I am twelve days away from graduation, and it’s starting to feel extremely nostalgic. Who I was four years ago is completely different from who I am today. It’s hard to even compare who I am to who I was, for God has done a great work in me; I’m sure that I will continue changing and perfecting in my sainthood as a disciple.
When I think my last four years at Southwest Baptist University, it’s crazy to see the way my life has gradually formed. I have had so many groups of friends over the past few years, but my relationships with everybody have changed as we’ve grown. This isn’t a bad thing; for I have learned what it looks like to live in community with people without seeing them every day. This is one of the greatest lessons I have learned: community.
Growing up, I was drawn to the church because of community. There was something about church that drew me to it, and I always assumed that it was “love” that I didn’t get at home. I got love at home, but it was different at church. This is probably the reason I loved youth group so much when I got to high school; I grew a family that I did everything with and that I sacrificed other things for because I believed in the group as a whole.
So college has affirmed these things and caused a paradigm shift in what church, community, and even my relationship with God look like. I used to think that my relationship with God was “just between Him and me,” but I’m beginning to understand that this relationship is more about God and His Church. I am important, and have individual value in His ideas; yet there is something more than the individuality that my culture has emphasized so greatly. Worshipping God is about more than prayer, song, and reading the Bible; it can also include fellowship (and I’m not talking just potlucks). Spending time edifying the church is an act of worship that is something I enjoy so much. Sometimes we picture eternity and think, “Well what are we going to do all day?” The Bible mentions that we will be worshipping God all day. Our immediate thought (if we are really honest with ourselves) is, “We’re going to be singing all day? That doesn’t sound like too much fun.” But worshipping God is more than just singing; it’s a communal act of just being His Church and giving Him glory.
So what does this perfected community, the Church, look like? The Church is a community of broken people who exist to interact with their Creator…and with each other. Our love for the individuals of the community is not based on conditions; this is something that I have heard but haven’t really seen in practice. I have a dear friend who is the biggest gossip I know; she says the most awful things about the people close to her. So many times I have wanted to give up and not be her friend any more, and then I realize that I can’t cut her off just because she’s sick in sin. In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells a hilarious analogy of members of a body telling other members that they don’t need each other; if my foot had has a charley horse, should I just cut the thing off? If my throat is sore, do I rip it out? The Body of Christ is full of sick body parts; to cut members off because they have sin wouldn’t be beneficial for the body. And I think about how irrational, arrogant, and impractical I have been to members of this Body; I have been thankful that people haven’t decided they didn’t need me when I wasn’t working the way that I needed to be working. The Church helps each other through sin with humility, and is direct and truthful at all times. The Church is also gracious, just as Christ was gracious. And even when the community can’t get together as much as it desires, love for each other does not change even when the conditions do.
I keep that last thought in mind as I move four hours away. Going to a Christian University is a unique opportunity; college is a time of “finding yourself,” but at a Christian college it’s more about finding out who God is and how that shapes your identity. I have lived the past four years in community with people my own age, and it’s becoming the time for me to learn what it’s like to live in community when dispersed throughout the rest of the world. I can imagine how freaked-out Jesus’ disciples were; they were with him, learning for three years. Then Jesus left, and told them to get out there and do what He did. Uh, what Jesus? I’m not ready for this. I haven’t learned enough. I need you to hold my hand and show me how to do this right. But Jesus left us His Holy Spirit to live inside the community so that we don’t have to do this alone. So even though I might live in a different community, and learn how to do community with them, the Church hasn’t changed, and my community with those I’m leaving behind isn’t changing even though conditions are.