The mere mention of the word draws a wide variety of responses. Some cheer, vindicated that this topic of such value is being addressed. Some remain neutral, confident that this exists within their spheres of influence. And some cringe at the idea, mandating that years of relationship must predate authenticity.
This concept has been close to my heart for quite some time. Let me start the authenticity between us by sharing part of my story so that you may understand where I’m coming from and why authenticity matters so much in our ability to build community.
Although I’ve alluded to this in a past blog post before, I would like to expound. In the summer of 2008, I had just graduated college, had been accepted into Focus on the Family’s Leadership Institute, and was anticipating an exciting move to Colorado for the adventure of a lifetime. I was really at a thrilling place in life.
But early July started a terrifying and sorrowful battle with depression. The evil one, as is customary, took the opportunity to hit me while I was down and filled my mind with various thoughts and temptations that shook me at my core and challenged my call to women’s ministry that I had previously felt so strongly.
I quickly questioned whether I was even fit to go to a “leadership” institute and nearly backed out of my move to Colorado – exactly what the evil one wanted me to do. He knew the transformation that would occur through my experience in one of the most authentic communities in which I’ve ever been involved.
Reluctantly, my parents and I took off for Colorado in early September 2008. The first week of my time there, we were taken to about 9,000 feet elevation and given time - to bond as a community. While enrolled in FLI, we were separated into all sorts of small groups, but the first days during our retreat were spent with our mixed gender small group.
It was in our first session together that we were asked to share our story. I was gripped with fear- an emotion that had become all too familiar to me. I didn’t want to share what I had been through and wasn’t sure how much I needed to share. Shortly after the stories had begun, I was sensing a pattern – everyone had shared a seemingly edited version of their story, focusing on the good and ultimately resulting in some positive story of how they’d landed at FLI.
When the circle stopped at a young lady named Colby, this pattern was brought to a halt. I listened as this girl courageously poured her heart out to us – not in a “dumping of all of her baggage” kind of way, but with love and grace. She shared her unfinished story, revealing the sorrow that she had felt mingled with questions and doubts that had been raised through her suffering. And you know what? It was refreshing! Although she had not battled depression, the fears and doubts and sorrow that she felt were the same as mine! I finally had a sense that I was not alone, as the evil one would have had me to believe.
Empowered by her bravery, each consecutive small group member shared a story not neatly packaged but filled with emotion and reality. And it didn’t leave us feeling abused by an overload of detail because we all shared. These stories made us feel a longing to help – to walk alongside these people and encourage them through their suffering.
There’s something unique about our stories. They oftentimes seem shameful and scary and sad and sorrowful to us, but they never illicit the same emotions when you confess them to another who loves the Lord and desires to see His love on display. Grace is beautiful!
This picture of authenticity from the beginning of my time at FLI was the first of many moments to come. By the end of a short 3 and a half months, I felt intricately connected to this community – as if we had helped each other wrestle through our circumstances to focus on who Jesus is in the midst of it. And it brought healing.
What I’d like to camp on for the next blog post is this concept of authenticity – why people avoid it, why churches desperately need it, and how to go about achieving authentic community.
James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”