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Mile Wide Inch Deep

The small group movement “is succeeding less because it is bucking the system than because it is going with the flow. It does not offer a form of community that can be gained only at great social or personal cost. Instead, it provides a kind of social interaction that busy, rootless people can grasp without making significant adjustments in their lifestyles.” Robert Wuthnow

Most of my life I would be described as “a people person”. It’s a rediculous term, technically, but is another way of describing an extrovert’s being energized by people. Feeling connected to people fills me up, so the more the better. But there is a rub. The more people to whom I try to attach myself, the less genuine is the connectedness which exists. While there are certainly friendships that span the decades and weather moves, long distances and even great lengths of time between visits, these are not what make for genuine community anymore than Facebook friendship. Honestly, I’ve come to acknowledge that I have no ability to multi-task. This includes relationships. I can’t have great time with my children and a much-needed visit with a friend at the same time. I have to choose. I don’t always choose wisely and am trying this summer to make my children more of a priority than I have in recent years. The jolt of going from “my own life” to that of being a mother made it so that I came to resent not being able to be with friends whenever I wanted at the same high level of social activity I had before they were born. Large numbers of friends both seemed an unalienable right to which I was entitled and something I needed to exist in good standing in community. Perhaps like Martha angrily and frantically working in the kitchen, Jesus never asked me to be committed and connected to so many people. After all, He who is the lover of all His children’s souls, devoted Himself only to a small few who He then entrusted to care for others likewise.

Rather than my relationship addiction, which ends up creating a personal community that is a “mile wide and an inch deep”, Jesus’ time on earth seemed to favor something more like an inch wide but mile deep. Why do I resist this? Why does that make me nervous? Why do I continually feel pressure from myself to maintain so many relationships that none can really grow that intimate? Why does it seem just unrealistic in the world in which I live?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 These people were together every day. They shared multiple meals together, not just one every six months or less. They were in one another’s homes regularly. Their lives were so entangled that they all shared each other’s stuff! This kind of sounds like they were neighbors, literally not just figuratively. This kind of Gospel community just isn’t realistic with my beloved friends who live more than a few miles away. This kind of Gospel community isn’t possible when I feel I must pay into too many relationship accounts in too many spheres of life. This is not going to happen when I have to schedule our time together a month out because our calendars are so full of good things that we’re not available any sooner. So I should just write off all my friends who live outside of my neighborhood? So I should never make new friends? So I just ignore the new person who isn’t already in the “inch” I’ve already got? Hmmm…these are good questions, but here are some more. What makes the relationships available in the homes right around me not as worthwhile as those who live far away? Might there not be someone Redeemed by Jesus living on that new friend’s own street? If not, maybe I should consider moving to be neighbors. What untouchables in my life make my heart push back at that notion? What is it that my heart is demanding from friendships and people that really should be satisfied by my Redeemer alone? How is my expectation that I invest in every single person I’ve ever met or felt drawn to actually placing myself in the position of the Redeemer that they need most too? Why do I assume what they need most is my attention and not the attention of the Lover of their soul?

For me, this is the beginning of Gospel community as described in Acts. They shared life’s dailyness together, and their togetherness was found in their dailyness. In this togetherness, they shared food, clothes and connecting conversations. By this their celebration of God was increased and their community became characterized by praise instead of grumbling. I cannot be all things to all people and should not require that of anyone else. God has instituted Gospel community, not to replace Him but in which to enjoy Him more. What if it turned out that, as Ed Welch said, I will actually love others more when I need them less? I require a mile or more when I am grabbing at fulfillment, desperate to be known and needed and assuming the role of Redeemer that has never been posted available, as if it were an abandoned position. I will find satisfaction in the inch of community outside my front door, (or even just inside it!) when I begin to find my fulfillment in Him, my satisfaction in being intimately known by Him and my validation in the person of work of Jesus rather than the praises of men. It is only from this place that I can move out to serve rather than be served, to sacrifice socially or personally, and to freely enjoy Gospel community as it reflects Him rather than as it serves me.

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