We need community.
That’s a most basic truth that I am learning over and over and over again.
I need community. I need people. Introverts need people. Extroverts need people. People need people. It’s as simple as that.
But the thing is: it’s not as simple as that. Or, it is, but it’s easier said than done.
We need community. Realizing that is fairly obvious. Getting community turns out to be a bit of a struggle.
I confided in a friend about some of the struggles I’ve been having lately, and she told me the key was to plug in, to get involved, and surround myself with good people. And she’s right. I know she’s right.
And I want that. I want to be surrounded by good people who make me feel like I belong. I want to have a place and a purpose.
But it’s not that simple.
I’ve wanted to say this for a long time, but I kind of hate that phrase: “plug in”. I understand the idea. I agree with it. I don’t agree with the implication. Because “plugging in” makes it sound so very easy. It conjures up the image of electrical outlets, which makes sense on one level.
We get energy from other people. Even introverts. Community can buoy us and power us. Good people can give us strength to push on. They can recharge us. So, in a way, it is like an outlet.
But in every other way, it’s not.
Outlets are passive. You can plug in your phone and just leave it, and, when you come back in a while, it’s ready to go. You can plug in a lamp and turn it on and off at will, summoning light whenever is convenient for you.
But community doesn’t work like that. Because community is people, and people are not things.
We need community, but community isn’t a thing you can build overnight. It takes time, effort, on all sides. It’s not passive. You have to bring something to it as well.
Community is a lot more complex than an electrical outlet. People are not lamps that will give us light at the flick of a switch. These are not things that we can order up off an app like an Uber.
And if that was it, if it was just about building relationships and treating people like people, I could maybe still understand the phrase. “Plugging in” might be a lengthier process than implied, but it’s still the same idea.
However, if you’re like me, it’s not even that simple.
I used to teach at my church. I was pretty good at it, and bragging about myself is not something that comes easily to me, but I was pretty good. And I enjoyed it, immensely. But I left that church and, what with my crazy life situation the past couple of years, “plugging in” to a new one just wasn’t a priority.
But I miss it. There’s nothing that builds understanding in yourself more than trying to teach something to someone else. Teaching gave me something, but I know, if I want to get it back, it’s not as simple as walking into a church and volunteering. I’d have to go there for a while, get to know people, but more importantly, have them get to know me, trust me, so that they would allow me to teach.
It took me years to get to that level at my last church. Years. And just the thought of waiting that long, to do something that I’m really good at again, weighs me down so much I almost don’t want to try.
And I know that’s not just me; that’s the nature of community, especially a church community. To teach you have to be a leader, to be a leader you have to be established in the community, and that takes time.
But first you have to get “plugged in”.
It’s one thing to have patience while you’re trying to find your place; it’s another to do it while feeling you are trespassing. Because I so want to be involved, to be “plugged in”, but getting through the door, let alone to the outlet, is sometimes nearly impossible for me.
It’s very hard, some days, not to believe anxiety. Not to believe that people are going to show me the door before I’ve ever had the chance to convince them to let me stay. And that’s where I really have a problem with this phrase.
I think one of the worst things we can do to people is treat as very easy something that is very hard.
“Plugging in” is not simple. And maybe it’s me, maybe I make it hard. Or maybe that’s anxiety too, and I shouldn’t listen to it. And maybe I’m weird, but I think I might not be, which means someone else is feeling what I’m feeling right now, or might one day, and I want them to know something: We still have to try.
I don’t have a formula. I wish to God I did. I wish there was a trick, even if I didn’t know the trick, just the hope that there was something I could figure out to make this easier. But there isn’t. It’s community, which is people, and people aren’t that simple.
It’s not something we’ll ever get overnight. It will always take time and effort. But it’s worth the time and effort. I know that’s no small comfort, and I don’t know how to make the day-to-day easier. But I know I have to try, even when fear would just as easily keep me at home.
I tried last week. I walked into a place I had walked into several times before, filled with good people. And even though I had been there before, even though these were good, welcoming people, I had to take a moment in my car to convince myself to do it. Because I hadn’t asked. I hadn’t been invited. I was just “dropping in”. (I cannot stress enough how out of character that phrase is for me.)
But I went in, and, like a miracle, within half an hour it was clear that it was good I had, maybe even that they were glad I had. I ended up staying the entire afternoon. They asked if I could come by next week to help them out with something.
And in all their warmth and welcoming, while they folded me in so easily despite the fact that I had just shown up without pretense, in as much as they said how glad they were that I was there, it was very hard for me not to say, even harder not to think, “Really?”
And maybe that’s just me and community; maybe some part of me will always be looking around, surprised, wondering, “You all know who I am, right? Are you sure you want me to be a part of this?”
But maybe it will get easier, with time. Maybe, slowly and quietly, a sense of belonging will seep in without me noticing. Maybe I’ll wake one day and find that elusive word, “Home”, has let itself in.
I live for that day.