By: Kelly Arena
“Can I pray for you?” The question was first uttered to me in ninth grade by a girl standing next to me as I anxiously waited to enter a speech competition room. I’d never seen her before. Since that day, there hasn’t been a single life-event we haven’t shared together. We stood next to each other as maiden & matron of honor at each other’s wedding, and I’m now proudly “Auntie Kelly” to her little boy.
“Do you want to go to lunch?” I asked a young lady in Bible Study class. I was newly married, new to the city and everyone in it. I had never seen her before, either. As military spouses, we’ve walked arm and arm through our husband’s deployments, and although we no longer live in nearby, Skype keeps our friendship going strong. Her little boy also calls me “Auntie Kelly.”
These simple questions gave me lifelong friendships and these friends become the focal point of my thoughts when I hear the word community. What comes to your mind when you encounter that word?
When I was thinking about this subject, I asked my dear husband for some inspiration. He laughed and said, “well, you already wrote about that in your church blog.” Oops. Yeah… That article spoke of the great challenges that, like beautiful friendships, are also included in community.
Community can be very rough. Community is rough because I am there. I am a sinner, and therefore, my selfishness, jealousy and all my baggage are out for the community to see, or worse, experience. But, community is also beautiful and vital to our being. It is most definitely not just a coincidence that the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have eternally existed in community. God teaches us in Genesis the importance of community; though Adam walked with God, and hung out with countless animals, he needed another human.
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, we were all made for community. Every friendship is risky because it takes time and effort to pour into someone’s life, not knowing if they will reciprocate. Just like with pretty much everything else in life, we are only responsible for our actions and reactions, and not anyone else’s.
My sister is one of my best friends and we grew up as best friends. We shared a bedroom until she started college, and on our bedroom door was a poster that read, “A friend loves at all times. Proverbs 17:17.” This verse has stuck with me for a long time. I pray I live up to it because I want to be that friend who loves at all times. Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” I also pray that I live out this verse and love others well to glorify God.
Friendship is risky because as Christians we are instructed to treat our community in the way that we would like to be treated with no guarantees that it will be reciprocated. God calls us to love well, be kind, and quick to forgive. As I further pondered friendship, I began to focus on the fact that Jesus had friends too.
The twelve disciples weren’t just men who Jesus taught. They were his friends…his most intimate community on earth. He did life with them in an intimate way. If I get irritated when my friends “perform less than par” then I cannot imagine how Jesus felt. He alone was perfect and always, 100% of the time, did the right thing. Jesus took community seriously. If he wasn’t with the twelve, or any number of his group, then he was communing with his Father. What a beautiful example for us to follow! When Jesus was not busy treating the very people who would betray him and crucify him with love and kindness and all of the fruits of the Spirit on steroids, then he was getting filled by the One who was the closest in his corner – God the Father.
As believers we have a beautiful and really high calling before us. To love our communities above and beyond…in a way that represents Christ. Ephesians 4:29-32 is a great example of how those of us in Christ are called to love our communities. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Friendship is a task so risky, so great, and so important that we cannot muscle through it…we need to pray through it.
One Sunday I heard a sermon that spoke to me so intimately I almost began to cry. (Yes, right there in my pew in the middle of church.) In a nutshell, the sermon was on what do you do when people do not treat you right. As expected from my pastor there was no encouragement to “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” or “throw yourself a pity-party”. The resounding encouragement was to “look to Jesus.” The best way we can be a best friend is by first, spending time with our Best Friend, Jesus. Our soul and the community we have with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the irreplaceable first priority. We can never expect for our horizontal community to be filled with peace, love, and happiness if our vertical community is not properly aligned on a daily basis.
God took Kelly from being a little girl in speech therapy, to someone who desires to write passionately and speak boldly for the glory of God. In the midst of various trials including living in chronic pain, Kelly chooses to find her joy in the Lord and trust that God has a good and perfect plan. Kelly now resides in Fayetteville, NC as an Army wife to her life-long friend, Jarrett, along with their two dogs Maddy and Radar.