Hopefully we all enjoy the benefits of having a community to support and encourage us. Many probably have more than one community!
Why is community so important? Here are three reasons why I try to create community in my family’s life:
1) Living in community enriches our lives. Not only does it make life more enjoyable to have friends who rejoice with us and encourage us, but it also makes the hard times more bearable. Living in community is a lot more fun than being alone!
2) Living in community is an imperative of my faith. My faith requires me to reach out to others in hospitality and love, and to not simply stay in my comfortable bubble. There are seasons of life where it’s easier to reach out than others. And there have been some desperate seasons in my life when all I could do was get some basic food on the table and keep the children alive. But whenever possible, it’s important to reach out beyond myself, even when it’s uncomfortable and even when I am tired.
3) Living in community is healthier than living in isolation. According to a 2011 study posted on the National Institutes of Health website, “Many types of scientific evidence show that involvement in social relationships benefits health. The most striking evidence comes from prospective studies of mortality across industrialized nations. These studies consistently show that individuals with the lowest level of involvement in social relationships are more likely to die than those with greater involvement.”
While sitting at a doctor’s office recently with my children, I noticed a big poster entitled, “How to Build Community.”
There were things on there like: turn off your TV, use your library, plant flowers in your front yard, and look up when you walk. One thing on the list was: support neighborhood schools.
As I thought about this, I realized that I am often self-conscious about neighbors thinking we are judgmental of them, and anti-community, because we have chosen to not use the local schools. In this way, we are different from them. Focusing on differences can be something that destroys community, if we let it.
I don’t think that my kids have to attend the same schools as my neighbors’ kids in order to have community with my neighbors. (Additionally, we have a homeschool community we love precisely because we don’t use public schools.) But my neighbors are my neighbors for a reason. And I think sometimes I need to make a more conscious effort to create community with neighbors because we don’t conveniently attend the same schools.
Although my family’s schedule and school activities are different from the people around us, there are many other things we do have in common. I can use those things as a springboard to build community.
When I think about loving my literal neighbors, the ones that God has placed geographically close to me, here are some things that come to mind. All of these are things that kids can be involved with as well!
- Make a meal or just muffins for someone.
- Write an encouraging card or get-well card for an elderly person.
- Invite neighbor children into our yard and home and be intentional about building those children up and showing love to them.
- Invite neighbors to church.
- Offer to pick up groceries for a neighbor when I’m already planning to go to the store.
- Take flowers to someone as a surprise. (I have too many of those cheap vases lying around anyway!)
- Have kids help tidy up the house and set the table to invite someone for dinner.
- Take someone’s garbage can up to their garage for them (or shovel their driveway after it snows).
- Take time to chat with people. Tell them you will pray for them when they are concerned about something. Follow up with them to see how they are doing. (I put reminders on my phone so I don’t forget.)
- Go Christmas caroling at Christmas time. I am blown away by how many of my neighbors love this very simple thing. I even got a birthday card from a neighbor this year (a real paper card), and they mentioned how we cheered them up at Christmas with our caroling.
- Have a last-minute backyard fire in the fire pit and see if neighbors can join.
- Smile and wave to people, even when I don’t have time to talk.
My list might look a little different from the poster at the doctor’s office, but as the weather warms up this spring, and neighbors are getting outside more, hopefully there will be opportunities to do some of these things.
This is what I am learning: Don’t let fears about having things in my life that are different (e.g., schooling) get in the way of celebrating what we have in common and building community.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis. Following photo courtesy of author.