The phone rang. My friend’s last name flashed across the caller ID.
When a friend dials you long after the sky sings itself to sleep, you know it’s probably a distress call.
“Hello hon,” I whispered into the phone from the darkened living room. “You OK?”
The wobble in her voice betrayed her tear-soaked distress. But I didn’t know yet that my husband and I were the source of her pain. Moments later, she told me how she disagreed with a hard decision we had made as leaders of a church ministry that she loved as much as we did.
She dropped her anger on me like a guided missile, while I sank deep into my chair, with my legs curled under me — like maybe I could sink into the dark, hidden. But I couldn’t hide: It was a direct hit.
She told me that she had never seen such poor leadership in all her years in church ministry. She questioned our decision, our commitment to prayer, our faith in Christ.
I said almost nothing, stunned. Silent tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t breathe, and ran my hands along the arms of the chair; I groped for a lifeline in the threads.
That painful torpedoing happened several years ago, but the heart-bruise is still tender when I touch it.
Moments like those? Those are the moments when you are tempted to run away from leadership, from the church, from community. You want to retreat into a foxhole and never peek your head out, except when the delivery guy brings pizza.
You want to send a missile back to the accuser and a missive back to the church: “Look, if you think you can do this job better, by golly, you can have it.”
You want to quit.
But the thing is, battles won’t end while warriors hide in foxholes. And peace is never made on the missile-launch pad. It happens only when people lay down word-weapons and gather at tables for the “hard work of getting along.”
My heart-sister Lisa-Jo and I were at a table last weekend in South Carolina, sipping Tazo tea and coffee, when she quoted me verses about what it takes to build community in the midst of conflict. She read the words from her iPhone, but you could tell by her conviction, that the words were already written straight onto the curve of her heart.
Listen to her closely:
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
~ James 3:17-18 (The Message)
Lisa-Jo leaned across the table, looked into my eyes and said it true: If it’s hard work, it doesn’t mean you’re doing community wrong. In fact? The hard work might be a sign that you’re doing community as God designed.
Community is messy and difficult and strenuous and back-breakingly exhausting. Sometimes it can feel mean and missile-launch-y and nasty, like you want to resign from the committee and race for the nearest foxhole and order pizzas for the rest of your life.
But there’s more: Community is also luminous and breathtaking and smashingly beautiful. But it will need to pass through the Refiner’s Fire.
Hard work isn’t an option. It’s a prerequisite.
Sitting at the table with Lisa-Jo, I silently remembered that painful encounter years earlier. I remembered how God didn’t fully heal the relationship between me and the woman on the other end of the phone.
But even more? I remembered the people devoted to working hard. I remembered how people had gathered with us week after week to come to a solution that would serve God’s purposes.
As Lisa-Jo talked, I also thought of Upper Room, and a 12-member community of rabblerousers, doubters and betrayers. I imagined the baggage those men brought to the table, and how they once argued over who would sit beside Jesus in Heaven.
I thought how the disciples might have rolled their eyes at Thomas, with his incessant questioning. And how they must have been irritated with Peter’s impulsive behavior. And the way they probably seethed with jealousy when “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was pulled aside for one-on-one attention.
But they had to work hard to get along. And Jesus took that hard work all the way up a hill, to Golgotha.
So don’t believe for a second that community is crumbling around you, just because it feels hard right now. Know this instead: Because it’s hard, you have proof that community is coming to life.
So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.
For details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here: https://jenniferdukeslee.com/tell-his-story/. Be sure to find someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.
Your words matter to God. They matter to people. And they matter to me!
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