What does it mean to grow better together? What does it mean that, together, we grow better?
Remember your first roommate? Or those first few weeks…months…years…with your spouse? Personality quirks that flew under the radar for years, well, they’re now a bit more…evident.
You know, like that quirky (let’s quit sugar-coating: annoying) habit of leaving empty wrappers, cereal boxes, or chip bags on the counter. Or putting the empty juice carton back in the fridge. Who does that?! I mean, c’mon, the trash can is just a few feet away! Is it really too much to ask?! (All very benign offenses, if you ask me. I mean, really, if this is the worst someone has to deal with, I think they’ve got it pretty good. I’ll leave you to decide who’s the offender in our home – but that’s enough about us!)
Proximity does that, though. It exposes. (And distance conceals.) It requires a certain amount of unselfishness. You have to be willing to let some things go. You have to be willing to change some things yourself. And, sometimes, you even have to change the way you think.
I recently heard the story of a young woman who was at a party in college. While chatting with some friends about animals on the endangered species list, she brought up unicorns. You know, those magical horses with the horn and wings…that are now, apparently, extinct.
Community has a way of doing that. It brings those kinds of things to the surface.
And this, I think, is another way that we grow better together.
We catch a hint of it in Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
In laying aside sin, we look to Christ…but we also draw on the strength and example of others. In this case, the writer of Hebrews reminds his readers that they are not alone. They are growing together with one another (Heb 10) and with others who have gone before them (Heb 11). And now, the writer says, with roots fused together, they can lay aside sin and run their race (Heb 12).
We grow better together because we encourage each other, and because we all benefit from belonging. But also, because we all need to be told that it’s annoying when we leave our trash on the counter!
And community – Christian community – does that.
It exposes sinful habits and misguided thinking (like extinct unicorns!), and focuses us again and again on Christ. It exposes those “roots of bitterness” (Heb 12:15) that can spring up within all of us – those sins and weights that cling so closely. That, when alone, tend to fly under the radar. But that, in the presence of community, are brought to the surface and exposed to the light and word of Christ!
And when that happens, we don’t just grow. We grow better…together!