We need community, but community isn’t easy. And it isn’t easy mostly because there are people in community, and people have a way of being predictably and messily human. Some of the people in community with us have strange ideas and unreasonable expectations. Some have big egos neatly disguised as devoted and sacrificial servants. Some have weak egos brashly masquerading as know-it-alls. Some are Republicans. There are people that you’d never spend time with if you had the choice. There are people who listen to Rush Limbaugh, and there are people who listen to NPR. Some are Democrats. There are children, and you’ve raised yours. There are people who remind you of your mother and father, and you’ve moved away from yours. Do we really need these people? Do they really need us?
A wise older woman said that one of the reasons she was committed to the church, despite all its flaws, was that God uses the church to “frustrate us into holiness.” We have different views, competing needs, and diverse desires. We bump into each other, and hurt each other’s feelings. We disappoint one another and let each other down. When these things happen, we have a choice: we can use these experiences to learn more about love—love under pressure, love when it is hard, love for those who seem to be our enemies—or we can use them as excuses for turning away from one another and turning our backs on community.
But, the difficult people, if we can learn to love them and to accept without defensiveness the challenge they represent to us, may teach us more about grace—about how God has accepted us in spite of ourselves—than anyone else. They are the people who will push us and prod us to be sure we know what we think and why. They might a kind of emotional sand-paper to smooth-out our rough edges. We need even the difficult ones; and I remind myself that I am sometimes the difficult one for someone else!
Parker Palmer wrote:
Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives . . . and when that person moves away someone arises to take his or her place! . . . If we cannot learn to value such experience, we will abandon community. And why value it? Because such experience reveals the truth about ourselves and others, the truth about our need for God. Only by being schooled in such truth will we be able to live together. Community always contains the person you least want to live with, because there will always be someone who draws out the quality you least like in yourself. The external stranger reminds us of the inner stranger whom we do not want to acknowledge or confront. It is a painful experience, but only as this darkness is “educated” out of us will we be prepared for life together [The Company of Strangers. NY: Crossroad, 1986, pp. 124-125].