My birthday is this week, Friday July 24. I tend to use my birthday as an excuse, maybe even an entitlement, to try and get some social attention. This coming weekend, I’m trying a rouse I used a few years ago: an all day open house celebration, where people can stop by at any time during the day and visit. This method has 2 main advantages; people can come by at whatever time they are free, instead of only getting visitors who happen to be free at the specific time I set…and it sort of creates a smaller, more intimate situation for me to be able to visit without feeling overwhelmed by having too many people at the same time…oh yeah, and I get to celebrate myself ALL DAY LONG.
I’m sorta poking fun at my ‘rouse’ here, but in all seriousness, I’ve come to the point where what I really want for my birthday is community. A few years ago, I came to the realization that I’m actually an extrovert, when I had always assumed I was an introvert because I’m a quiet, shy, timid type. But, I realized that I really need social interaction to feel energized, motivated, and just generally emotionally ‘healthy’. Unfortunately, I kinda came to that realization as I was noticing that my sense of social interaction and community was declining. It just seems that as I’ve grown up and become an adult, deep, intimate community has become harder to maintain. Time seems to go by so briskly, and it seems harder and harder to find time to get together with the people I care about.
As I was growing up, my church congregation was our community. Between 3 church services a week, regular cleaning/work days, going camping together, lots of late night card games and just general socializing/fellowship, we truly were a church family. As I got involved in youth group, that became my own community…not just my church’s youth group, but also being involved with my school friends’ youth group, and several churches networking our youth groups for a larger community.
In college, my community expanded more outside of my church congregation to include my fellow college students, and especially other musicians. At that point I became much less involved in my specific church congregation, but I considered my personal ‘church’ to be beyond that specific congregation and building. I was a part of a strong community of believers that helped to nurture my growth and provided plenty of spiritual fellowship and collective worship, even if we didn’t attend the same building every Sunday. But after getting married, that community seemed to dissipate. College friends moved away, musician friends got busier, and we all were growing up, starting families, and had less room in our lives for greater community.
In some ways, it seems that the more we focus on family, the more our sense of community suffers. We turn so much of our passion and effort inward on these small family units. Which is good for the sake of family, but I think we are missing out on a need for greater community and the way The Church should function collectively. It seems we reach a point where we just don’t want to be bothered to leave the comfort of our own home; like it’s too much of a hassle to get the kids out or we are just too tired after a day’s work. (I don’t have kids of my own, but I’m certainly guilty of the latter) In fact, I think that the reason why we are so enamored with social media, is because it’s the closest thing we can have to a sense of community without having to leave home. But the problem with that comes when we are more loyal to our ideologies than to a sense of community, we are able to hide behind the anonymity of the internet, and we segregate ourselves according to our ideologies, instead of challenging ourselves with the compromise and compassion that real community and fellowship require.
Sure, we are willing to form some communities based on our polarizing points of view. The idea that “it takes a village to raise a child” is restricted to a village that is so like minded that my ideals never have to be challenged, and we think we have to “protect” our family from anything that is too far outside of that ideology and point of view. Often, the focus of these small, limited communities is so egocentric and paranoid, that we end up leaving out and marginalizing the very people that need The Church and our Christ-like sense of community the most.
In recent years, I have tried to get more involved in our church congregation, but things are much different than they were when I was growing up. There is almost no willingness for significant commitment in church goers these days. Everyone is just too busy to put any effort into consistent community and service. We all want to sit around and complain about how the church isn’t meeting certain needs, but none of us is willing to put in the effort to actually meet those needs ourselves. And even if we see an area that we can serve in the church, we don’t want it to be too time consuming or be expected to be there every time. I know there is a lot more I can do to get involved, and I’m looking for how God wants me more involved, but the more I try and invest my efforts into church functions, the more discouraged and frustrated I get with trying to find others to be committed and involved. The sense of community is so sporadic and inconsistent. Even when we have tried to form strong bonds of fellowship and accountability, they seem weak, and laziness and forgetfulness seem to break them quickly.
So, it’s often easy to feel like I’m lost in a community no-man’s-land. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get back a more solid sense of community over the past few years. For a while, I found myself frustrated at other people. I got frustrated at our friends that had become parents, because it felt like our lack of parenthood made it hard to relate to our parent friends, and left us out of the circles we had once been a part of. So, we ended up hanging out with younger couples, who didn’t have children yet. And then when those couples started having kids, we had to go back to the pool of ‘early 20’s’ couples and try to catch them before the child rearing set in. But they all end up having kids at some point. So…maybe the issue isn’t with the parents after all? Maybe we’re the ones that are hard to relate to, since we haven’t had to ‘grow up’ and become parents ourselves.
At some point, I did start to recognize that I probably don’t make it easy for our friends. Like I said earlier, my tendency is to be a quiet, reserved, timid, sorta guy. As I’ve been struggling to regain a sense of community, I’ve found myself hesitant to reach out too much, to make it a point to engage with others. My reason for hesitating, is because I don’t want to come off as a bother or nuisance to people that are busy. And I definitely don’t want to be an annoyance. My overly self-conscious tendencies make me paranoid that people don’t really want to be around me as much as I want to hang out with them. So I try to limit how often or pressuring I am in reaching out and inviting/requesting interaction. Sometimes, I find myself specifically needy for social activity/community, but I’m afraid that neediness will be too obvious and a real turn off to anyone I’m hoping to interact with. So, I do realize those tendencies often make me the one who isn’t willing to reach out, just expecting others to do the reaching and contacting.
Another complication to the search for community, is trying to find the balance with a wife who has different social needs than I do. As it turns out, the two of us are pretty much polar opposites; she being a more outgoing introvert to my timid extroversion. Being that her job is rooted in social interaction and serving others, she needs a lot of ‘down time’ while I need the social interaction, (especially considering I’m currently unemployed and spending a lot of time alone at home.) If I had my way, we’d be out almost every night, and deeply involved in fellowship and community, while she tends more toward being a bit of a homebody. Over the years, we’ve worked things out fairly well, to find balance and peace between our different needs, but it can certainly be a challenge. Plus, being so shy, timid, and socially awkward myself, I sorta rely on having her to help me feel comfortable and confident in social settings; so it’s not exactly easy for me to go out without her, in order to meet my social needs while giving her the down time and relaxing at home opportunity she needs.
Like I said earlier, it seems like time moves so fast, and no matter how much we intend to maintain regularly scheduled visits and fellowship, it seems impossible to keep it up. Anytime we do work things out to get together with some friends, we always swear that we’re going to be better about getting together sooner and more frequently. But then, six months to a year or more later, we find ourselves reminded and realizing how long it’s been since we contacted and made arrangements with those friends. Man…it just seems like life is so busy these days, and we have a hard time making time to connect regularly. But it’s ridiculous, because to really examine our lives and what our schedules actually look like, things aren’t that busy at all…but it seems like we’re always needing time to rest and recover from ‘life’, and meanwhile ‘life’ just keeps slipping by so quickly while we try and keep up.
So yeah, when it comes time for my birthday, I just want to use it as an excuse to get together with friends. It’s not so much that I want all the attention on me, or that I expect people to celebrate me. It’s just that I want community and interaction. I want deep conversation and intimate friendship. I have come to really appreciate my Facebook community, and sometimes I can become a little obsessed and consumed with keeping up and interacting/responding with people there…to the point of neglecting my wife and ‘real life’ interactions at times. I’m not sure how to increase my sense of community at this point. And, maybe I’m the only one struggling with this lack of community. Maybe others are very comfortable and healthy in their communities. But I know I’m hoping for more…and I’m hoping that my birthday get together can help strengthen what community I have.