Community means caring: caring for people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: “He who loves community destroys community; he who loves the brethren builds community.” A community is not an abstract ideal. We are not striving for perfect community. Community is not an ideal; it is people. It is you and I. In community we are called to love people just as they are with their wounds and their gifts, not as we would want them to be. Community means giving them space, helping them to grow. It means also receiving from them so that we too can grow. It is giving each other freedom; it is giving each other trust; it is confirming but also challenging each other. We give dignity to each other by the way we listen to each other, in a spirit of trust and of dying to oneself so that the other may live, grow and give.
- Jean Vanier, From Brokeness to Community, pp 35-36
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German theologian, pastor, preacher, radio broadcaster, and prolific writer in the 1930s and early-1940s.
I am 38-years-old and I live with my mom and dad …I mean we live with my mom and dad: my husband, our four children and I. This unusual, for this day and age, arrangement was not stumbled into out of necessity but rather rigorously thought through and carefully planned out. We’ve combined our resources, finished our basement, and committed to helping one another as our kids grow, and as my parents age with dignity in the house they know and love. Oh, and my brother and his family live right around the corner.
“I can’t imagine,” I’ve been told, repeatedly, “spending that much time with my family.” People wince when I even mention it, picturing decades worth of childhood baggage all out there and open, complicating every interaction entered into from morning till night. And I admit, this might have been a more difficult transition in my twenties when I was very sensitive about having my decisions questioned, assuming the worst about innocent comments and keeping my “new mom,” “new wife,” “new adult” guard always up and ready for an attack. But I’m older now, and a lot more comfortable in my own skin.
This is not to say there wasn’t an adjustment period to get through; living with family is a whole lot different than visiting with them. Open and honest communication is absolutely essential for sharing a home. There is no room for grudge holding or passive-aggessiveness. On the other side of working through the initial kinks, however, lay a comfortable rhythm as we learn what it takes to make this particular household run smoothly and each participate in that process by applying our unique gifts and considering our different schedules. We’ve carved out areas within our house for needed privacy and downtime.
I have treasured the special relationships I’ve developed with my brother’s girls, and the powerful bonds my own kids have forged with their cousins as they float freely between our house and their house, feeling at home and unconditionally loved in each. We’ve built a rock solid support base for the children, and for each other, in which our values and beliefs are shared, validated, and celebrated. We gladly receive guests into our lives, as often as possible, again making use of our distinct strengths (and square footage) when it comes to hospitality. My brother and his wife have extra bedrooms. We have the larger kitchen. My sister-in-law, Paige, is an excellent baker and delights in pouring loveliness into even the smallest of welcoming gestures, my mother a meticulous housekeeper and detail manager enabling our home to be ready at all times for impromptu visitors and maintaining order and calm for us. I’m good at following directions and delight in conversation and fellowship.
Living in community has demanded a lot from me. I can’t just think about myself anymore; I am but part of a whole. My actions, or lack thereof, effect everyone. I’ve had to work harder at guarding my tongue, letting go of sweating the small stuff, and habitually giving others the benefit of the doubt. Living in community is teaching me discipline, self-control, empathy, humility, and gifting all of us involved with a fortifying sense of rootedness.
Community living is most definitely not for everyone, nor a venture to be undertaken lightly. But I’m here to tell you neither is it impossible, outlandish, backward, a really harebrained idea. We’ve leapt outside the box and not only have I lived to tell about it, but I am thankful. Being available to care for my parents when they one day need our assistance, and receiving so much physical, emotional, and spiritual support from them now is …beautiful. We’re prayerfully taking it one day at a time – serving one another, forgiving one another, and learning more about ourselves as we go.
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