SUPPORT IN TIMES OF DIFFICULTY
This is the first reason to belong to a community of faith that occurred to me–support in times of difficulty.
When I think about the times in my life that have been hard, when I’ve faced unwanted and/or unexpected challenges, when I’ve struggled with unwelcome news or uncertain outcomes, I cannot help but also think of the people who have stood by me, walked with me, and indeed, prayed me through those times. They haven’t always been the same people, as I haven’t always been in the same place when hard times have hit. Life’s challenges, it seems, make no distinction between whether you’re close to or far from home, whether you’re well-established in a place or a newcomer, whether you have the resources you need to get through them or not. They just happen–often without warning and always without invitation!
Over the course of my forty-seven-ish years on this Earth, I have lived through several such difficult times in my life. Not as many as others have experienced, to be sure, nor, I readily acknowledge, as difficult as those some others have lived through–but nonetheless, I’ve not been immune to hard times. No one is. Yet I have survived them. I have even come out stronger on the other side of a few. This is due in no small part to the support I’ve received, both tangible and intangible, from people who were part of my community of faith at the time.
When I was a brand-new exchange student in Brazil, for example, eighteen years old and thousands of miles from home, immersed in a culture that was completely foreign to me, surrounded by a language I barely spoke and people I didn’t know, with not a cell phone to be seen, Skype not even created yet, and widespread use of email still a few years away, I survived those first few intensely difficult months through some combination of letters from home (yes, good old-fashioned snail mail!), a deep-seated desire and determination to become fluent in another language, a little bit of raw grit, and a lot of prayer! My own prayer life grew by leaps and bounds during that time, but more than that, I knew that people at home were praying for me–and that allowed me to keep on keeping on. I knew I was not alone.
I had a similarly difficult experience in my first “job,” serving as a missionary in New Mexico immediately after graduating from college…and there was the time in seminary when the guy I was dating experienced a psychotic break with reality in the midst of a manic episode when he and I and a friend were at a piano recital….And what about when each of my three babies were born? Those were not “bad” difficult times, but certainly challenging and stressful….And there have been heart-wrenching deaths, unexpected health crises, and one, in particular, time of significant struggle within my marriage…. No, like every other human being on the planet, I’ve not been immune to hard times. But I have survived each of them and, yes, come out stronger on the other side. There is no doubt in my mind that that is due, in no small part, to the support of my community of faith, who surrounded me and were present to me ways in that reassured me that I was not alone.
Sometimes, it seems to me, that’s all we really need to know. That we’re not alone. That in the midst of whatever difficult, stressful, out-of-control, unexpected, painful, horrible, dark thing we’re going through, we are not going through it alone. There are things, yes, that we have to do by ourselves, that no one can do for us (much as they might wish they could), but there is nothing, I believe, that we need to face alone.
When you are part of a faith community, you are not alone. There are others, who are walking with you on your journey–as you are walking with them on theirs–and you support each other, standing in, in effect, for God, putting a face and hands and feet on God, serving for each other as God with skin on….
As members in a community of faith, difficult times can be shared with honesty and vulnerability, support can be genuinely offered and–hopefully–willingly received, and prayers can be lifted on one another’s behalf. Are these prayers always answered in the way that we hope? No, a million times over. Does that mean those prayers are worthless? Absolutely not. Praying, and being prayed for, reminds us of the reality of God. Praying, and being prayed for, reminds us that we are not, in fact, in control (regardless of how desperately we might wish we were)–but that God, who is Love, is. Praying, and being prayed for, reminds us that we not privy to the entire picture (regardless of how much we think we are)–but that God, who is Love, is. Praying, and being prayed for, reminds us that there is hope, that Light is stronger than darkness, that Love is more powerful than death, that new life, and indeed, resurrection sometimes come only after incomprehensible suffering…but it comes.
I have always taken great comfort in knowing that others are praying for me, in whatever difficult situations I have been in–as well as being able to pray for others in their times of difficulty. We may not know “how” to pray or what to pray for, but knowing that I’m not alone, that faithful friends are standing in for God, giving an invisible God visible hands and feet and faces, and lifting me up into the Presence of God, gives me strength, courage, and patience that I would not be able to come up with on my own.
And that’s just it–I am not on my own, I am never alone, when I belong to a community of faith.