The idea of living an authentic life seems to be a little trendy right now–it’s not uncommon to see articles, Instagram inspirations, and books that talk about living an authentic life. Especially if you identify as an artsy, creative type, the idea of showing the world the real you is often at the center of your work. One of the best places to live out loud and show the real you to the world is within a faith community
The practice of cultivating intentional relationships is one of the hallmarks of Christianity. Jesus had a diverse group of friends and acquaintances when He walked the earth. He spent quality time with all classes of people including spiritual leaders and government officials, blue-collar workers, the poor, the sick, and even those involved in questionable activities like prostitution and theft. Jesus demonstrated that the greatest spiritual growth occurs in the context of knowing others and being known.
Jesus didn’t separate the sacred from the secular. Instead, Jesus told stories and parables over meals, while traveling, during holiday celebrations, while fishing, and on every day of the week. He understood the value of being known intimately in all kinds of settings. I have found the same true in my life. Church is often where I meet spiritually minded people, but some of my greatest spiritual revelations have happened in a car as I prayed with a friend after a walk, in a cafe as I listened to person’s testimony, or in conversations about stepping out in faith while building a business.
Living an authentic life requires being vulnerable and allowing others to see the real you. For some, the word vulnerability means woundable. We can sometimes believe that opening up to another person may result in rejection and pain and we protect our hearts to prevent this from happening. When we hide in fear from others, we lose out on the benefits of vulnerability. Vulnerability can also be the context of being accepted rather than rejected, healed instead of wounded, encouraged instead of disheartened, and affirmed instead of discouraged.
In my life, I’ve found my spiritual family to be really encouraging. I’ve had mentors call out my gifts and talents before I recognized them within myself and then give me opportunities to step out in faith and practice using them. I’ve shared my life’s journey with girlfriends and confided my greatest fears of inadequacy only to be met with strong words of affirmation and acceptance that blew away the untruths I believed about myself. I’ve found great healing as I’ve shared my heart wounds with close friends and counselors who gently guided me toward wholeness and restoration. Being vulnerable in community can be a most rewarding experience.
Christians pursue relationships intentionally because they know the rewards of doing so. While it may seem like a daunting idea to be intentional about it, it’s actually a low-key and doable practice to adopt. Here are a couple of things I keep in mind when practicing intentional community.
Often the determining factor between feeling like you have a community of friends and feeling isolated is simply the act of showing up and consistently connecting with others. I find I can become distracted by many things in my life that compete for my time and pull me in a direction away from consistent community. So, I carve out time in my schedule to intentionally connect with people. In order to be known, you must be present.
Choose to Care
One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is our full attention. The gift of really listening is rare, especially in a distracted digital age. When someone remembers a previous conversation we’ve had and asks about my recent move, a book I’m writing, or my ceramics class, I feel valued and seen. I think it’s easier to build relationships with people who are like us, but I think Jesus challenges us to value those who may not be in the same life stage, be of the same culture, or have the same hobbies and interests. Choosing to care for others is an intentional act that sows acceptance and love into our midst.
Choose to Encourage and Call Out the Gold
One of the greatest spiritual gifts we have is the ability to see others the way God sees them. When we call out the gold in others, we encourage them and remind them of their true identity as a son or daughter of God. In a world that seems bent on pointing out flaws and failures, choosing to call out the best in each other is a powerful response to a negative culture. People don’t need to be reminded of their sin very often; instead, reminding a friend of their true identity will usually inspire and impart the grace they need to walk away from the things that drag them down. Encouragement is a powerful spiritual weapon against fear and discouragement.
Choose to Be Vulnerable
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable sounds daunting, but it’s really a simple concept. Choose to show the real version of yourself to those around you and to be honest when life isn’t going as well as you’d like. Demonstrating that you walk in perfect, secure love, rather than in fear, allows others to recognize when they are walking in fear. When you bring love into the room, into a relationship, it automatically brings a clash between the kingdoms of light and dark and people will recognize it. When others see you bravely showing your authentic self to the world, it’s an invitation for them to join you there.
Practicing intentional community involves risking with vulnerability, but not everyone we meet will be a safe person to open up to. We must be intentional about our boundaries, too. Healthy relationships are boundaried. Thankfully, the greatest lessons I’ve learned about boundaries have also been within the context of my faith community.
As Fall kicks off and community groups start up again, be brave and intentional about building a meaningful community around you.