During my interview for the Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP), I was told to discuss my thoughts about this quote. I invite you to take a minute to read it carefully:
“We learn almost nothing until we make commitments to stick together in marriage, friendship, and community — for better or for worse. Until then we are running away from our real learning tasks looking for better people, better opportunities, better neighborhoods that more nearly fit our likes and dislikes. We are in love with our ideal community and miss the real people God has given us to love and be reconciled with who are always different from us. Of course, young people need a stage of life to explore different places and discover themselves in those contrasts, but that learning only becomes useful when we commit to love the people God has given us to love in a particular place.
Quote from A How-To for Intentional Christian Community: A Q&A with David Janzen.
Before my service year, I thought I had a pretty decent grasp on the full meaning of this quote.
I knew that some of the most rewarding relationships in my life had been the ones that presented me with the most challenges which I could have easily chosen to dismiss and ignore but instead chose to confront and push through. Several of my most painful experiences have happened with people in my innermost circles. I also knew how easy it would be to choose a post-college opportunity that was comfortable, predictable, and stable. That kind of opportunity, however, would not encourage me to rely on God or to persevere through tough moments of significant learning. Reading this quote before the interview gave me peace and comfort because, embracing the lessons that come from life’s most difficult moments, I was used to assuming a mindset of committing to experiences and relationships that would be challenging and often uncomfortable. Little did I know the full extent to which I would be stretched during my service year.
Without going into too much detail, I will say that I certainly had tough moments with my housemates. Really tough. We had different perspectives on what it means to be vulnerable with each other, what it means to have a clean house, how much time we should spend with each other, the extent to which our lives would be shared and communal, and what it meant to live out the values of EUIP. We approached conflict resolution and relationships very differently. After work, we had very different ideas of what it meant to recharge and decompress. These differences were sometimes intriguing points of conversation, and often they were points of conflict and misunderstanding.
At times throughout the year, I remember reaching intense moments of frustration with my house community, and I thought, “Is this all worth it?” I remember feeling tempted to just run away to my college friends or to good friends from church. I so wanted to just spend time with people that I felt would understand me and challenge me in ways that I wanted to grow. What I slowly realized from living with my housemates, though, was that they held many of the most important lessons for me. At times I wanted to avoid them, but they were perhaps the ones from whom I had the most to learn.
The quote that begins this blog post is reminiscent of The Greatest Commandment given by Jesus (in Matthew 22:36-40). He tells us that the most important thing in life is for us to love God and love our neighbor. Sounds simple, but we can all think of those “neighbors” that we would rather just pass by and ignore rather than approach and engage. Throughout my service year I realized that my house community was one of the greatest places to practice the Greatest Commandment. At times, my house was also certainly the toughest place to practice this Commandment. While following Jesus’ words, moments of disagreement and frustration with housemates became opportunities to practice Jesus’ kind of radical forgiveness, grace, and love.
It’s such a sobering experience when you get schooled by a lesson you feel like you’ve already mastered. I came to EUIP having spent some time living in intentional community, and I already felt a deep conviction that loving one’s neighbors is such an essential part of life. I knew that the service year would be incredibly challenging, and I was ready to stretch myself. However, there was no way for me to predict the ways that I would confront my own brokenness and limits in loving those with whom I would be sharing a living space for almost a whole year.
I began the year with what I thought was a boundless love for my community, and God revealed His boundless love for my community through my moments of weakness and limitation. When I wanted to give up, Jesus’ words along with the quote that began this blog echoed in my head and gave me reason and strength to push forward when everything within me (and even some people in my life) told me to give up and move on. But does God give up after we mistreat him? Does He forget about us and just “move on” when we don’t return His agape love? If that’s the God I served, I’m certain that He would have left me long, long ago. Of course, by no means am I saying that I was ever nearly as faithful to my housemates as God is with us. My point is that His way of loving us has inspired me to love, even when it makes no sense to love.
So the question for you and for myself is, how long will we wait to choose to commit to true community and to truly love our neighbors?
Thanks for reading. =)
These are reflections from corps members and alumni of Jubilee's Urban Service Programs. They cover topics ranging from the sun, fun and friends in in Los Angeles to the uncensored experiences of serving vulnerable populations in our beautiful city. These are Voices of Service.