Written by Craig Denison
Oftentimes community feels like a “should” to me. Being around a bunch of broken people always seems to remind me of how broken I am, and that’s no fun.
Recently our staff at the Denison Forum took a few personality assessments. My Myers Briggs assessment came back as INFP. The “I” stands for introversion which apparently I have in spades. They tell me this means I am receiving, contained, intimate, reflective and quiet which sounds about right.
If you walked into a room with more than 8 people and were looking for me, you’d have the best luck starting with the corners. Large groups of people overwhelm me. So I have always gravitated to long, one-on-one conversations with someone in a safe corner somewhere. My poor wonderfully extroverted wife finally gave up on me at weddings. I’ll dance with her to a few songs until I can’t take it anymore, then I end up in some deep conversation with someone until she has to stop dancing because the DJ has already packed up his stuff.
As a result of my wiring (among many other factors), I don’t think I’ve valued community enough. I’ve never liked the idea of needing other people. If I need to figure out what I should buy, I’ll spend 2 hours researching something online that a salesman could probably answer for me in 2 minutes. I’ll ask YouTube how to fix something before I’ll ask one of my handy friends. And I seem to need to go through difficult situations on my own to learn life lessons someone around me could have just taught me had I been vulnerable enough to ask.
So, lately God’s been talking to me about his plans for community. And oddly enough, he’s been speaking to me through an old Trappist monk by the name of Thomas Merton.
Merton’s writings have always been a refuge for me, especially given my introversion. He’s written books such as, Thoughts in Solitude, Contemplative Prayer, New Seeds of Contemplation, etc. Right up my alley. But in New Seeds of Contemplation he is taking a frustratingly large amount of time to talk about our need for both solitude and community—that one requires the other. While I’m looking to be encouraged to spend more time alone, he’s telling me things like:
“One of the paradoxes of the mystical life is this: that a man cannot enter into the deepest center of himself and pass through that center into God, unless he is able to pass entirely out of himself and empty himself and give himself to other people in the purity of a selfless love.”
C’mon Thomas. I feel like I ordered a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone from Baskin Robbins, and they handed me a head of lettuce. But maybe he’s got a point. I mean the Bible does say things like:
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:8-10).
So in all of it here’s what I know—I know I need to start giving myself to others more. God isn’t looking to tell me right now all the wonderful things he has in store for me through community. He’s asking me to be obedient to his word. With him, the challenging work of obedience comes before experiencing the good fruit. May we give of ourselves to others the way that Jesus did, wholly and sacrificially. He who was perfect didn’t despise the imperfect, but instead washed their feet. He who knew every sin and understood the price he would have to pay for them all spent so much of his time enjoying those closest to him.
May we have the courage to be like Jesus and trust God with our time and hearts as we respond obediently to our need for community.