I must confess from the very beginning that community is not one of my strengths. Writing and reading are both solitary practices, and with the amount of time I spend doing both, I find myself becoming increasingly introverted. It is far easier for me to sit behind a keyboard and tell people everything I think rather than to go out and do it, and of course practicing our faith is much more important than talking about it.
As the book of James puts it in Chapter 2, verses 14-17,
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Obviously the Bible puts a premium on spreading God’s love and being “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) And, as good as spreading the Gospel is, the Bible clearly calls us to go a step further. Our lives on earth are difficult; that’s a promise (John 16:33). So, it is our responsibility to lessen our neighbors’ burdens. A word of encouragement certainly helps, but so does bringing someone a meal when they’re sick, or taking a friend out to dinner when they’re grieving a lost loved one. These seemingly small deeds can go a long way towards spreading God’s love and making a difference in someone’s life. I have witnessed and been on the receiving end of the above examples, so I can speak from experience in that regard. It is the other end of the spectrum, the giving, that requires a little more thoughtfulness and a proactive spirit that I far too often fail to have.
In church this Sunday, the choir sang, “The Prayer of St. Francis,” and I think its lyrics beautifully put to words the frame of mind we are called to have in order to live in community –
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”
The last line, to me, is the most powerful. I recently heard humility described not as thinking little of yourself, but as thinking of others before yourself. It takes that sort of humility to “die to self” and live in true community with our neighbors. This doesn’t mean we are all called to be like Mother Teresa and devote our entire lives to ministering to the poor. (If you are, please don’t ignore that call!) But, when was the last time we woke up and thought, “I wonder what I can do to make my spouse’s life easier today?” Or, “I wonder if there’s a way I can help feed someone who’s hungry today?” In the very few times in my life in which I’ve opened my mind and heart to questions like these, I’ve been amazed at the results. It is from a question this simple that God can do the most extraordinary work through us. Pray that we can open our hearts to have this willing and thoughtful spirit, so that God may enrich our communities with His abundant love.