I'm an introvert, but I love people, and I'm looking forward to special times during the holidays with family and friends. But I know I'll also need some alone time with God to refuel. Too much time with people over a short time wears me out. That's how God wired me, and all you other introverts too. My mother was an introvert who ultimately lived as a recluse. I don't want to turn out like that. So I've been pondering ways to make sure I keep community central to life. Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert we all need authentic community and the holidays provide wonderful opportunities to connect.
Many of us are individualists. We don't mean to be–it's just the American way. We are taught not to depend on others. That real maturity is taking care of yourself and not relying on anyone else for help. That the real heroes are the ones who pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But that's not a biblical idea. God wants us to discover, grow and thrive together. How do we do that?
One way is to consider the character of the Triune God. The Trinity is foundational to community. Why? Because God models community for us. He exists as Trinity. God is Three in One. He is a community. He has been since before creation and He will be when this world ceases to exist as it is now. This truth expresses His high value for connection. He did not have to be Three; in fact, His existence as Three in One has caused us problems. Theologians have scratched their heads for centuries trying to explain this mystery. Foes use this truth to argue that Christianity is really polytheistic. But God doesn't care. His existence as Trinity expresses the high value God places on community. Maybe we should place a higher value on it than we do? Why don't we? One reason is because. as I said, the higher value in western thinking is individualism, not community. Yet, about 44% of the New Testament letters teach us how we to get along with one another. "One another" statements occur 59 times as commands in the Bible, love one another, accept one another, be devoted to one another, live in harmony with one another, build up one another, care for one another, be patient with one another, list goes on.
The two greatest commandments, on which, according to Jesus, all others depend are found in Mt. 22: 37: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…and love your neighbor as yourself. Relationships are a High Value to God! He models this for us in authentic Trinitarian community! Yet many churches are strong on teaching, and they should be, but weak on community. We need both.
I like Andrew Kirk's definition of the church: What the New Testament means by the church is not an institution which owns property, performs rites and organizes meetings, or even one that plans strategies to evangelize unreached people. Rather, it is a group of ordinary people who, because they are experiencing the immense grace of a compassionate God, are learning how to overcome hostility between people, forgive and trust one another, share what they have, and encourage one another in wholesome and joyous relationships.
Yet ours is a community-starved world. Today there are over fifty "hot spots" of ethnic conflict in the world. The search for Trinitarian community is our culture's deepest longing and the Christian faith's greatest promise. But a reality for too few of us. And there are so many benefits:
Here's one worth thinking about: We would be healthier. According to the head of psychiatry at Stanford, one of the best things a man can do for his health is to marry a woman. One of the best things a woman can do for her health is to nurture relationships with girlfriends. He contends that quality "girlfriend time" combats depression in women and that its just as good for our health as jogging or working out at a gym. He says, "There is a tendency to think that when we are "exercising" we are doing something good for our bodies, but when we are with friends we are wasting time and should be more productively engaged–not true. Failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!"
So here's a calling for all you extroverts out there. Take advantage of the holidays to spend quality time with people. Invite some of us introverts to lunch or coffee. We want to join you. We just need encouragement. Then maybe we will get better at taking the initiative ourselves. We all yearn for and need authentic community, and through Christ it can happen!