3 Questions to Ask When Community is Hard

Three months ago daughters Katy and Maggie moved into an apartment in D.C.
Together.
And so far both of them are still alive.
Here’s a sign I gave them when they moved in (Can you tell we had a hard time hanging it?)

How does this affect you, you might ask?

Well if you have ever lived with a roomate,
or worked with a boss,
or married a spouse,
or served on a committee
with a person that’s the exact opposite of you,
you know that living in community can be as ugly as putting Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi in a room together.
Recently they collaborated to write up their experience.  Maybe you can relate to their story of community and share some of what you’ve learned in your experience.

Have you ever taken the Meyers Briggs test? Where you answer a bunch of questions, and at the end you’re assigned four letters that make up the basics of your personality?
4 powerful letters that tell someone all they need to know about how you’d respond…

If strangers showed up at your door inviting you to a costume party,

Or if you had to decide under pressure, which wire to cut to diffuse a bomb,

Or whether you’d say “Suck it up.” or “You poor, poor baby!” if someone told you their hamster died.

Well in our family, the 4 letters that sum up Maggie are exactly the opposite of the 4 letters that sum me (Katy) up.

In spite of being opposites, while growing up, the two of us were inseparable.  Walking to and from elementary school together, taking (voluntary) trips up to the local library to stock up on Sherlock Holmes books to read aloud to one another in the privacy of the latest edition of our ever-improving fort.  We’d rally the neighborhood kids for night games and home made video productions, snow forts and magic shows.  We were a dream team.

But then, something happened. I think professionals call it “puberty”. We turned into the worst versions of ourselves, camping out on the far edges of our opposite personalities. Things that were cute about Maggie became shallow and annoying. My attitude went from an indulgent older sister to, frankly, a superior jerk. Those halves on Meyer’s Briggs became like some sort of bizarre science class punnett square exercise gone wrong.

In our case, it took about 6 years apart and the advent of gchat to start a new season of communicating. Rather than the cutting remarks and dismissive sarcasm, we began to speak with each other as people, rather than sisters.  Each of us slowly slid towards the center of that personality chart, first recognizing our weaknesses, then working to develop into more balanced people.  It sounds quite nice and simple in that sentence, but some of this “realization” came through heated phone calls and the occasional adopting of our high school personalities.  AKA our “worst selves.”

Now, years later, here we are, co-inhabiting a 900 square foot apartment in the heart of our nation’s capital.  Had you told us 5 years ago that this would be our living situation, we would have thought you were a lunatic.  Surprisingly, it is going quite well.  There have been a few flare ups where we’ve seen those high school selves resurface, and it’s embarrassing.  But we’re truly enjoying one another’s company, the sharing of friend groups, being invited to the same parties, and attending the same church for the first time in years.  We find ourselves working to carve out “sister time” and we’ve seen this time become increasingly more meaningful.  As we earn one another’s respect, we are better able to speak into each other’s lives.

The bottom line is that when we allow the other person’s strengths to threaten us we’re our worst selves.  But when we move towards each other in humility, ready to learn from the other’s strengths, and seek help in the areas where we’re weak, we thrive.
When I can sincerely say, “Maggie, what would you do in this social situation?” where I feel unsure, and she can sincerely ask “Katy, what bus should I get from U Street to get home? or Who is Christine Legard and why do we care about her?” we both benefit.

What I’ve learned from watching Katy and Maggie grow as they live in community is to ask questions.  When I’m in situations where the emotion seems to rumble in my stomach and travel to my face and threaten to come out of my mouth in unwise words I’m trying to ask:

1.  What am I afraid of?  Really.

2.  What can I learn from this person?

3.  What questions should I ask to gain better understanding?

What collaborative, or community building situations are the most challenging to you?  When do you feel most threatened?  What is helpful?

8 thoughts on “3 Questions to Ask When Community is Hard

  1. Oh there’s just too much to say here . . . other than . . . I love this Laura! Just shared it with a few of my loved ones!

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  2. I think people are wary of being judged — and found wanting. Many people are deeply uncomfortable around others who have made different life choices and don’t relate (well) to them, if at all.

    I attend a church where I have very little in common with the wealthy, white, SAHMs. They have no idea what to make of me: 54, remarried, no kids, self-employed writer living in an apartment, not some huge mansion. I keep going to that church because it’s healthy (if difficult) for me to see what we DO have in common and important for them to expand their notions of what is valuable in someone like me, (not just all their friends on the same path), no matter how “unconventional” I appear to be.

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    • So fantastic that you’re committed in a faith community that’s different from you! Brian McLaren talks about worshipping with people who are different from us, with elements of worship that we may not be our natural preference, as such an important tool for spiritual formation. We tend to be such consumers in search of comfort when it’s often discomfort that is one of God’s most effective tools. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Hardly know where to begin. So beautiful and sensitive and powerful. Your daughters are so like their wonderful mother and father! Every post you (or your amazing daughters) write is such an “ah-hah” moment for me. I absolutely feel God speaking right to my heart through all of you. Thank you for all your gracious words of wisdom. You allow me to feel there is someone right in the trenches with me and that I really am not alone on this journey to figure out better how to be a woman of God in this world and how to open up my heart more and more to what God wants me to be doing as I seek to walk ever closer with Him. This summer, my life was in crisis, and the one family member who I thought would never turn her back on me, did just that. We are now emotionally separated and this separation has left a gaping hole in my heart and in our family. Not yet sure how to reconcile, but your message, for the first time, has given me hope. Thank you and may God continue to bless you all.

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    • Carol,

      I am so sorry for the pain you are enduring. I know, loss in relationships (loss of trust, illusion, connection, understanding) is so, so devastating. I’ve been grappling with this in several relationships and one of the hard things has been discerning what is my part and being obedient to act on that, but recognizing I can’t control the other person’s response. I have to offer my obedience with prayer and open hands. Know that you’re not alone!

      Laura

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      • Dear Laura,
        Thank you so much for your beautiful reply. I am so very sorry that you also are grappling with loss in relationships. I love your thoughts on discernment and obedience with prayer and open hands. Several times recently I have prayed with my hands open to God and my eyes lifted up to Him. That physical change from head bowed, eyes and hands tightly closed (where I feel alone, closed-in and holding on tightly to my problems) to hands and eyes open and ready to give to God what He needs to take away and receive whatever He has planned is leading me into a closer walk with our Lord.

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