When I was first given the opportunity to write on this topic, I cringed just a bit. As an introvert who spends the majority of her workday around people, withwards (the part of our rhythm when we gather in larger groups) has been one of the first to go. It’s community group, events, or gatherings where there is more than a handful of people that take up too much of my energy. Sunday mornings at church I even find to be exhausting if I am branching out and intentionally trying to meet new people.
With all of these, I usually make some sort of excuse why I’m too tired, ‘over peopled’, or just plain too emotionally spent to have to make more small talk. And while I don’t think that these ‘excuses’ are invalid – we really should listen to what our bodies and energy levels are saying to us – I think often we can be too quick to isolate. And inevitably larger gatherings often end up being the first to go.
But without withwards, without Sunday morning gatherings, without moving in the space beyond our inner isolated (and often exclusive) circles, we can easily close ourselves off to growth and development. We need people to stretch us, to heal us, to show us the grace and mercy of Christ.
I see this very clearly in my own life. When I isolate too much, even if I am praying often, reading the scriptures, and spending time with my closest friends, I tend to stagnate and halt in growth. The classic saying “birds of a feather flock together” lends itself well in this scenario. We often surround ourselves with those who are the same as us, inadvertently setting the ‘other’, the different, at a distance. And while we may see a certain level of growth in being in close community with those who are the same, we don’t get to practice and challenge ourselves and our biases when there is an absence of the different.
We need people to stretch us, to heal us, to show us the grace and mercy of Christ.
We need to rub up against those who don’t share the same views as us, the same interests, maybe even those we find annoying or those that are in an entirely different headspace than us to really understand what God’s grace is about. It’s easy to love those in your life that get you, that are in the same life space, that enjoy the same things, laugh at the same things and validate you when you need to be validated. It is incredibly hard, and even daunting to love and find grace for those who are not. And venturing out to meet new people when you feel like you have all the people you need in your life can be exhausting (can you tell I’m an introvert yet?).
Withwards isn’t just about going to the annual advent party, the trivia nights, the Fireside worship sessions, the multiple community group get-togethers, and every Sunday service. It’s also about being ‘mutually beneficial friends’ (thank you Jean Vanier) with people who aren’t the same as you. Exercising the withwards discipline means so much more than just spending time with other ‘same same’ Christians in our clique.
It means spending time with all sorts of folks, people who are older or younger, those from a different background, people at More than a Roof, or those who you are “serving” in the community (or those who are serving you). It’s about coming to Sunday gatherings and once in a while being intentional about branching out, maybe even checking out St. Pete’s Eats to broaden your circle of friends. It’s about seeking out spaces and places to rub shoulders with other Christians who may not share the same personality (I’m lookin’ at you extroverts), views, likes, or lifestyle. Even reaching out to other faith communities can be a valuable part of how we understand and grow in our own faith.
Withwards is a discipline within our community to rub shoulders with different people. It is vital to life within our communities that we experience the breadth of the body of Christ, that we practice extending grace where we aren’t used to extending anything but frustration. Withwards is a space to learn, grow, feel uncomfortable, feel like you want to be any other place than with people that are different. A place to recognize our own shortcomings and selfishness. And most of all where we meet the very diverse and ever broadening image of God who challenges us and offers us beauty in ways that isolation never could.