Every summer, I find myself marking time. It’s the time all my regular activities take a recess for some R&R. I’m a creature of habit and routine, and while it’s nice to have the freedom and fluidity in my schedule for a while, I find myself genuinely longing to go back to that structure. I crave regularly meeting with my community.
I would consider myself a better than average person at self-discipline. I get up early and have a quiet time with the Lord and actively attempt to seek Him. I regulate my calorie, caffeine, and alcohol intake. I work out regularly. I complete my task lists and try not to have too much screen time for myself or my kids. But my will is not strong enough to do this long-term. Pretty soon this structure and routine becomes habit. It’s a box to check off. It’s a gold star on my chart (and for what?).
At first, it may seem like we can flourish, thrive, and grow better on our own – or even (to sound holy) “just” with God. After all, I have my own problems to deal with, my own schedule to maintain, my own ideas about how to best accomplish things. Adding others into the mix does just that…adds on. But we weren’t created to do life by ourselves. We were made to be in relationships (Genesis 2:18). We were made to be known (John 10:27).
When I lived in Austin, I had a discipleship relationship with a fellow blogger, Natalie Mayo. We met about once a week, and I knew she was always going to ask me the question: So what is God teaching you this week? There were times, I was in my car driving to the coffee shop or park where we’d meet, and I’d be frantically trying to come up with an answer to the question I knew she’d inevitably ask. Even though I had been having regular quiet times with the Lord, I’d be thinking: Holy cow, what is God teaching me? I mean, I’m reading [insert Scripture here] so I must be learning [broad theme about that Scripture]. Is God even teaching me something out of what I’m reading every day or is He teaching me something in my circumstances? Is there a sin He’s trying to show me that I need to address? How am I going to answer this question?
Sometimes I would leave our time together affirmed and encouraged in my spiritual walk. Other times, I’d leave, and upon reflection think, “Wait a second, she was rebuking me!” She had done it from such a place of love and respect, I felt safe – so safe, the rebuke didn’t inspire defensiveness or justification. It inspired a genuine call to repentance and growth; I didn’t feel rebuked. Always, I would leave with a full cup. (1 John 4:12)
When we’d meet, I’d often see aspects of God I would miss out on had I been content doing life by myself. Even though Natalie and I are both 30-something, college-educated, married, stay-at-home moms, that doesn’t mean she sees the same parts of God I do. Look, friends, God is a big God. He’s too big – in a good way! I love the way John talks about Jesus, and I think the sentiment is appropriate in all aspects of God and His character: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25, CSB)
Even though, yes, I would be regularly coming to the Lord, I often needed Natalie to hold me accountable for things happening in my life. I needed the insight of someone who knew me and loved me still – who could see my blindspots and lovingly encourage me to address them (James 5:16). I needed her to share with me parts of God He wasn’t showing me. And she needed the same from me! (Proverbs 27:17)
When I find myself marking time and stagnant in spiritual growth, the first question I have to ask myself is: have I been spending time with other believers?
Don’t worry! Since moving to California, I have found another handful of women with whom I can do life. In fact, when I first moved, finding a community of believers was number one on my family’s list of “to-dos.” When our regular meeting times are suspended for a time, I can feel it in my walk with Jesus. This summer was hard. And I admit, I went through the motions. I met up with women every once in a while, but I marked time. I did not grow. Now that the fall has returned, and our intentional meeting times have resumed, I can feel my soul stirring. The dry dirt of my heart is eager for the irrigation of community.
In community, we spur one another on (Hebrews 10:24-25), carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and remind each other of our identities (1 Peter 2:9). We have fun and laugh, we mourn and cry, we rejoice and celebrate, sit still, pray, and listen. We show each other Jesus. We have strength (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Sure, it requires vulnerability and exposure and the potential for hurt, but in it, we grow and we’re given life.