions, and hearts in relation to the world around us. Sometimes we need to know someone is watching (or looking up to us) to push ourselves to do what we already know and feel is right.
- Working through suckiness gets us closer to holiness. We are so far from holiness at any given moment, but engaging in forgiveness, love, grace, and intentional pursuit despite each other’s flaws, gives us just the slightest taste of what Jesus does for us EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF EVERY DAY.
- It’s the best mission field that exists. Community can be comprised of people in the church or other Christians, but it doesn’t stop there. In fact I think this is one of our most frequently missed opportunities as Christians. Just as powerful as the need for relationship, is the ability of relationship to bring light and healing. No one represented this better than Jesus. Shake off your fear of difference and start loving; you might be surprised by the outcome.
- Community brings opportunity for learning. Have you ever thought about turning off your TV, disabling Google, and hiding all your books because you’re pretty certain you have the perfect most enlightened perspective you don’t need information from anywhere else? Diversity in perspectives, experiences, and understanding, have the power to expand our faith and spirituality in such immense ways. If we never expose ourselves to venues that support these types of discussions we’ll be missing out on huge opportunities for growth and learning from each other.
- Community defends against darkness. The caveat here is that unhealthy community might bring hardship and bitterness, but ultimately positive and Jesus-led community will defend against all sorts of hardships that come from isolation and loneliness. It’s not just humans that suck, sometimes life does to, and when it does community can keep us afloat in our faith.
Lastly, though not in bullet point form, the greatest reason to pursue community is that God commands it of us (Mark 12:31, Lev. 19:18). We all know the love your neighbor as yourself verse, but seriously, let’s do it. Loving each other is showing our love for God which is ultimately our greatest command.
So let’s start pursuing each other and when we see one of those infamous selfies let’s see the person behind the hashtags. Let’s recognize their perfectly designed need (and our own) to be known. Instead of just “liking” their photo, let’s start doing life together. I promise it will be messy, but it will also be good.
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