This has been a challenging semester. It's been hard to be present here at JMU when I know my time here is ending so soon. I've spent a lot less time with people, and a lot more of my time alone.
Here's what I've been learning about life, people, and community.
I came to JMU after a rough four years of high school, and I was doing my life and my faith all on my own. I didn't want anybody else to get close to me, and I wanted to have control over everything myself. My small group and tiny group and small group leaders opened my eyes and my heart to the incredible power and need for community and accountability, and it was awesome. I grew so much in that-- I was so encouraged by them, so strengthened by their prayers and support and their love.
This year, leading my own small group of freshmen girls, I've again seen the power and the purpose of community in my faith. I've been burned out this semester. Making time for people has seemed near impossible, and I haven't prioritized it at all. I honestly haven't had much time for people, and when I do have time, I make excuses and back out and don't make plans. But every week, meeting up with my girls has made my heart happy. Seeing how they love each other and care for each other and are friends on their own without my co and I facilitating it is so encouraging.
People need people. Nobody is strong enough to go through life alone. I'm not strong enough to go through life alone, even though I try to be.
I've spent the last few weeks since spring break shutting everyone out and reflecting and processing things on my own. It's a time of such great uncertainty and transition in my life and I didn't know how to include people in the confusion of me trying to figure it all out. Shutting the world out and shutting your heart down isn't the right way to do anything. It isn't productive or constructive at all.
Getting lunch with my small group leader this week reminded me how much I really really need people. Why this is something that is so hard for me to really grasp, I'll never know. But it was such a good time of conversation. Such a valuable time of verbally processing what's been happening in my head and my heart, and hearing encouraging and loving feedback in response. Letting your heart be seen by another person is so rewarding, so humbling, and so freeing.
Note to myself: Rachel. Hello. People want to be in your life. Let them be. Cherish the time you have with people face-to-face.
And here's something else I've been realizing about community. At JMU, IV is a wonderful community. We stress it so much. Small groups are the heart of IV, and we're good at them. We're good at fostering groups that love each other and love God and seek to learn and grow together.
Newsflash. IV small groups don't exist in the real world. IV doesn't exist in the real world after graduation.
Yes, there are churches and groups to be a part of and accountability partners and all of that. But I think so many people put the life of their faith on small groups and large group. I took several weeks on my own, away from my small group and not going to large group, because I needed my faith to be my faith apart from those things.
People thought I was being a bad Christian, a bad small group member, a bad leader, a bad person. And at first, I felt like I was failing in all of those roles. But I soon realized that I wasn't failing. I was making my faith my own. I was focusing on my relationship with God outside of the groups of people that I'm a part of.
And that's a good thing.
If my faith only thrives because I'm going to small group and going to large group, what kind of faith is that? Yeah, it goes against the flow to remove yourself from those things. But sometimes, it's necessary. It doesn't mean you've failed. There's such a standard that we put on ourselves as IV members or leaders, and I don't like it, to be honest.
Let's be genuine lovers of Christ. Let's be genuine followers of where the Spirit is leading. Let's be genuine believers and disciples and children of God. If that means looking different than the rest of the world (or even the rest of the IV community), let's embrace that. God is doing something different in every heart. We aren't supposed to all look the same.
Yes, we need people. Yes, we need community. Yes, we need accountability. But even Jesus took time away from the hectic chaos and away from the crowds and even away from his closest friends and followers and his disciples. He knew time with his Father in silence and solitude was beautiful and necessary. He modeled this for us so clearly.
Just skim through the book of Matthew (for example). Look at every story of Jesus teaching or performing miracles. Look at the repetition at the beginning of so many of the passages. "Jesus withdrew." "Jesus went from there." "Jesus withdrew to a solitary place." "He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray." It goes on and on.
Withdrawing, being alone, finding solitude, praying in silence...it's important. Jesus showed us that time and time again. He needed time alone with his Father to be able to face the demands of the people. He loved being with them, he loved teaching them and healing them and pouring into them. But he needed to be alone at times, too.
Thank you, Jesus, for showing us that it's okay, and that it's GOOD, to spend time away from the craziness of life. Let us rest at Your feet just as much as we are out in the world on our feet.
Shutting everyone out and shutting down isn't what Jesus did. Yes, it's what I did for the past few weeks. But more and more, I've been realizing what I need in my life.
I need people, and I need community. I need to spend time sharing my life with others, and hearing their stories too. I need vulnerability and accountability and closeness. And I need to make the time I have at JMU with all these wonderful people count.
And I need solitude. I need time alone. God knows my introverted spirit needs time by myself to recharge. I need time alone with my Father, time alone in prayer, in silence, in reflection, in worship.
I need time in the awesome IV community I have here at JMU, and I also need time apart from it. It won't last forever, and the transition to the real world is coming soon. But I'm here now, and I want to be fully here now-- with people, and alone.