Our Need for Safe Community (Part 2)
Our response to this broken community varies depending on how we deal with our sin and wounds.
Some live in the identity of the ‘shamed’ self, bearing all of the labels and lies that flow out of their sin
or wound. If we respond this way, we refuse to put forth the effort to create a false self that is more
socially acceptable. This shame drives us into isolation. We don’t have broken relationships, we have
no real relationships at all. We keep our walls tall and thick and refuse to let others in. Often isolation
results in deeper shame and addictive responses to loneliness and bitterness.
Andy Comiskey, in his curriculum entitled “Living Waters” says that “man out of fellowship with God
bends toward men.” Some people, particularly those who tend to blame other people for their
brokenness (others-contempt), turn toward narcissism. Since they cannot trust anyone, they will only
trust themselves. If we respond this way, we create an image of ourselves that we can hide behind and
through which we can interpret life. Relationships are all for the purpose of benefiting us. We struggle with authority because the rules of others do not always benefit us (It’s not fair!). This narcissism is not always driven by self-love, but often by a deep self-hatred that is masked by the false self of narcissism. Relationships usually do not last or do not become deep because the we are so self-focused and self-protective that we cannot genuinely care about others.
Still others, particularly those who tend to blame themselves for their brokenness (self-contempt), turn toward relational idolatry or co-dependency which we described in a previous chapter. “In short, idolatrous relationships are based on the belief that another person can really make one whole.” If this is the way we respond to our sin and wounds, we believe that we are weak and that we need another to lean in to, to fix or to take care of (the false self). Our relationships are imbalanced and may even end up abusive. We may believe that, because of our sin and wounds, we don’t deserve to be treated well anyway. The unresolved shame can even convince us that we deserve the abusive treatment and we continue in difficult relationships and lose a sense of who we really are. Many times the idolatrous relationship turns strongly to the sexual aspect. Meeting someone else’s sexual needs gives a sense of power that the powerless person desperately needs. This can lead to an addictive, never satisfied sexual addiction with no regard for health or self.
Whether we lean toward isolation, narcissism or relational idolatry, the fact is that authentic community, the kind we were created to experience, is not realized. This is why choosing community is a life choice, it moves us back into the direction of intimate relationship with God.
The first step in the direction of genuine community is confession. Not confession to God, which was part of choosing honesty, choosing forgiveness and choosing surrender. This time we are confessing to our brothers and sisters, our fellow strugglers, the members of our potential community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man deeply committed to God and community writes, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother or sister knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of another person.” Sin demands isolation so while living in unconfessed sin, true community is not experienced. Confession, transparency, accountability, these are the watchwords of true community. Scripture clearly instructs us to “…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
After the initial confession, a choice to be honest with the members of the community seals the bond of intimacy. As you become real with one another in community that is founded upon intimate communion with God, iron sharpens iron. You learn and grow from the strengths and weaknesses of the others in community. The honesty with which you approach each other in community and the time that you spend together forms a bond and begins to communicate God’s unconditional love through human mouths and hands. This is experiencing life together. This is what you were created to experience!