“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)
I have always loved this verse because of the simple call to have community with others. It seems so simple to have people over for dinner and enjoy friendships with other believers. It seems so simple to go to church every week and praise God with a body of believers who love the same God you do. It seems so simple to give away our time, resources, and possessions to those in need. But why does it seem so hard to make all those things happen on a daily basis?
We all have busy schedules that keep us from focusing on what’s important, which is connecting with other believers on a daily basis. It’s hard to find a night that works with friends to have them over for dinner. Kids might be putting up a fight Sunday morning on what they want to wear, which means being about 30-45 minutes late for church…so what’s the point of even going? You’re trying to manage the budget, and it feels tight already; do you really have money to give to people in need? These are just a few examples of what can keep us from engaging with the communities we find ourselves in. And that is just the surface level problems.
There are several other issues we have personally that can keep us from engaging with people in meaningful ways. People might see that I don’t have my life together if I invite them into my home. They might see me lose it on one of my kids when they don’t behave the way that I want. If I go to church, will people see that I’m falling apart? Will people see my past failures and see who I really am? Will they still accept me? If I try to engage with those in need in my community, I will have to face a huge inconvenience to myself and family. I will have to acknowledge that there are people around me who are not okay and need help.
If we are truly honest with ourselves we can get pretty intimidated by the real, authentic community that God calls each of us to. The opportunity is there but it’s easy to ignore or put off. Then a pandemic happens and everything changes. What we once took for granted we no longer have access to. In the span of a week, we were asked to stay home and communicate directly with only the people we live with. Family members who live long distances had to be seen over Facetime. Staff meetings were done over Zoom. Schools who were able had to be moved to Zoom or Google hangout. Churches live-streamed their services with empty church buildings. Everything was done online. While we love the convenience of technology, can we be honest and say online meetings DO NOT CUT IT! I felt like I was being teased. I got to see people, but I didn’t really get to connect with them. If anything it made me long for the moment when I got to hug people in person and see them face to face. It made me realize how we are created for connection.
Let me stop right there and point out some of the technology we have access to. Social media, Zoom, Facebook live, Facetime are all platforms that allow us to connect with people. We may have access to people through these modes of communication, but in reality we live in a pretty isolated world that is disguised by our connection through social media. We “feel” connected to others because we got so many likes on Instagram or Facebook. We can declare how we feel about world events through social media. We get to express ourselves without having to truly interact with people like a face to face setting provides. I am not writing this to rant about how social media can hamper our relationships; I am writing this to draw attention to how our society tends to function on a daily basis. Then when a pandemic occurs it peels back the layers where we have to genuinely look at how we relate to one another. And I think many of us would agree that we are not very good at engaging with each other in a meaningful way because we hide behind our screens in a way that no other generation has been able to.
We have been able to blindly walk through our days feeling like we don’t really need other people. We can do everything on our own because we are independent and self-sufficient people. But that is so false! We desperately need other people in our lives. We need genuine, authentic connection. There is a reason mental health declined during stay at home orders. Suicides rose while people who already battled depression and anxiety were forced to cope by themselves. Kids who are in abusive home situations were left defenseless.
As a mental health counselor, I advocate for meaningful connection. Ask any counselor and they will say one protective measure against mental health disorders is the support a person has around them. If you have ever been through tough life circumstances, you know the difference it makes to have community surround you and hold you up versus being alone to battle whatever is thrown your way. We know the difference it makes in our mental health and our overall well being to have people who can walk alongside us in life whether things are great or really hard.
As a Christian I believe in being open and raw with our struggles and having other people come alongside me to help with the problems life presents. I’m not saying all Christians are great at that, because we have this need to make ourselves look perfect. According to Acts 2: 44-47 we are called to live out authentic community with one another. My prayer is that the pandemic opens our eyes to the desperate need each of us has to have people come into our lives and walk alongside us. I pray we can follow the early church and support each other through the good and the bad. This life is too hard to do alone. We weren’t meant to do it alone.
Mary Kate Cortez, M.A. PLPC