When I was growing up, I grew up in a generation of 'church hoppers.' It was a time when new denominations were being formed, the 'latest and greatest' was coming on the scene and people just got into habits of checking out new churches quite frequently and changing churches as often as they changed underwear. I was a part of a family who did that, and between 10 and 18 years old, we went to five different churches. Then, I repeated the same patterns in college...a different church every year. So, when I set out on my own, I was determined that I DID NOT want to do that with my family. I wanted to return to that 'community' feel where you grow up with people and just work it out, through thick and thin.
I also wanted to do that in my marriage...I knew that I was not always going to be in 'dream land' with my marriage. I knew there would be ups and downs...I knew there would be times where I would have to give and sometimes when I would have to compromise if a marriage would succeed.
Unfortunately, we are in a generation and time in our culture where we just 'leave.' We leave when things get a little tough or when things get frustrating and I have experienced this in all facets of my life. I see the younger generation hopping from job to job, churches that have membership that is on a roller coaster and that feel like they have to accommodate in order to keep people happy. Kids, also, don't go to college for the long-term anymore. They go for a year or two, or switch out colleges after a year or two. And don't get me started on the divorce rate, or the latest trend of couples (even Christian couples) choosing to live together and have children over getting married and starting a family. This option makes it easier to exit the relationship.
Even in our co-ops, schools and Bible studies and other social groups, we are afraid of making a wrong move because we may upset someone and cause them to leave.
Let me just stop here and say that NO PLACE is ever going to meet our needs and make us happy this side of heaven. We were made for perfect fellowship with God in the garden and that opportunity ended with the sin of Adam and Eve. But, we are just like them...sinful people, with our own agendas, our own baggage and our own fears. We are easily offended (and sometimes rightly so!), we misunderstand what people say, or we hear clearly what they say and walk away offended, unwilling to confront and work through situations with them. With the sin that so easily entangles us and all the baggage that we have, it is no wonder that it is extremely difficult to live in community. A co-worker and I often joke that if it wasn't for all the people around us, life would be wonderful.
So, let's get back to my word study...longsuffering and forbearance. Let me define them. Longsuffering is, in short, "suffering long! It is like patiently enduring a lasting offense or hardship and is referring to a great deal of patience or endurance of something or someone like an illness or the mistreatment by others of one’s self." (patheos.com). Forbearance is "patience, self-control, restraint and tolerance." (google def). When we are in community, a church, a school, a co-op, a family, we should be exhibiting this characteristic. It is, after all, a fruit of the spirit and if it is not evident in our lives, then we should be praying toward that end. What will it look like? Well, one example is that we learn to be humble...just yesterday, someone said something that hurt me and I left the conversation, ready to flee and probably would have if that person had not pursued me to ask me to forgive her. She was exhibiting that humility that is a necessary when we are trying to forbear with one another. She moved toward me and we must all do that.
How do we do this in community?
* First, when we are hurt or concerned, we should first pray. Take time to chew on the things that are bothering you. If necessary, talk to a close friend NOT close to the situation or even part of your church or community. It is best to NOT share with others in the community at this point. It only becomes gossip and poison that can cause unnecessary concern for others.
*If your concerns continue to grow, see if there is a Biblical principal or organizational policy that you can follow to help work through the situation. Study scripture to learn these principles...God foresaw that we would need this kind of help in community.
*If your concerns seem to be unaddressed and you have followed all the policies and scriptural principles, then perhaps you need a third party to help. Or, God may be leading you away. Sometimes, He creates an angst within us to begin to move us toward another thing. I have experienced this in my life. I am such a loyal person and am committed to my church, family and job so fiercely that God has had to 'dramatically' move us out of situations. However, if this is the way that God is moving, I would encourage you to leave well. Honestly speak to the leaders of your organization. Tell them why you are leaving and how you have tried to work things out. Try to mend fences and build bridges. God may be moving you for just a time and you may want to eventually go back to the situation you are leaving. Remember, there is a beginning and an ending to everything. God leads us into things and moves us out of things.
*Realize where you have erred. If you have done wrong, then confess that and move toward the people you have hurt. If you have been hurt, then speak openly to the people who have hurt you. They may not realize what they have done, but, in love, you can work on the beginnings of repairing a relationship. But, remember, God works over time and it may take time to restore relationships that have been damaged.
*Finally, we MUST remember that whenever God is at work, the enemy will try to strike down the good that God is doing. In some ways, seeing conflict is a reminder that God is working and that good things are happening. We must pray against the work of the enemy and must be on guard. Conflict will arise, but can we strike it down quickly? God has provided before, bringing people into his church, into our communities, co-ops and organizations. Sometimes, though, He may lead them away to something else.
As I conclude, I must say that in my church and in my co-op community, I see MUCH forbearance and longsuffering. And my heart is encouraged that Christiana is about to celebrate her 15th year in existence, with many of the people still there that were around for the first year of operation. We are not a perfect organization and we are full of people who sin everyday. But, to me the sign that God is on the move is that SO many people have shown this forbearance and longsuffering characteristic in their interactions with each other. The spirit is at work, helping us to enjoy each other, work through conflict and he is teaching and training us to be more like Christ.