I often tell people we live in Mayberry. Our little neighborhood is filled with kids and on school days, we can walk to our elementary school. Our crossing guard, Sherri, waits for us at the corner of the neighborhood every morning and every afternoon. The parents gather at that same corner a few minutes before the kids start out the school door for home. We talk and share and laugh and sometimes, we plan.
Afternoons are spent snacking and playing, sometimes inside, sometimes in backyards, and sometimes in front yards. There’s bike riding down to the culdesac and footballs tossed between fathers and sons in the street. Sometimes all the parents are outside to visit with one another and sometimes only one or two while the others (maybe me) stay inside cooking dinner.
Over our 17 year marriage, we have lived in six neighborhoods. Prior to this one, neighbors pulled into our garages, closed the door, and walked inside. I don’t remember kids playing in the streets or running through the sprinklers on a summer day. Parents were busy. Kids were busy. Nothing Mayberry about it. And I generally think that’s the norm these days.
Work now starts and ends only when we finally crash to sleep because our handheld computers keep us connected to work (and actually working) well past the traditional 8-5 hours. The 24-hour news makes sure every word, every press conference, every meeting is covered long after they have any new information to share. Entertainment comes straight into our houses with streaming services, digital movie rentals, video game consoles, and trivia games played with hundreds of thousands of people through an app.
And that’s all without discussing how social media has radically transformed our lives.
Community building has so much stacked against it.
But what if we decided to step into the busyness, the scheduling chaos, the running around and embraced it?
What if instead of dreaming of Mayberry when seemed community simple, we looked through the cracks of our crazy schedule for the opportunities already there?
What if we honored the people in our life and assumed they want community as much as you do and stepped out to invite?
Just Show Up…
We have reached that age when parents can drop their kids off at birthday parties and basketball courts and playdates instead of staying around to visit.
My advice, ditch the drop-off.
I know those two hours could be used doing laundry or walking the aisles of Target. And sometimes we schedule playdates SO THAT we have those two hours to accomplish other tasks.
But sometimes, we drop off just because we can. When maybe, we should stay.
The moms at the classmate’s birthday party might not become your best friends but you might get the chance to learn more about their class or their teacher. You might discover you attend the same church, just different services. Or you might learn you both really love college football. Or you simply might get to encourage one another.
The truth is we can never build a single thing if we aren’t even willing to show up at the worksite.
Birthday parties, dance class waiting rooms, elementary field trips, front yards during neighborhood football games, youth group parent meetings. What if we stopped looking at these things as items on our calendar and started looking at them as ordained appointments? As worksites?
There are as many worksites as there are people in need of building community.
But you have to show up at the worksite, tools in hand, ready to work. Listening ears, mouths filled with kind words, hearts open to others, eyes you’ve asked the Spirit to see like He does.
Show up. Ready to build.
Be a Friend…
How many times do we tell our kids this?
Be the friend you want others to be for you.
We encourage them not to be easily offended or quick to exclude but to be grace-filled and welcoming.
Perhaps we should take our own advice.
The next time you find yourself wondering why So-and-So hasn’t checked in with you, STOP. Instead, check in with her.
The next time you wonder if anyone will remember your birthday, check that computer you look at for two hours a day and see who’s birthday is next on your calendar or on Facebook. Then remember her birthday. Send her a card or a message.
The next time you want to have dinner with friends, instead of wondering why no one has invited you lately, invite someone yourself. And if your friends are all busy, then return to step 1 from last week.
Look to your left and look to your right.
Is there a neighbor you’ve been wanting to get to know better? A mother you sit with at soccer practice? Invite one (or both), meet up for some pizza, or have them over for delivery, and get to know them.
And what happens if your friend never checks in with you first? Or no one sends you a birthday message back? Or if the neighbor and soccer mom both have other plans?
Nothing happens. The world keeps right on spinning.
Then you try again next time.
You keep being the friend you want to have, continuing to invite and message and check on because building community is hard work.
This probably seems like a simple one but sometimes the simplest things can be the hardest.
We are running our lives at break-neck speed. Piled high with obligation and low on connection.
So we cancel the things that are not absolutely required. Book club, ladies’ night, women’s worship, bible study fellowship, date night, life group.
And listen. I confess I am the pits at this. If it happens after 7 pm, I consistently pick pj’s and Netflix over almost anything else.
But what are we (ME) missing out on by picking safe and comfortable over people?
Maybe someone in that bunco group has the exact thing you need to hear in your current season? Maybe that life group was put in place just to support you through the season that you don’t even know is coming? Maybe that women’s worship night will minister to your heart, answer the prayer you’ve been fervently praying?
But we won’t get any of that if we keep canceling.
Maybe it’s time to ask God where He wants you to attend and where He wants you to prune. Canceling it all is not the answer to a simpler life. That’s the answer to an isolated, lonely life. But saying yes to it all might not be the best thing either. Ask God where He wants you to go.
Just stop canceling on people while claiming you want more community. Those two things don’t line up.
Our lives are no longer Mayberry-like. Even my neighborhood. What I tell people about our lives is true but it is also true we have made the intentional decision to live in community with our neighbors. It takes work. And it takes work with the people in our lives outside of our neighborhood.
We look left, we look right. We accept invitations. We show up. We don’t cancel (well, I do but I’M WORKING ON IT). We want to be the friends we want to have.
And we’re not by any means perfect. Or even good sometimes.
But I can say, maybe for the first time in six years, we have built some really amazing community in our lives. All the hard work is worth it.