A fire and a book. Canvas and paint. Kids and snow. Chocolate and coffee. These are some of my favorite pairings. Each is good alone but they are so much better together. We are on the cusp of Lent, a special time in our church calendar when we prepare for Easter. It’s a unique season, which we believe is even better when we experience it together. So here’s what you’ll hear.
Join a small group. JOIN A SMALL GROUP. Join. A. Small. Group! From all directions. But really, who has time to gather together in a weekly small group? Not me. And I’m UPC’s Pastor of Small Group Community! There’s just very little space in my life—with four young kids, aging family members nearby, a recently adopted dog, and rewarding, yet challenging, jobs outside the home. Through our work, wonderful neighbors, our school community, friendships after forty years of Seattle living, and various other affinity groups, I have lots of opportunities for social connections and precious little time. Joining a small group Bible study, even for just six weeks during Lent, hardly seems possible.
Besides, I can nurture my faith on my own, right? Read my Bible. Pray. Reflect. Worship on Sunday. All these things help me grow in my relationship with God. Discipleship, on my terms, is more manageable and looks the way I want it to. Life is full. Adding more to it, even something good, will remove any remaining margin.
Going at it alone is predictable and within my control. I can squeeze it in when I deem best. It’s very low drama, but I’ve found that when I live like this, I miss so much of the most important stuff of life—encouragement, support, perspective, prayer—in a word, relationship.
Left to our own devices, we more easily drift into places that just aren’t good for us. God didn’t intend for us to be alone. In fact, God said in Genesis that it is not good to be alone. Not good. Genesis is addressing a more basic human connection than just spiritual community, but I think other parts of Scripture make it clear that we are to be connected in community where we are actively seeking God’s face in our world together. Alive together. We weren’t meant to do this life alone. Community has many different faces, but one great way to do it is in small groups with neighbors or others willing to commit together for regular times of prayer, Bible reading, sharing, and serving.
The truth is, it is good to be together. Very good! Something happens when we sit with others around Scripture; when we pray with others; when we help each other; when we listen to how another is wrestling with the realities of everyday living alongside the great narrative of Biblical Hope. Simply put, when we do life together, something happens, something we can’t manufacture on our own, and it’s better.
It’s much better. Really. Therefore, I make sacrifices so I can gather with others around God’s Word. I pay for babysitting that I can’t easily afford. I give up the few free minutes I would otherwise have for myself. I give up some sleep after returning from our small group—our house still needs to be cleaned, a dog walked, four lunches made, homework folders reviewed, and bills paid. I will myself past the nagging feelings that sometimes haunt me as the day moves toward our evening Bible study: “I really don’t want to go tonight.” “It’s been a long day.” “I’m tired.” “It’s too much effort.” I can come up with many reasons to bow out, yet each time I wrestle up the resolve to go, I am grateful for the time I’ve spent. I’m reminded of my affection for these people and encouraged to tackle the next day with renewed energy. And very often, I find clarity—a greater awareness of who I am and who God is for me. I become “better together.”
When we do gather into the community God intended for us, we share what we didn’t know we were missing: something we can’t find online, by simply reading a devotional, by searching within ourselves. We come together as a huddle of tired, sometimes very beaten-down people, perhaps a bit lost, and we Share Hope. Hope from a wonderful God who loves us with a love most clear when we share it in community. After all, how else can we love but in community with one another?
Better together? Really!