“I feel like I am only a word in that book,” she shook her head. “Not even a whole sentence.” We waited while she continued to grapple with expressing herself. There was more. “No, not even a word,” she faltered, then burst out in mingled consternation and wonder.
“I’m not even a whole word!” she cried. “I’m no more than a letter; one letter in a word that God is still speaking. I don’t even make sense without others around me!”
There it is: that piercing need for community that confounds me still. The thread that has woven itself through my life.
How I have clung to my independence, how I have striven to instill it as a value in our children, and how jealously do I guard it from intrusive relational trespassers. I am white, I am Western, I am Post-modern.
Where would I be if not for the community of the saints? They have challenged me in ways in which I would never challenge myself. Challenged me to lead worship in a way that is less exclusive, more discerning of the context. Challenged me to opine less, ask more. Challenged me to serve and sacrifice. Challenged every line in the sand that I have ever dared to draw.
Until my calendar is chaos, and my home has a revolving door, and there is a cookie jar at the entryway and sandwich fixings in the fridge which sometimes disappear, and at other times are mysteriously replenished. Until some mornings I would count unfamiliar shoes on the porch to figure out how many people might have slept over. Until I learned to cook only meals that make good leftovers, because I might feed 8, or none at all on any given night, and not know until dinner time. Until long-term strays lived in our basement, who shovel snow and do chores and cry. Until our neighbors knew the code to our garage. Until we passed around meals in the same casserole dish for so long that no one knew who it belonged to anymore.
On a good day, my feet hurt and heart sings. On a bad day, I whimper, “Take me, Jesus…” and consider a career as a celebrity recluse or hermit on the hill.
The workers of the vineyard in Mark 12 had been independent for so long that they took ownership of the vineyard, regarding the fruit as their own, and resenting any of the Master’s messengers who dared to interfere. Their sense of entitlement so closely mirrors my own. I am working hard; surely the money is mine to spend. I am volunteering enough; don’t touch my down time. I am getting older; I deserve to retire and rest. I have some gifts and talents; I have a right to decide when and for which cause I use them.
Regardless of how long I work in his vineyard, the fruit is not mine. It belongs to him - to give, eat, discard, or even ignore until it withers and the seeds drop out. I am not my own. His love and the needs of others help define me. The community of the Triune draws us to seek him, communally. The unique nature of my individuality – which I fight so fiercely to defend and express – loses it meaning in the void of independence and self-sufficiency, yet it radiates with beauty in the company of his saints.
I am only one letter in a word that God has not even finished speaking.