A magical moment from a Christmas long, long ago still remains in my heart’s treasure house. You know that room—the one mentioned in Luke [“…But his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51 NIV)].
I have a simple problem. No other living human being remembers that moment. My father was present that special night. So were all my five siblings. None remember the magical moment. I lost the one confirming witness in the early morning hours when my mother passed away in late October, 2009.
This week I had the joy of introducing my wife Ellen to a few of my high school classmates. While we all sat, talked, and ate at the local Chili’s in my hometown of Victoria, I heard familiar names and the recounting of stories I’d also told over the years.
Ages ago I’d trundled upstairs with a math teacher’s name and packed it away in some far corner of my mind’s attic. At Chili’s, Michael Ayers dragged Mr. Groll out of that dusty corner and brought him back to life (and, to my surprise, my 7th grade math teacher, ancient back then, remains very much alive today).
I reminisce here, not to be maudlin or nostalgic. Reflection on the past can guide our futures. If we learn from our past, both the good and the bad, we make wiser choices in the present. Here are some points I offer as I reflect on the importance of community.
1) Others enlarge our understanding. When Michael reintroduced the name, Mr. Groll, into my life, he added depth to my own story. He expanded my knowledge, bringing back what had been lost plus adding details I’d missed.
2) Others confirm our stories. I have often repeated a story told by Mr. Groll during a 7th grade math class. Several of my classmates recalled the story and even added a detail or two I’d forgotten. They confirmed what I remembered.
3) Others enhance our experiences. Imagine sinking a hole in one…and…no one saw it. You whoop and holler (I mean, after all, it is a hole in one) then you look around the golf course and…not another…soul…not…a single one…in sight. The absence of witnesses almost makes the achievement seem like a failed moment.
In a recent reading (and I cannot recall where I read this thought), someone stated that merriment doesn’t happen without others. Oh, we can be alone and delighted or happy or joyful, but merry? Not without others.
I believe we humans have been hardwired to live life in community. We need others to affirm, to confirm, to infirm (just checking to see if you’re really paying attention), to challenge, to support, and to encourage us. At times, we need others just to stay alive.
The presence of others in community strengthens desire and resolve in stamp collecting, weight loss, scuba diving, downhill skiing, novel writing, house building, sports involvement, and a host of other human endeavors. We can do a lot without a crowd presence but we accomplish even more with the help of others.
You don’t buy that? Well think about these simple tasks—cooking, cleaning house, and scraping algae off aquarium glass. Whoa! Where did that last one come from?
Stick with me for just a moment.
When Ellen and I have guests for dinner, we’re both motivated to do certain things. We prepare a nice meal (“we” meaning I hand Ellen what she needs when she needs it then get out of her way). She whirls through the house to straighten things out (I’m not even going to pretend I help. I’d just slow the woman down.). I finally get around to scraping algae and doing general aquarium maintenance (this one is definitely all me—Ellen would jettison the whole aquarium setup in a heartbeat).
A simple invitation—“Would you like to come for dinner on Friday?”—becomes the catalyst for great change in our home. The presence of others motivates me to do something I’ve planned on doing for days (okay, okay, months, but who’s counting?).
What’s true of aquarium maintenance is also true of our faith. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I need a believing community to enlarge my understanding of God, to confirm my faith in Him, and to enhance my faith experience.
The spark of a memory can flame into a fire or smolder until lost forever. No matter how special the memory, how magical the moment at Christmas time, it simply smolders without the affirmation of others. Yet a few words—“Do you remember Mr. Groll?”—can fire that puppy back up.
Paul wrote this to a young believer, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6 NIV).
Today I’d encourage two actions on your part.
1) Find faithful people. Connect with people who love the Lord Jesus Christ. The more the merrier!
2) Fan faith into flames. Add fuel to the fire. Talk about Him and what He’s done in your life. Listen to the stories of others.
Question: What would you like to share with others today to fan into flames the gift of faith?
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It’s such a small world in many ways. It’s often funny when I think back about my childhood memories: people I remember being ancient who were really spring chickens. People who were 4 feet tall but seemed like giants to me.
And your point about living in community is great. We need that.
For me, my earliest memory was of a 5′ 7″ jackrabbit. When I was two, the thing stood on its feet and stared at me. As I grew taller, so did it. I appreciate those who remember with me.
Lovely post, TNeal!
It’s true that we need to give importance to community. And we need to find our community. As you said, we can accomplish a lot through community!
Thanks, Joe. Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us into community. I appreciate how you build on that in your comments here, at Michael Hyatt’s website, and at your own. God bless you in this new year.