The disasters of the past 2 months have been a sobering reminder to America of a fact our grandparents knew all too well: community matters. It’s a strange paradox, this modern American lifestyle. Through Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and a veritable array of electronics, we’re connected to the world in our cars, homes, work places and everywhere in between in the blink of an eye; and yet, we’ve never found ourselves more isolated. We collect thousands of friends on Facebook, but we don’t know and connect with anyone face to face. No one knows us or our families and we don’t know them either.
I praise God that one of the indomitable qualities of the American spirit is our willingness to rally to our neighbors during times of devastation, but I propose that we do ourselves a disservice by waiting for a disaster to build a close relationship with our community. I propose that the time to begin building a community is when times are good; the old saying that the time to make hay is when the sun shines isn’t just for the farmers among us. So let’s talk about why community is important and how to get connected if you feel like you’re not.
What IS Community And Why Is It So Important?
The definition of community is a group of people living in close proximity, as in a neighborhood, village or city, but community is so much more than a group of people sharing a zip code! Community is also a group of people sharing a common interest, purpose or goal. Consider the days of early America, when our fathers were literally carving out homes in the wilderness, struggling to survive in weather they’d never experienced, against disease they had no names for, with new foods they’d never grown or eaten before. Their goal was plain and simply survival and without the support of their community and neighboring communities, America wouldn’t be standing today. Consider the water bucket brigade stories, when men, women and children would line up shoulder to shoulder and pass water buckets to put out a wildfire and protect a neighbor’s home. Consider the countless stories of families in need finding baskets of food, firewood, medicines and necessities on their porch, left by unnamed benefactor. Without community, we perish.
But not only is community necessary for our survival, it’s necessary for our well-being. Whether we consider ourselves strong and independent or not, everyone needs encouragement and support. We need the wisdom of the older generations, the enthusiasm and energy of the younger, and the validation of our peers. A close, honest community gives us hope during difficult times, courage to pursue dreams and face challenges, and joy from intimate friendships. Life is not a solo sport, my friends! We NEED community!
How Do We Begin Connecting With Our Community?
The good news is that beginning to connect with our community is easy, but it won’t happen accidentally. Intentionality is the name of the game here. If you’re going to plug in, get connected and start building relationships within your community, there has to be an element of commitment, just like any other priority in your life. Admittedly, it may feel awkward at first; it’s hard to be the new person or family, but push past that awkwardness and begin the process of getting to know your neighbor and your town.
What are some ways you can become engaged with people living in your zip code?
- Attend a nearby church
- Volunteer to mentor at the local elementary school
- Read to children at the library
- Become a ‘room mother’
- Take meals to new mothers, widows and shut-ins
- Donate your time and supplies to a pet shelter
- Visit nursing homes
- Join a local quilting guild, exercise group or sporting club
- Host a block party
- Organize a neighborhood clean-up
- Candy stripe at the hospital
- Take food to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
- Create a fundraiser for a charity
- Serve at a Veteran’s breakfast
- Turn a vacant lot into a community garden
- Eat at the local greasy spoon
- Go to high school football games and cheer the loudest!
- Teach a class (gardening, sewing, canning, crochet!)
- Get to know small business owners by shopping locally
- Attend local festivals, fairs and parades
- Take a class at a community college, extension office or parks department
- If your neighbor has a yard sale, go. If children are selling lemonade, buy a cup. If the little old ladies at the local church are having a bake sale, buy cookies. Donate to missions. Buy Boy Scout popcorn and Girl Scout cookies. In whatever ways you can get to know and encourage the people living around you, do it!!
Here’s the thing: I know you’re tired. I know you’re busy. I know your schedule only gets busier over the next few months. I know you have a lot of good things coming up; football games, holiday meals, office parties, school recitals, Christmas shopping and family gatherings. But as my pastor says: don’t let the ‘good things’ prevent you from doing the best things. Don’t let the busyness of life distract you from one of the purposes to life: to love your neighbor as yourself and by extension, your neighborhood. Become that smiling, familiar face that your community can depend on to show up and support them, encourage them and help them in difficult times. All my best—