When Chris and I “went public” with our marital struggles, we discovered that people reacted to the truth of our brokenness in very different ways. Some withdrew, afraid that our brokenness was somehow akin to the Ebola virus and sure to be contagious. Others withdrew simply because they had no idea how to help, and the silence and pain was awkward. And yet others withdrew, because they had not left any space in their life for people who were hurting. Some came close, close enough to judge, condemn, and preach. Others came close to join the train-wreck party, and rejoiced in knowing that they were not alone. Then there were Corrie and Sarah.
We had been involved in a community group from church for a few years, pretending to have it all together. I’ll be honest. It was awkward! We were forced into community with people that we had nothing in common with, and our motives may have been more for fun than for fellowship. The speed-dating style that accompanied community group matching was not only awkward, it was exhausting. After meeting dozens of couples, we were asked to rank our top five couples on a slip of paper.
Hi! You have five minutes to meet 100 people and rank your top five couples that you want to “do life with” for the next two years…and there’s a contract (NOT JOKING!).
Couple #1: This home-schooled couple from middle-of-nowhere South Dakota loves to grow organic vegetables, play Scrabble, and eat ice cream out of the carton when they want to get really crazy! While they occasionally watch Friends, they question its moral baseline.
Couple #2: This aspiring pastor and his wife like to practice singing A Capella in their basement with their ten children. They adhere strongly to corporal punishment, the second amendment, and any instruction by Focus on the Family.
Couple #3: This doctor and his stay-at-home wife have one girl and one boy, each dressed in expensive designer clothes. They attend the BEST private schools, play on the BEST sports teams, take the BEST family vacations, eat the BEST food, and still find time to work out every day, lead Sunday worship, serve on the PTA, guest services team, and five other local non-profit boards. And they’re only 30!
Get the picture? Exhausting!
Finally Chris met Corrie, the shaggy-haired kid that looked just as out of place as we felt. Corrie didn’t ask any questions. He mentioned he was tired from snowboarding all day and something about beer, and BOOM, bromance city! Time was up and Chris whispered, “Write down that Corrie guy and his wife.”
We wrote down one couple, made a lame excuse for having to leave early, and raced towards the exit sign. Approximately five seconds later, we saw Corrie and Sarah leave as well. At that time, we had no idea how big of a role they would play in our life and in shaping our outlook on community.
Fast-forward a year, and we had been in a community group with Corrie and Sarah and four other couples from church for several months. I was also VERY pregnant. While we loved hanging out with Corrie and Sarah, we hadn’t developed the kind of friendships with others in our community group that we had hoped for.
Then the storm came, and the public announcement to our community followed.
As we watched friends run for the hills, duck under cover, judge, preach, and cower, we also watched as Corrie and Sarah just remained our friends. They offered support, but also space for silence. We still hung out, and our “situation” did not have to be the topic of conversation. Shocking, I know! They still laughed with us, asked us to come over, and celebrated our new baby. They didn’t ask in low, hushed tones with pouty lips and pity eyes, “How are you?” every time we saw them, and they allowed us the time we needed to heal without assuming anything. They were just our friends!
As our friendship grew, we noticed that the way Corrie and Sarah reacted to us was in fact how they react to everyone. They aren’t looking for perfect friends; they could care less what others think of them; they are always willing to serve; they never judge those that are down on their luck; they encourage without shaming; and they run to, not away from, those that are hurting…and they are surrounded by people that admire them and look up to them.
As cliche as it sounds, they exemplified Christ to us in our time of need. Corrie and Sarah have since become some of our best friends. As they helped us unpack our belongings in our new home in Waco, I suddenly realized that we were losing our community in the move. The friends that we had laughed with until our stomachs hurt, cried with, and rejoiced with would be flying back to Colorado the next day, leaving us without community in Waco. I was a terrified that we would end up isolated and alone in our new city. I prayed every night that God would fill our lives with friends like Corrie and Sarah that were more like family and for a strong community of believers as we planted roots away from our hometown. And it was a prayer that I saw answered…kinda.
You see, what I really wanted was an easy community. But asking God for a community that included wives that watch the Bachelor and enjoy dessert (the non-organic-Paula-Dean-approved kind) and red wine, husbands that quote movies with my husband and drink approximately two beers at social settings, couples that don’t pretend to be perfect, open doors all around, and at least one person that is willing to organize holiday parties, cook, and sew seemed too petty a prayer given the storm we had survived, so I simply asked for community.
We have yet to find my perfect community, mainly because true community is never perfect, but we have found community. The imperfect kind that consists of friends that struggle with work, marriage, parenting, and the hard stuff that makes some communities shut down; wives that keep me accountable; husbands that truly want to be good leaders, husbands, and dads; and occasionally the hard friend that just needs you to remain their friend when others pull away. And this community, the imperfect one, is the best one we have ever been a part of.
As someone that always longed for true community and never found it, I now realize that it was me all along. I sought the easy and the fun and was disappointed when it never felt sincere or deep. I averted the hard and distanced myself from the “drama” and then wondered why I didn’t have those ride-or-die friendships in my life that I saw others cherish.
As far as we have come in our marriage, we’ve come even farther in our ability to be in relationship with others. Many of the battles we fight in marriage carry over to our friendships and community. If we’re resistant to conflict in marriage, we’re likely avoiding the tough conversations in our friendships. If we’re controlling in marriage, we’re likely disappointed when our friends don’t act the way we want them to. If we’re overly critical of our spouse, we’re likely judging our friends. All of these symptoms of brokenness impact our ability to thrive in relationships and in community.
Looking back, it wasn’t the common interests and ease with which we got along with Corrie and Sarah that made us great friends. That helped, but it was something much deeper. It was, at its core, Corrie and Sarah’s desire to be in a real community with others that shaped our friendship. And real community is NOT easy.
Real community requires honesty, the kind that is embarrassing and painfully awkward. It requires you to remain friends with people when others walk away. It requires you to sacrifice time, money, and maybe even other relationships, to be there for your community when the storm hits. It requires you to trust that God is at work, even when you can’t see it. That is friendship, the kind that lasts, and that is what Corrie and Sarah taught us about community.