Our Need for Safe Community (Part 1)
Every one of us have a deep desire for safe and intimate community; a place to be free to express ourselves and to be known deeply. Since most people have not experienced this kind of community, they don’t know what they are missing. If we were able to find a model where true community worked perfectly, it would help us to discern what we may be missing. As with everything else in our lives, the perfect model is found in God. In “The Sacred Romance” John Eldgredge describes how it all began:
“The story that is the sacred romance begins not with God alone, the Author at his desk, but God in relationship, intimacy beyond our wildest imagination, heroic intimacy. The Trinity is at the center of the universe; perfect relationship is the heart of all reality. Think of your best moments of love or friendship or creative partnership, the best time with family or friends
around the dinner table, your richest conversations, the acts of simple kindness that sometimes seem like the only things that make life worth living. Like the shimmer of sunlight on a lake, these are reflections of the love that flows among the Trinity. We long for intimacy because we are made in the image of perfect intimacy.
So God, the God that lived in intimate relationship from the beginning of time, created man in His image and declared that it was not good for him to be alone. Man had needs that were not being met by his relationship with God. Man needed community. Man needed human community. Man was needy. Sometimes we look at our neediness as a weakness or even as a sin. The statement of man’s neediness in Genesis 2 preceded the fall into sin that happened in Genesis 3. Neediness is part of our God-given make-up and neediness is designed to drive us into relationship, into community.
Of course, true to form, Adam, the first man, was clueless about his neediness. (Any men out there who got married because they knew they had emotional needs that needed to be met? I didn’t think so!). In the second chapter of Genesis, just after God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone, He asks Adam to name all of the animals. At first glance this seems a bit out of place in the narrative, but as usual, God knows what He is doing. Adam names the animals that come before him in pairs. I don’t know how many pairs walked before him before he realized, there is no “other” for me! God knew that Adam would not fully enter in to the community that he created him for unless he knew he needed it. As soon as Adam had this realization, God was ready to put him into a relationship. So God, the God that lived in intimate relationship, the God that created a needy man, created community. He caused the man to sleep, took a rib from his side, made a woman and brought her to Adam. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang …community!
How was this community supposed to work? Both the man and the woman depended on God to meet their needs. The three walked together in the garden in the cool of the day. Sometimes God met their needs directly and sometimes he used the other to meet their needs. Larry Crabb in his book “The Marriage Builder” describes the intimacy of this first community (marriage) as a “relationship between husband and wife in which both partners turn individually to the Lord in complete dependence upon Him for the satisfaction of their… needs and turn to each other in mutual commitment to …give themselves to one another to be used according to God’s purposes in each other’s lives…”. Dependence on God, commitment to minister to each other; this is how true community works, this is how intimacy develops. As each person in the relationship depends on God and allows God to use them to minister to the needs of others, the relationship is drawn together closer and closer. Intimacy.
This model for community must include the following in order to work properly:
1. We cannot try to get life out of the other person.
2. We cannot expect the other person to fully meet our needs.
3. We must be aware of the needs of the other person.
4. We must communicate our needs to the other person.
5. We must be willing to go to the Lord when the other person disappoints us instead of putting up a wall, attacking or retreating.
True community worked perfectly in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve knew that their life was dependent on God, not on each other. They were aware that it was really God who was meeting all of their needs but they were sometimes used as the channel that God used to minister to the needs of the other. The three of them (God, Adam and Eve) took walks together in the Garden and did not argue about which path to take, complain about the insects or bad mouth their mother-in-law. Does that mean we need to all get naked and find a lush green garden? No (I can sense your disappointment). True community worked in the garden of Eden because Adam and Eve were choosing life at this point. They were not broken so their relationship was not broken.
It sounds so good, so healthy, so balanced, so simple. Why is this so hard for us? Why do so many marriages end in divorce, so many churches split and so many families end up estranged from each other? Why do we struggle with authentic relationships? Why does true community seem a rare commodity in our day? Sin. When Adam and Eve chose death instead of life, their fellowship with God was broken. They were left with just each other. To compound the problem, without God in the picture, they began to focus on themselves and their own needs instead of the other and God. They became self-focused. This explains why they were embarrassed about their bodies (though they had been naked all along) and sewed fig leaves to hide from each other. They were no longer moving toward each other in intimacy, they were moving away from each other into isolation, into hiding. The blaming that follows when God addresses them shows that a part of their positive identity had been shattered. Their sense of community was broken by an inability to really trust each other. Not only had they become self-focused but they had become self-protective. Eve, why did you give me this fruit to eat? Adam, why didn’t you stop me from eating the fruit? Broken trust yields broken relationships.
Can we see how in our own story, sin and wounds have disrupted true community. Without God as the ultimate source of life and identity, we quickly learn that we cannot trust these precious parts of ourselves to others, they are not capable to give us life or identity. We become self-focused (who is going to meet my needs) and self-protective (I am not going to let them hurt me again). Both of these things destroy authentic community and leave us walled off from others.