The summer after graduation I was inspired to try living in intentional community after reading The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne. Claiborne’s book told the story of his own journey of faith and how it led him to develop an intentional community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way.
Since graduating from college eight years ago, I have participated in several “holy experiments” of living in intentional Christian community. My own experiments have included both formal and informal arrangements. I was a part of a program called Discipleship Year in Washington, D.C., there I lived in a large house with 6 other women, we volunteered and shared our lives together. My most recent community experience was in Harrisburg where we each lived in separate houses next to one another, yet were involved in regular activities, meals, prayer, and hangout times, while inviting other neighbors in.
Since then, my husband and I have made some major changes in our lives and joined a very different type of community. We currently direct a study abroad program in Belize, Central America, where college students spend a semester living in Christian community, while taking classes that focus on the environment.
In these years of living communally in these different settings, I have learned a lot about people, and a lot about myself.
Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche, wrote a book called Community and Growth, a wonderful resource for anyone who lives with another human being. In it he writes,
“So community can appear to be a marvelously welcoming and sharing place. But in another way, community is a terrible place. It is the place where our limitations and our egoism are revealed to us.”
When we make ourselves vulnerable enough to be in deep relationship with anyone, there is not only the possibility, but the assurance that we will fail one another.
I have found this to be true. When living close together, whether family, a small town, or a group of friends, it is easy to see both the best and worst of humans emerge. I have also been pleasantly surprised by simple acts of kindness, and ways that we learn to love one another better. But, I have been astounded by how like-minded people (me included!) can wound one another.
And yet, there is also the hope of the refining power of being in real relationship.
Being in real relationships is sometimes a difficult, scary concept; it is not easy to open ourselves up to the possibility of our own weaknesses being revealed or getting hurt. Engaging in a deeper community takes courage, and here are some things that have been helpful for me along my journey:
- Be realistic with your goals and upfront about expectations from the beginning. Expectations that aren’t voiced probably won’t be met.
- Provide space to voice criticism or misunderstandings, otherwise they may never be exposed, which can lead to bitterness.
- Be open to criticism, or confrontation. It can be difficult to receive, but approach it prayerfully and thoughtfully, deciding what changes you might need to make in yourself, as well as what you might ask for from others around you.
- Be willing to confront others in loving ways when your needs and expectations are not being met.
- Continually work on accepting yourself and others- both the good and the bad.
Living in fear of true community means we miss out on living fully. Says Vanier, “true community is liberating.” When our deep wounds and weaknesses are revealed, there is a chance for them to be healed. Being a part of the healing process for one another is truly a beautiful thing that is possible whether you live in intentional community or not!
How can you enter into deeper relationships and community right where you are?
Micalagh Beckwith Moritz is a social worker, writer, wife, sister, daughter, community member, continually learning how to do a better job at each of these roles. She is always contemplating how to love others better and to enjoy the small things of life; to see God in everything and everyone. She is passionate about caring for the environment, experiencing new cultures, and also important, eating cheese. She currently lives in Belize and has the privilege of teaching and learning from college/university students! She works with a Christian study abroad program: Creation Care Study Program (CCSP). Micalagh blogs at Only Small Things.