I lived in hiding for many years. In college, I became so hidden from others that I couldn’t even find myself. Does that make sense? So, like others have done, I went looking for myself. And I’m sure you’re reading this and think that my searching would lead to me finding me. But one detail that I should mention is that I looked in all the wrong places.
I looked in the wrong people’s beds, in the acceptance of my friends who weren’t going to point me to truth, and to endless scrolling on social media. I was hopelessly trying to convince myself that the key to finding myself would dwell there. But it didn’t. I was still in hiding from those around me and to myself.
And here’s the problem- if you stay hidden, you can’t experience the true beauty of living in awesome, real, and life changing community. Community always comes at cost.
It wasn’t until I went on a summer mission trip my junior year in college that I got to experience what it means to live in a true community.
In a land far, far away where they eat hot noodles for breakfast and babies wear split pants (I would say google it, but it’s too risky), I embarked on a seven-week mission trip with twenty of my closest strangers to China. I didn’t know a soul and they definitely didn’t know me (After all, if they really knew me, would they realize that I didn’t even belong on this mission trip? Would they actually realize that I was more of a mission field than the Chinese students we were there to share Jesus with?). For better or worse, we dedicated those weeks to spending every moment together.
I wasn’t too worried. After all, I was a skilled imposter and knew how to put up invisible walls that would keep people from really knowing me. They knew my name was Morgan, that I loved Jimmy Kimmel (way more of a Fallon fan now), and that I had an interest in knowing Jesus.
And if I’m being honest, I preferred not being known. It’s easier, way more comfortable, and it’s the only form of community I had ever known.
Then something happened, or should I say, someone happened.
Rachel, a girl on my trip, was funny, confident, and bold in her faith. She didn’t take herself too seriously, but girlfriend knew what she liked and how she liked it. She also knew she loved Jesus and wasn’t afraid to live like it.
There was a moment on that trip that forever changed my perception of what it meant to know someone and be known.
One afternoon, Rachel and I were drinking our zhen zhu nai cha (bubble milk tea) and walking to hangout with some new Chinese friends. She shifted the conversation to ask how the first week was going and how could she pray for me.
It sounds elementary, but the way she approached me and the genuineness I heard in her voice was something new to me. Having grown up in the church, I briefly remembered it from my childhood, but hadn’t experienced it my adult life. (If you want to call twenty an adult. Hey, it was the oldest I had ever been.)
It just so happened I was having a hard time with being in a foreign country, all the while trying to maintain a persona that wasn’t me out of fear of being known. So, in that moment I made a choice to open up. I shared with her that she could pray for my anxious heart and my faith to believe that God could use me to bring others to him.
With an attentive ear, she listened, seemed to really care, and opened up about what she was going through as well. Ending with a bond over our love of chocolate, we arrived at our destination with a new found friendship.
I felt a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Something that seemed so small on the outside was a big deal to me. She made me feel loved and known.
That night, we all arrived back at our dorms and I was exhausted, to say the least. It was a hot summer and we were constantly translating the bible into what seemed like an impossible language. My brain was as exhausted as much as my body was!
As I walked in my room, I noticed something on my bed. It was a letter from Rachel written on a card clearly bought at a Chinese convenient store. I opened it and there was a prayer she had written over what I had shared with her earlier. At the end of the letter was more encouragement and a P.S. that said, “Check under your pillow”. Under my pillow was my favorite kind of chocolate. I just sobbed. I mean, RACH! What a saint.
Not only did we share our love of Chinese food and chocolate, we shared our hearts that day. Rachel let me know that she had really listened to me and cared about me.
Why do I tell you all this? Because the way we love people and the willingness in our hearts to invest in others will take us farther than we ever thought possible. It will allow us to ride the wave of first time acquaintances into an authentic relationship. Friends, I don’t have to know you to know you long for this. I know this because this is God’s plan for you:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
Since that trip, Rachel has been one of many that God has placed in my life to love me, challenge me, and just plain bless me with their presence. Lord willing, I have been that person for people along the way, too. You see, Rachel didn’t just teach me about friendship, she showed me that God always sees me and loves me (as I am), and that walking in a close relationship with him brings light to darkness, which ALWAYS brings freedom. Relationships on earth reflect the Father’s heart.
Based on all the lessons I’ve learned and missteps I’ve taken, here is, in my opinion, the truest form of how to walk in genuine, true, life-giving community.
1. Be vulnerable:
This is maybe the costliest part of living in true friendship. In Genesis 3, we learn from Adam and Eve that hiding is a direct result of sin. The bible tells us that sin separates us from God. Although we have different wardrobes today, some of us put on metaphorical garments of leaves in an effort to hide and stay unknown daily. But that isn’t the way it is supposed to be. God loves you too much to let you stay in a hiding place. When we open up and share our lives with others, we are reminded that we’re never too far away from God’s true plan for our lives. When Rachel asked how I was doing, I had a choice. I could take the easy route and tell her that “I’m actually doing really well!” or I could, with tears in my eyes, let her in. It was just one moment, but I hope you can see how important it was. By doing that she brought Jesus to me. When I couldn’t bring myself before Him, she could and did. Is there something you need to open up about today? Take that step of vulnerability, He will use it mighty ways.
2. Embrace conflict:
As it turns out, Rachel and I continued to be good friends. After college, we went on to live together in China for an entire year. She continued to be the biggest blessing to me! We learned a lesson of embracing conflict along the way too. Being a nine on the enneagram, my biggest need in life is peace, specifically, with those around me. There were moments when Rachel and I were not living in peace, mainly because of my pride. I wanted to be important and valuable to the team and, because of that need, I felt threatened by Rachel’s natural leadership ability. Unfortunately, this brought out some of my insecurities and there was a season where we felt distant from each other. Rachel came to me one day and (in vulnerability) let me know that she felt like she had struggled with some pride in our relationship. Seriously? Me too! Both of us had soft hearts toward each other, but we struggled with communicating it. Once it was out in the open, we could deal with it. The trials of conflict, if handled in love, will always strengthen a relationship. Don’t shy away from them, friends. But, be wise and gentle in your speech as you address the problems.
3. Don’t make it about you:
If vulnerability is the costliest part of community, not making it about you might be hardest to implement. I don’t know about you, but I can be so selfish. Even when I do something good that I know God has called me to do or say, I have this little voice in the back of my mind saying, “That made you look really good, keep it up.” The imposter is at it again, just in a different form. Striving and self-centeredness belong nowhere near authentic living. Helen Keller says, “There is joy in self-forgetfulness. So, I try to make the light in others’ eyes my sun, the music in others’ ears my symphony, the smile on others’ lips my happiness.”
I’d like to pray this over you: “God, thank you for authentic community. Thank you that it is your good design, however costly in the moment it may seem. I pray for my friends out there that may have lived in hiding for years. I pray against the imposter in their hearts whispering, ‘If they only knew….’ God, would you break chains and produce more relationships that lead in vulnerability, healthy conflict, and self-forgetfulness? Thank you that you are for us always being known in community. We love you. Amen”
I want you to know Rachel and I are still close to this day. She stood by me in my wedding, and although we live far apart now, she still sends me letters reminding me that I am loved.
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