I turn 27 today. My dad says he always feels older on the odd number birthdays. I’m not sure I get that vibe. I will say it’s strange to think I’m entering my late twenties. I think I’ve reached the age when well-meaning individuals feel well within their right to question why I haven’t done this or that with my life yet. I’m not looking forward to those conversations.
My nonsensical cynicism aside, I can honestly say I’m excited about the coming year. And I think what surprises me the most is that my excitement doesn’t have to do with some big milestone or event that’s on the horizon. In fact, I thought I’d be traveling overseas again this summer, but the trip I planned to go on was called off. In a way it makes my outlook on the coming year even more unexpected.
I’m excited because, for the first time in a long time, I have a strong sense that I’m a part of real community. In the birthday essay I wrote a year ago I talked about how much I wanted to live a great story with my life, to strive for great things even in the face of adversity, and I still want that. But as I reread that essay I notice a sad lack of emphasis on the people who would live that great story with me. I don’t want to have a bunch of great adventures with an ever-changing sea of extras or, worse yet, with no one else at all. I want great costars in my story.
It’s not like I’ve been a hermit until now. I’ve been a member of Wildwood Church since ’08. I’ve been on staff with The Navigators at FSU since ’07 (and part of that ministry in one form or another since ’02). And let’s not forget that I’ve always had roommates. All of these are communities, so I don’t mean to offend when I imply that my sense of community is newfound. To borrow a cliché, it’s not them, it’s me. Somehow I’d forgotten, but true community isn’t formed through mere attendance. It takes both consistency and vulnerability.
And not selective vulnerability, but real, authentic vulnerability. Let’s be honest, we all know how to fake it to some degree. We all have some junk we’re okay with airing out. I can deceive others into thinking I’m trying to make a genuine connection, but I can’t trick myself. My soul knows the difference, and my soul yearns to be known.
I’ve always been quite an introvert, to the point where sometimes I think I’m a bit of a misanthrope. Despite this, over the past year I began to use the bulk of my discretionary time to build relationships with other people. I’ll highlight a few examples.
This past fall some other 20-somethings in my church started a small group for “young professionals” (the way my church identifies post-college singles by something they have rather than by something they lack). Now, for the first time in over two years, I am studying the Bible with peers. I can’t tell you how much this group has meant to me. We’re such an eclectic bunch of people; the group wouldn’t be the same had any one person who’s a part of it not decided to join in. Thursday night is often the high point of my week. I’m around people who I’ve let know me and who have let me know them. I’ve not had something like this often enough.
With Navs, instead of leading a Bible study I began to meet one-on-one with a senior student named Josh. It turned out to be an especially good match when God led Josh to apply to join Nav staff for the coming fall semester. You can’t mentor or disciple someone and keep your distance relationally. It requires a willingness to open up early and often. But Josh makes this pretty easy for me because, frankly, he’s often setting the pace when it comes to vulnerability. When it comes time for me to share he asks a ton of great questions. It’s humbling and a real gift. He’s going to make a great campus minister.
I also got two new roommates, Tyler and Zack. We had several months when they first moved in when none of us were dating anyone, which meant the three of us spent a good amount of time together. Of course, our house wouldn’t really be complete without the handful of undergrad students who began making regular, unscheduled appearances to our home. Bryan, Rob, Jermaine, and Rodney have made themselves at home. (In a good way. Except Bryan. Okay, sometimes Bryan.) I don’t ever want to become selfish with my personal living space, and they’re not leaving me that option. All of them provide me with so much encouragement and support.
I have real community in each of these settings. It didn’t happen right away, and it took longer in some of these groups than in others. And there are still some days when I don’t want to let people in. But when I look at what I have now and compare it to what I had even just a year ago, I can’t fathom how I was surviving.
Ironically enough, my favorite band Jars of Clay released a new album during the past year that’s all about community. The title of the album is derived from an old Irish proverb that says, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Dan Haseltine, the band’s lead singer, had this to say about that proverb.
I think what I like about the image of a shelter is that it is not something that is apart from the storm, but is something that is placed in the storm. And yet, it is something that keeps us from harm’s way. But it’s not so far away that we lose sight of it.
I think the more I contend with the world, the flesh, and the devil the more I find that I need a shelter from the storm. I’m fortunate enough to have numerous shelters. I think I was really onto something last year with my desire to live a meaningful life on purpose and I want to continue that pursuit. This year that idea has taken sharper focus. It’s these people with whom I share my days who will help provide the depth and beauty to that life, and it makes the pursuit of authentic community all the more important. Here’s to an excellent twenty-eighth year.