A Loving Community

July 15, 2015 | Abbie Walker

You don’t realize how important, how vital, the community you have is until it’s gone.

That’s how I felt when I first arrived at the Grand Canyon North Rim. I felt like my foundation had been ripped away. I didn’t understand how much I depended on the support and encouragement—simply the presence—of my friends and family. When all that was suddenly taken away, when I stepped out into a new, very remote place with people I didn’t know, it all became much scarier than I ever anticipated. In fact, the first couple of weeks, I was overcome by a spirit of loneliness, sinking in a pity party of not having community—or at least not the community I wanted. It’s hard to be joyful when you don’t have a core group of friends to hang out with (even if you are in a beautiful national park). We all need someone to encourage us.

I prayed and prayed with tears those first couple of weeks for the Lord to answer my need for people. And He did so, but not completely in the way I was expecting.

I found myself getting caught up in the differences between me and those working at the North Rim. I took in the people whose lifestyles are almost opposite of mine, of people that I wouldn’t consider “godly friend material,” and I felt hopeless to be able to do what I had been called to do this summer. But then the Lord began to reveal to me what it looks like to really love people.

I never realized how legalistic and judgmental I had become in my thinking until I got here. How in the church we are told to love people, but we really separate them from ourselves because of their lifestyles and their differences. We try to love them from a distance. We pray for them but don’t want to invest and get personal because we are afraid of them. Their lives are messy and they might make us messy as well.

But that’s not how Jesus works. He gets right into the heart of things. He squeezes onto the benches with sinners so that His shoulders and knees touch theirs. He gives them hugs so tight He can’t help but smell and feel their pain. He kisses them on the cheek and looks into their eyes and says, “I know you and I love you.”

It’s hard to find good Christian community here (or anywhere for that matter). There’s no denying that. I feel like the rare Christians that are here are coming together. We have been testing each other out and are relieved when we meet other believers. I’m blessed by the conversations that I’ve already had with coworkers about the Lord, by the fact that we are in the process of putting together a Bible study, for the community that the Lord is slowly forming for me.

But God is teaching me about loving the “unlovables,” about being intentional with people. Meeting them where they’re at. Getting to know their stories. Loving them as human beings. Seeing them as Jesus sees them. God has been intentional with me. He’s shown Himself in gorgeous views and the sounds of nature, in Chinese women who give me origami flowers and cowboys with banjos who offer encouraging words. In those first weeks of loneliness, the Lord showed me how much He loves me. He speaks to me in a secret language of our friendship. He’s teaching me what it looks like to love through Him loving me.

It took me being intentional to start forming community. I had to be the one to initiate conversations, to invite coworkers on trips, to share my heart with my roommates. It all began to fall into place the moment I let God be the one to control the situation. When I said, “Lord, you direct and form my community. In the meantime, I will simply love people.”

Maybe you’re in a place this summer where you feel like you don’t have community. Maybe you feel lonely. Maybe it’s been really hard for you to love people. I’ve been there, but don’t give up. If you ask for it, the Lord will give it to you. Look for ways that God is trying to communicate His love for you. It’s constant. Be open for Him to show you how much He cares for you. Only then will you be able to feel connected and be able to pour out that love to others.

Everyone is simply searching for love, and many times it’s in the wrong places. They try to numb that hole in their heart with drugs, alcohol, sex, or drama. But everybody we meet has been hurt or is hurting. People need Jesus. Not the overly-religious who come in and try to change people. They need the love of Jesus Christ. They need people to get to know them and simply show that they are valued.

If nothing else, I’ve learned this truth—Jesus has been intentional in loving us. Let’s strive to do the same and be intentional with others. Sometimes the people we least expect become a valuable part of our community.

"It was a great challenge and stretching experience to learn how to lead and equip others for ministry, not being over-controlling or non-present. In the seminary context, I hope to talk through some of these learning and challenging experiences with my professors."
– Jonathan, Calvin Theological Seminary 2011

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