Last night we said goodbye to Sandra, our dear nanny who has lived with us and loved our children alongside us this past year. Our house was filled with all the smells of Sandra’s favorite foods, all the sounds of a lively party, plus all the emotions of goodbye.
I loved the entire evening. From preparing food together, to the kids playing inside and out, the hugs and gifts and prayers and tears – my heart was full. It felt like a little taste of heaven to me, with so much love in the air it was palpable. One of the reasons I savored the night was because it was all face to face and heart to heart. So much of my life is lived in logistics-land where schedules and plans and lists seem to dominate. But last night, there were no screens or texts or typing. There was no voice coming through a device with no face, and no Facetime simulation of real life. No, it was the real deal. People who love Sandra gathered to express it in person.
There is no replacing in-person. I’m grateful for all the virtual ways we can keep connected to one another from afar, but there is just no replacing in-person, shared space, eyeball to eyeball time.
And here is a little secret: No one else can build this for you. You must show up in your real body with all its insecurities and accomplishments. You’ll have to get your skin in the game of messy, imperfect, sometimes boring, often impractical, inconvenient, unproductive and surprising relationships. From time to time I hear people complain that “the church” just isn’t building a strong enough community for them. And while I’m always open to the ways we can improve, my heart and my life tell me that no organization can do this work for you. You must cultivate it – like a garden. You will have to be the one to plant seeds of friendship, and water them, and pull up the weeds. A church can point the way towards deep spiritual community by offering environments like small groups, and creating shared experiences together – but all of these things only serve as a signpost – an arrow – that points the way. The church programs are just arrows pointing towards spiritual friendship, they cannot replace it. Spiritual friendships are only fostered face to face and heart to heart. A church can point towards deep community, but it cannot create it for someone. An organization and its leaders can seek to model and build and value spiritual friendships, but they can never be a substitute for someone showing up and doing this work themselves. If you’re going to know true community, you have to commit yourself to some relationships long past the point where you find yourself saying of those relationships, “they just don’t work for me anymore.” You’ll have to get disappointed, work through that, and stay. If you want to experience friendship, community, and love you’ll have to show up, over and over again and sometimes, when you’re least expecting it, you just might bump into a little bit of heaven here on earth – where Christ himself is present in the bread and in the wine and in the going away party for your friend.