Life together is more than just getting together as a small group. It's more than a meeting. It's about the way we relate to one another in community. It's about the way we belong to each other.
People long to belong somewhere. All of us have an inner sense that we are wired to relate. It’s part of the DNA of being human. However, many relate through clinging to each other because they are driven out of a condition of loneliness. They are compelled to interact with others in a way that pulls us in directly to one another. In other words, we relate in a way that puts pressure on others to fill our emptiness, to be for us what we have not been able to be in and of ourselves. Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
“Friendship and love cannot develop in the form of anxious clinging to each other. … As long as our loneliness brings us together with the hope that together we no longer will be alone, we castigate each other with our unfulfilled and unrealistic desires for oneness, inner tranquility and uninterrupted experience of communion.” (Reaching Out, 19)
When we cling we assume that this is the way our needs will be met. It's like a leach who needs to get fed. And those who serve as the hosts assume that there job is to meet those needs. This is relating directly. Connecting groups fall into this trap because the only thing that group members see is other people, so they try and move forward as a group by trying to cling to one another.
When groups gather, the
natural assumption is to think that we all need to walk in a full embrace. We mistaken uniformity for unity. We connect by
trying to meld into one another. I remember in one of my first small
groups, I assumed that I had to think and act just like my leader. He
was intense, prayed a ton, and it seemed like every waking through had
something to do with God. Honestly, I did not want to act like him, but
someone I assumed that this is what community meant.
But the most direct way of ministering to another does not follow this pattern. Life together occurs in the space between one another. That is the space where Christ exists. The most direct path to ministry is the indirect one, through Christ. The only way to relate well is for each to cling to Christ, the one who lives in the space between us.
This means that those in need come to the group expecting to have their eyes pointed back to Christ. And those who are strong are only strong because they have the ability to point others to Christ. Communion with Christ is the heart of life together. If we don't have this, all we have is one another, and that just won't do. The journey of life together is one of walking beside one another with Christ standing between each other. As we walk, Christ at times draws us in and then at other times he slides us apart. Life together is both breathing in as Christ pulls us in and then breathing out as Christ gives us space between.