Friday, September 9, 2011

reaching in or reaching out: who, exactly, are we serving?

Alright, so I've been living in intentional community for the last four months, and here's the big realization I've come to:  intentional community is not so much about the community outside as it is about the community inside.

Let me unpack that statement a bit.  I don't know if you know anyone (besides me) who lives in intentional community (or who wants to live in intentional community), but if you ask them why, they usually say something along the lines of, "I want to live intentionally with others while reaching out to and serving our neighborhood."  Sure, there's something about building relationships inside the home, but there's always the intended focus of serving the neighborhood.

There are two problems with that expectation.  One:  it's too vague.  Reach out how?  Serve how?  What does that even mean?  Two:  if you spend so much energy focusing on "what we can do for the neighborhood," you lose focus on how much work (ie. serving) needs to be done inside your own home.  It seems to me to be a mistake to jump outside too soon.  Work on your own home first.

And the reality is, it's probably unavoidable.  Because if you're living intentionally, you have to spend a lot of energy communicating and working through different issues.  Sometimes they're mundane ("Who's doing the dishes?") and sometimes they're fairly serious ("Why did she leave that conversation crying?").  If you're just living in the same house with people (ie. roommates), you can sort of ignore these issues, let them boil over time, and hold grudges.  But not in intentional community.  That's the whole point.  We're intentionally living together -- growing each other and growing ourselves.

And let me tell you something: growth spurts are not easy.  Take my two-month-old-daughter, for instance.  Wait, wait -- let's get a good picture in our minds...

(That's right.  I get to wake up to this smile every. single. morning.  Jealous?)

Babies go through growth spurts around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and so on.  If you've never had a baby, growth spurts look something like this:  all of a sudden, baby is ravenous and cranky and wants to eat every hour. Baby doesn't sleep well and fusses and is working around the clock to get your attention (WHY ARE YOU GETTING DRESSED?  WHY ARE YOU LEAVING MY SIGHT??  WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING???  YOU SHOULD BE FEEDING ME!).  It's frantic.  And it's exhausting.  At the end of a growth spurt, baby (and mommy, probably) ends up sleeping and sleeping and sleeping.

Moral:  it takes a lot of energy to grow.

So, if you're growing inside the community, you might not (initially) have a lot of energy to give outside.  And that's okay.  Maybe it takes a good year (or two or three) to grow as a little makeshift family unit before you're ready to move out into the neighborhood.  That doesn't mean you have to avoid neighbors, it just means you'll have to ease up on your expectations.  Just get to know them the way everyone else does -- by stooping, by saying hello, by asking what's wrong with their car or how they fared the recent earthquake/hurricane/insert-your-own-natural-disaster-here.  And you know what?  That's more genuine anyways.  If you're so busy looking to serve, people may get suspicious (and maybe they should).  Get to know your neighbors bit by bit, and focus inside.

And that's my two cents for the day.
G'night, Gracie.

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