Trying to maintain, and live in relationships with others, and, even further still, to be vulnerable with someone is a little treacherous. It's like stretching your limits and enduring wind, rain, sore muscles and hunger while hiking a mountain.
In my quest to enjoy more of New Zealand's great outdoors I invited a friend on a hike over Easter. A group and I were going to climb the biggest mountain in the North Island. Apart from the changeable weather, it's actually a fairly quick climb (you can even catch a ski lift part way). I knew my friend wasn't really into hiking, but I asked anyway. This guy loves good banter and said, 'thanks, but no thanks', he had other plans, and he was just going to 'Google the view instead'.
Google the view?
I laughingly told him it's not about the view you store in your camera, anyone can look at a photo—it's about experiencing it, breathing in the mountain air, accomplishing something and having a shared experience. He didn't give in and joked that thanks to Google he'll get a perfect view minus the sore feet, boring walk or bad weather!
Group hugs and crevasses
It was a bit of a laugh but I still think he missed out. Being in good community with others is a little like climbing a mountain. You work as a team to make sure everyone makes the climb, the shared experience binds some people together, and brings a sense of belonging—one of our biggest human desires. A highlight on any group adventure is eating a communal meal in the wild after a hard day's hike. Somehow food always tastes better when you earn it.
There are thousands of cheesy quotes about teamwork but the idea of inclusivity stretches far deeper than group hugs. There is a subtle danger when it comes to isolating yourself. Avoiding other people and their opinions can lead to a lonely and sad existence.
Those who go it alone will struggle to be rescued if they fall down a crevasse in life. If you exclude all others and pair off with just one person your whole world could to fall apart when they let you down.
A good amount of alone time can be healing and relaxing. No distractions to contemplate and reorder things in life. But those with unteachable personalities who systematically isolate themselves are in danger. We need to be careful of holding an arrogant and unbalanced view where we avoid any kind of correction.
In C.S. Lewis' book, The Great Divorce, he describes a possible picture of hell: a drab town where people are fairly pushy and obsessed with their own issues. Lewis describes the vast spread of the town: spreading for millions of miles in all directions. People get fed up with their neighbours and move further away from each other because they're sick of the sight of them. It's always someone else's fault. It's a town of constant sprawl as the people become inwardly absorbed.
For some reason this picture always stuck with me. Decaying, selfish thinking breeds isolation and it's the exact opposite of community.
I think there are three key things that hold us all back to some degree when it comes to being vulnerable, and letting others in: change, perfection and trust.
Some of us hate change. It's scary to move from the known to the unknown, but we were made to change. For example, all of our blood cells regenerate every year. Our skin cells regenerate every couple of weeks. We're not fixed beings and I think it's freeing to know we can start over, start fresh, renew and learn new things all the time.
'They're not going to like me.'
'What if they find out I'm useless at this?'
'What if I'm not perfect?'
These are subtle lies stopping many people from stepping out into anything. You've heard it before: 'no one is perfect.' We're all flawed. It is the togetherness and shared view in our struggles that pulls us through.
'Everyone is trustworthy somewhere in their lives; no-one is trustworthy everywhere in their lives.' This David Riddell quote reveals how deep down many of us simply don't think anyone is trustworthy because of past hurts. There's always going to be an element of risk in trust, but it's the start of vulnerability, and the building blocks of any relationship.
The lurking shark
Vulnerability is tough and people will let you down; it seems there are lots of 'sharky' vibes out there when it comes to trusting people and getting into the water of community with others.
I've actually seen three sharks in the water this summer. One about 6 feet long came right up to knee-deep water, and one swam past while I was sitting on my surfboard with legs dangling in the water out the back beyond the breakers. This summer I've surfed more than any other summer and even though the thought of a shark taking off a limb makes me weak at the knees, I keep getting back in the water.
If I became paralysed by the fear of sharks, I'd miss out on some great surf! In the same way, if you only listen to your own voice you'll stagnate, and miss some vital advice that might just change your life for the better. The measure of a balanced life is having the courage to invite others to have a say. It's wise to weigh up any advice, and seek out good friends and a healthy community.
I want this article to remind the reader that sharing life's moments with others sharpens us. Rather than journeying alone, afraid of change and accountability, we have the perspective of a broader collective view. I wonder how many people miss out on a great life-giving relationship or a brilliant community because they're too comfortable in their mediocre rut.
A better picture
It's seems Jesus is dead-set on keeping us together, rather than having us drift into isolation and factions. He collected a group of 12 men around him and that group started the modern church.
Community language is littered throughout the Bible. The Apostle Paul describes the Church as being made up of different body parts, but all part of the same body. We're individuals, but also part of a whole. An elbow on its own, can't do much.
In a letter Paul tells the Galatians to bear one another's burdens. It's hard to take on someone's burden if they don't allow anyone into their lives. Paul was a brilliant man, probably the most influential writer in Western history, but he constantly admitted his faults and listened to advice from others.
I believe the essence of a great community, family or group of any kind is the willingness to share and be vulnerable. There is a joy, a love, and an overruling sense of freedom that comes from living in community with people who care for you. I think this is simply a glimpse of heaven right here on earth, and I'm pretty sure Google can't show you a better picture of that.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html