I've posted a couple of times already about how I miss Ottawa. No, it's not those icy breezes or the commute on the 95 that holds my heart; mostly, I miss people and I miss my church. While this is the first time that I've switched churches in the years since I became a mature Christian, it is definitely not my first time moving to a new place and feeling like I have to start over.
I think the lack of community, people who know me, is the hardest part of these kind of transitions. The problem is, that takes time. Unless you're going to back to summer camp, it can take a long time to get close to others, and especially to develop a group of close friends. This seems to take even longer as we get older and have more stuff in our lives.
In a sense, it feels like I'm waiting on community. I'm waiting because I know that at some point, these relationships will come and I will feel at home, but I don't know when that will be. So what do we do when we're in this place? I'm not thinking of how to get to know others, but how to handle the waiting period in a way that honours God and strengthens our faith.
1) Have community with God
It's easy to pull away from God when there is (almost) no one around encouraging you to seek Him. In Ottawa, I never struggled with getting out of bed on a Sunday to attend church... well maybe just a little bit for the 9am service. ;-) Still, attending church was a highlight of my week because I felt loved and welcomed. I am just beginning to realize how much my previous desire to attend church was affected by this fact. I still go to church, even though I hardly know anyone, but it's harder. The problem is that when I don't prioritize church, everything else slips too: my devotions, my prayer time, my overall spiritual life. It's funny that when I am most in need of community, I forget that I always have community with God. If that relationship is not there, even regular church attendance is little more than going through the motions. Hebrews 10 calls us not to give up meeting together, and I take that pretty seriously.
2) Allow yourself to feel lonely
There is a tendency in Western Christianity to equate having “joy in the Lord” with being happy. I see that in the Bible there are calls to rejoice in our circumstances, but that does not mean that being sad was not an option. Jesus wept for Lazarus, even knowing that his death was temporary. David wept when his son was dying. Nehemiah wept over the state of Jerusalem. We are allowed to cry. In fact, if Nehemiah hadn't allowed himself to be sad, he may not have been moved to action. It's okay to mourn over the loss of community and to miss friends who are far away. My struggle is not to camp out in the mourning period until it looks suspiciously like feeling sorry for myself.
3) Give grace to others
Doing this is probably the hardest of the three. When I am feeling lonely, it is soooooo easy to get caught up on what other people should be doing to welcome me. I can start to badmouth a whole bunch of people (in my head, at least): The church welcome centre, that lady who didn't say hello, etc., etc. In truth, we do need to better welcome newcomers to large churches. On the other hand, love keeps no record of wrongs, and I am called to love the bride of Christ. I've heard people grumble before that “the church” was not there for them in a time of need. That's not okay... but it's not okay to hold a grudge either. There have probably been hundreds of times when I've been too caught up in my own concerns to notice someone who was new or in distress. I shouldn't be shocked when the same thing happens to me. Recently, I attended a function at another church which did a terrible job of welcoming visitors. I may write more on the subject, but basically the whole set-up was so bureaucratic that no one even asked my name except to write it on a name tag. That sucks, but my own response was even worse: I was so caught up by grumbling (in my head) about the structure that I missed parts of an edifying and insightful sermon. When we fail to extend grace to others, we wind up being bitter, and no one wins.
Grace and peace to you who are in this place. I'm trusting that God will bring me the community that I so long for... in His own time.