Author: Sarah DeLotelle
I’m convinced that a healthy life is a cultivated life. Happy marriages aren’t found, they’re cultivated. Thriving community is stumbled upon, it’s cultivated. Abs of steel aren’t given at birth, they’re cultivated ;). Ignore or neglect any of these areas and they’ll suffer. You can damage something just as easily through neglect as you can through intentional harm (surely our houseplants have taught us this lesson). Neglect your finances, body, marriage, or community and it will suffer. Faithfully nurture and invest in these areas and they’ll thrive, not overnight, not all at once, but slowly your green shoots of progress will turn to hopeful buds of improvement, which will transform into radiant blooms of growth.
I’ve recently moved to a new city. To be brutally honest, the task of cultivating a new community has stirred up all sorts of insecurities in me. I feel like a transfer student on the first day of high school, only I’m 32…and pregnant…and I’m retaining water (oh the miracle of life). I want community to be easy and comfortable from the start. I wanna sink into it like a living room set from West Elm. But building community is a lot more like assembling furniture from Ikea. It’s a process that takes time and effort, and a good dose of courage.
So I decided to write a “pep talk” for myself on cultivating community (excuse me while I grab my pom-poms).
Community is cultivated when we “show up”, both physically and emotionally.
Show up physically – Relationships are built over time through shared experiences. I worked as a youth pastor for almost 6 years. The kids that built the strongest sense of community weren’t always the funniest or the most charismatic, they were the ones who consistently showed up. Every service, retreat, camp, event, or hang out, they were there. It may sound overly simplistic, but connection is formed over time through shared experiences. If you long for deeper community: go on the retreat, sign up for a small group, ask a mom over for coffee or out to dinner, then ask her again next month! You can wait to be pursued or you can become a pursuer. This isn’t always easy or natural but it is 100 percent worth it! Put your sweatpants back in the drawer, pause season 7 of Friends, grab your keys, and show up…then do it again next week!
Show up emotionally – Cultivating community involves letting people in. It means allowing others to see the real homes, families, and lives that lie behind our curated Instagram squares. And that my friends, is vulnerable… because, it’s often our cracks, struggles, and imperfections that cause us to doubt that we are worthy of love and belonging. Ya wanna know what has hindered connection in my own life? My “crusty kitchen.” My family just moved out of the rental home we lived in for the last five years. I was never crazy about the house, but I especially disliked the kitchen. It was small, outdated, and rough around the edges. The cabinets were chipped, the countertop permanently stained, and don’t get me started on the fluorescent lighting. My kitchen didn’t have the granite countertops, subway tile, or hardwood flooring that many of my friend’s kitchens possessed. I was afraid that my “crusty kitchen” would be judged…that I would be judged, so I simply didn’t invite other moms over. I told myself, “Someday I’ll have women over” – when I have a shiny white kitchen with open shelving and a farmhouse sink. Does this sound like your inner monologue? Someday I’ll let people get close to me…when I’m in a better place emotionally, physically, spiritually, or financially? I’ll let people in when there’s nothing left for them to judge. What’s your “crusty kitchen? Whatever it may be, here’s my advice – invite people into your “crusty kitchen.” Use it to brew coffee, and make big pots of spaghetti, and house new and old friends. Don’t sacrifice love and belonging in order to hide your chips and dents. Shame will always bring isolation and choke out true connection.
Showing up requires courage. When you’re tempted to hide, remember Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Don’t walk in a constant fear of unworthiness, it will cause you to run, it will cause you to hide, it will cause you to pretend you’re something you’re not. You are loved and valued by a God who believed the world wasn’t complete until it had you in it. Whatever your “crusty kitchen” may be, you’re worthy; worthy of love, belonging, and community, so show up!