Last night was another wonderful night of studying the Bible with a small group of friends from our church. As always, the evening was made even better by the presence of our children amidst us. No childcare needed - just a group of people who occasionally glance down to smile at the children playing at our feet. Every time we get there, the boy and his friend start squealing and jumping up and down before grabbing hands and running off to play with her toys or chase each other around the house. As we start our prayer and study, the kids quiet down (as quiet as a couple of toddlers can be, anyway!) and the babies sit on their mama's laps or nurse at their mama's breasts.
We're quite the collection - a few couples of various ages and several single university and seminary students. It's not a "mom's group" or a "couple's group" or a "college group" or a "parents' group", and yet no one frowns at the giggling children or asks the nursing mothers to cover up or leave the room. (How will breastfeeding ever become the norm in our society again if we continue to hide away in bathrooms, spare rooms, or vehicles whenever our babies need to nurse, as though we're performing some "necessary evil" in feeding our children, something shameful, something indecent, something to be covered up? Society needs to see breastfeeding mothers doing just that - breastfeeding!) It is so encouraging as a mother to be openly welcomed into a beautifully mixed group of people, and to have my children welcomed along with me.
This is what we have been searching for - a community that we can be a part of. People bound not by some common age or stage in life, but rather people of all ages and stages bound by love for each other and love for our Saviour. People who can be honest and real with each other, cry in front of each other, share our struggles and joys and triumphs with each other, learn from each other, and pray for each other.
I'm not an outgoing person. I'm an introvert, and painfully shy on top of that. I'm pretty happy to sit at home all day - but I know this is not how we were designed to live. We were designed to live in community. Community, though, is no longer easy to come by. Raised from birth to be "independent", we have become a society of individuals who pride themselves on relying on no one but themselves.
How's that working out for us? Not so well, I'd venture to say. Staggering divorce rates suggest a distinct lack of healthy married role models. Youth seek connection in sexual relationships before they've even reached double digit ages. Mothers are so overwhelmed by raising children without support that they resort to leaving their babies to cry because they just can't handle it anymore. Increasing rates of post-partum depression further decry this isolation. We were not made to do it all on our own!
Where are the older married couples to guide and encourage the younger? Where are the close family relationships that meet a child's need for connection? Where are the sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and friends to help the overwhelmed mother with the tasks of raising her children and running her household? I want these things for my children. I need these things for myself!
And so, homebody that I am, I seek community. I seek it for myself, I seek it for my marriage, I seek it for my children. And in this jumbled collection of Christ-followers, I have found it - community, in all it's raw and heartfelt beauty.
I have found it elsewhere, too. Online communities, like the wonderful ladies at Gentle Christian Mothers, have helped me through these early years of motherhood. A smaller online community that I have been a part of for the past few years, consisting of beautiful ladies like Melody, Adrian, and Nicole, has provided friendship, accountability, prayer support, challenging discussions, and a deeper study of God's Word. Blogs and message boards have allowed me to keep in touch with friends I've moved away from (like the lovely Trace), form new friendships (like the inspiring Karyn), and delve into a wealth of information (like the infamous Annie of PhD in Parenting).
Finally, far-flung though they may be, we seek community in our extended family. We may no longer have the multi-generational family under one roof, as was (wisely, I think) done in the past, but we can maintain those important connections despite the distance that separates us.
It may not be as easy to find community as it once was, but it is no less important - perhaps moreso, even, in the society we have become. Intentional community requires deliberate action, time, effort, vulnerability, honesty, and grace.
And for some of us, it means putting aside our introvert ways and pushing through our shyness to reach out to others - for the sake of ourselves, our families, our children, and our society.