When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives. – George R. R. Martin
The frozen tundra of Alaska is a harsh and unforgiving place in the long winter months, especially for a wolf. During the summer, the abundance of small animals allows a solitary wolf to hunt with relative ease, but when winter arrives, most of the smaller prey go underground into hibernation. The only available food source becomes larger herd animals, a daunting challenge even for the largest of predators.
This forces wolves to choose between survival and solitude. The pack rules. A full-grown caribou is no match for the might of the pack. Working together, wolves not only survive but thrive as a unified pack.
Similarly, we all have summer seasons in our lives, where problems are small, and we have little trouble handling the bumps in the road of life alone. However, the course of human history tells us that winter is coming.
We desperately need each other. Sharing grief, celebrating joy and lending a hand all require vulnerability and the ability to think outside of oneself with a true servant’s heart. Our goal in community should not be, What can I get for myself? but rather, How can I help support others around me?
Again and again in Scripture, we see this concept fleshed out. Bear one another’s burdens. Be kind to one another. Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Pray for one another. Love one another. Time after time, God tells us to live in community. In our individualized society where a traditionally communal resource such as water can be purchased in individual packaging, this flies in the face of “normal” thinking. In a dog-eat-dog world, we need the power of the pack.
Where can we go to find this kind of community? Is there some sort of Match.com for finding your pack? The answer is the same as it has been for the last 2,000 years: the local church. Now before you stop reading, give me a moment to explain. I realize that some people have given up on the idea of church. Bad experiences, legalism, hypocrisy and interpersonal conflict have driven countless Christians into the harsh winter of life to go it alone. I’ve been there, too.
I don’t know your story, but I do know this: The Gospel that Jesus came to share is based on rescuing deeply flawed and broken people from the prison of their own sin and selfishness. We need that deliverance daily as we continue to struggle toward repentance, submission and dependence. Wouldn’t it make sense that a church made up of flawed and broken people humbly seeking Christ would still struggle at times with the selfishness that lies in every heart?
There is no perfect church, and that is a good thing, because we bring all of our own baggage with us the second we walk through the door. This is the very reason the Bible calls us to kindness, forgiveness and encouragement. Connecting with people in a local church is not a passive process. It is not simply attending a service on Sunday. It is not just placing your weekly donation in the offering plate. It is not a passing acquaintance with a crowd of other people who identify as Christian. This is where vulnerability and servanthood come into play. As we build trust with our co-believers and obey the Savior’s command to carry each other’s burdens, it opens us up for potential heartbreak.
C. S. Lewis said it best:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
So many people feel like the local church has failed them, and in reality, it has failed us all at one time or another. It is made up of flawed people, and sometimes it is the very process of learning to coexist with and rely on our brothers and sisters in Christ, even in all their inadequacies and failings, that helps shape us into His image.
How do we develop this kind of community? Make time. Our culture moves at a thousand miles an hour. Busy schedules, long workdays, school, sporting events and a myriad other activities fight for time and energy in our lives. It all comes down to priorities. Taking time for relationships is tougher than it seems, but the alternative is far worse.
God is a relational being, and He designed us to be the same way. We all need deeper relationships to fully realize the life that God has intended for us. The default in our world is hundreds of acquaintances but very few, if any, meaningful friendships in which we can pull back the carefully manicured façade that we work so hard to maintain. Substantial bonds like this take time to develop but are critical to life according to the Gospel.
The choice is solitude or survival. Winter is coming. Are you ready?
The article is also available at Relevant Magazine.