So let’s build COMMUNITY…or try 🙂
After my first newsletter, I heard from so many of you about how much you enjoyed my race reflections. In conversations about self-care, many of us can relate to moving straight to beating ourselves up when we cannot live up to the hype we build up in our heads. However, there is one thing that always brings me back to Earth in the midst of times where I might be prone to beat myself up over something.
When I fail to reach my always over-hyped expectations, it is always my community who reminds me of how awesome it is that I did what I did (and to not focus on whether I failed or not). We hear all the time that it is about what you learn from failure more than anything else, but failure still sucks sometimes. Failure drags us down into the muck and oftentimes, no matter how strong our personal mindsets may be, it can be hard for us to convince ourselves otherwise.
After my Richmond race I received so many encouraging notes about how well I did. Even after my newsletter last week, folks were so supportive of me. However, I still had the nagging feeling of failure in the back of my mind. The more I pondered on it, the more I wondered, “What is it that others see in me that I cannot see in myself?”
I remember when I was in the ordination process and I had to take part in evaluative tools which placed my own understanding of myself as a leader in comparison to how others saw me as a leader. I think you can guess what the major takeaway from that was…yep, I gave myself lower grades than others. Why do we end up judging ourselves more harshly than others see us?
Maybe instead of asking that question, we should ask ourselves what we learn by the fact that others see the better of us than we may see in ourselves.
SPECIAL NOTE: I know this is not the case in every situation. There are some folks who seem to be their harshest critics, but I might often posit that there is a question about motivation in that relationship. My assessment in this article will look towards those who truly and intentionally care about personal growth.
Now to my answer— I think it lies in the nature of community being a system of support and encouragement. Yes, community can tell us what we did wrong, but in doing so in a healthy manner community can also help to highlight what can make us better and that our failure is nothing to linger on. Failure, in the context of true community, drives us forward instead of causing us to feel like we are being held back.
This is why community, for me, is probably one of the key parts of my theology of self-care.
As an extrovert, I love to spend my time around people (I know surprise to many). Also as a 3 on the Enneagram (maybe I will go into more depth about the Enneagram later if folks are interested), I tend to be somewhat of a performer, who often identifies myself by the company I keep. However, it is more than just being around people to gain energy or feeling identity through those I am with. Community is vital to me when it is supportive.
As a pastor it is somewhat hard to find or create community. Namely because the first place people often try to seek out community (religion/church) is my place of employment. It is hard to make friends with those whom I am called to serve, and oftentimes because of power-dynamics I must be able to be their pastor when it is necessary. Even just telling people outside of the community I serve that I am a pastor, can be somewhat daunting considering how pastors (or religion in general) are often perceived in society (Don’t worry though if you ask my run club friends, I’m not like other pastors). However, even in what is an interesting personal dynamic, community can still be present in ways as I am supported in becoming a better pastor and human being.
Though I do find communal support as a pastor within the church I serve it is especially important in these scenarios to have other people who do not look to me as their pastor while I am trying to be in community with them. This is easiest in relationships with my family. My wife, kids, and extended family units are often the first ones there to pick up the pieces of my mental breakdowns.
However, for many folks (including me sometimes) that is not enough. We long for community, especially ones that meet specific needs in our lives.
I think about many of my clergy colleagues in whom we have created a network of care and comfort. It is a relationship in which we can fully relate to one another’s situations because we have been there or because we know all too well what the church can unfortunately be capable of. My mind also wanders to my running community: those who are a part of my running group, and those in the extended community whom I have befriended over the years. These are people I can be a human being around (which sounds weird to some, but it makes sense in my mind). I can say stupid things and I am not looked towards to solve all the problems of the world (just of how to run a faster 5k…without dying, which is Rule #1 of run club).
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, I participated in a virtual community running challenge. The nature of building community and supporting one another in this way became a crucial tool to the long, hard isolation of COVID. In a reflection with the communications team in my Annual Conference on the challenge I quoted Hebrews 10:24-25:
“And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.”
It is from this passage that we see, no matter what community you are a part of, encouragement and support become a primary part of communal living. Notice that in each of those communal examples (even in my church), encouragement and support were the key components of being together.
Now onto a short race review…told you I would get there 😉
After the disappointment of my Richmond experience, I toed another starting line of a local race in Hampton Roads. I went into it with zero expectations of how I might do. My mind was focused on seeing what I was made of and doing my best. However, I surprised myself and ran an “adult PR” (that is a personal record from my time since I have been older than 18). I also placed first in my age group (of over 100 runners aged between 30-34).
The result shocked me, but so did the reaction from my community. They knew it had been a tough weekend the weekend before, and they knew how much joy I had in my expression when I found out I did as well as I did. Community is there to remind you of all you can achieve and to help you to get there. Then, they will be there to celebrate.
The feeling I received did not feel new, because the whole week they had been lifting me up from my funk of perceived failure. It was just a reminder of the uplifting feeling that community can give.
Good communities surround us with love when we feel unworthy of it. Our own human nature beats us up, which is unfortunate, but find yourself a community that will climb into the pit of suck and encourage as you both get out of it.