This week, I’ve been reading about a dating site called passionsnetwork.com. Nearly three million people are signed up to it and it’s easy to see why. It provides a dating on demand service, where you can hand-pick your dream partner, a bit like selecting your favourite brand of cheese. Within the umbrella site are 206 incredibly specific mini-sites, grouped under every conceivable category . There’s singleswithfoodallergies.com or veggiedate.org, (which includes the category of ‘scientologist vegetarian’). There’s groups for Gun Lovers, Family Feuds, Frugals, Nerds and sociopaths who hates mushrooms. You name it, there’s a site for people Exactly Like You.
This sounds good in theory – but let’s think it through. Maybe you’re different, but if I was dating someone like me, I’d be in really big trouble. I wouldn’t leave the house for starters, (too lazy). I’d never try anything new or talk to strangers, (too scary). It’d be comfy to have all my fears and prejudices confirmed…but it would make me smaller, harder and even more selfish. I’d do only what I wanted, in the way I wanted it – and, (based on the evidence so far), I’d end up making choices that’d kill me and ruin the life I thought I was saving.
Other people can seem very scary, especially when they’re different. But this difference is a blessing: and it’s one of the reasons why God has put us in community. That’s easy to say, but it’s something I’m learning very slowly. For years I didn’t do church. Jesus, I reasoned, was in my heart, not a building. Why on earth would I haul my body out of bed to meet up with a bunch of strangers? Wouldn’t they be holy and boring? Not to mention judgemental. No thanks, I’d be just fine on my own.
But I wasn’t fine on my own. Instead, I shrunk into myself and away from the Lord. Because whatever I thought, no amount of bible reading or listening to sermons could replicate the experience of meeting with God’s people, of eating and sharing with them, of singing and praying together.
Not that it’s easy. In church as in biological families, we don’t get to pick our brothers and sisters. You love ’em, but sometimes they drive you mad. Temperamentally, culturally, economically and socially we’re often totally different. But more than this we’re united under the banner of a shared history, a family name – and of course blood.
This week Glen and I went to a conference with people we hadn’t seen in years. Perhaps a normal person would be excited – but I was terrified instead. In the last ten years a lot had changed. I’d nearly starved myself to death and withdrawn from the outside world. I didn’t have a career or a family. I was weak and broken and nervous and tired. What would they think of me? How would I cope in a new environment – talking, eating, sleeping and living alongside Others? On arrival, I bolted to our room and resolved to catch the next train home. It was Too Frightening and Too Much. But, as the week went on and others reached out to me in love, something in me began to unfurl. I caught up with old friends and met new ones, who blessed me in a million ways. I experienced wonderful teaching, deep, rich fellowship, acceptance and grace. I met Jesus afresh and knew a real freedom and joy. I was encouraged and challenged and inspired. It was one of the best weeks of my life – and yet, everything in me said ‘don’t go’.
Relationships are messy and other people can’t be controlled. They push us beyond our comfort zones and they make demands and sometimes they hurt us too. But it’s in fellowship with others that we become most ourselves, not by withdrawing or looking within. It’s scary – but it’s proper life.