I have a thirteen year-old son named Jonah. Jonah is the middle child, sandwiched between an older and a younger sister, and our only boy. Jonah plays percussion in band (and on his desk and at the dinner table). He plays lacrosse. His only interest in school is as an avenue for spending time with his friends. As his mother, I am learning to treasure each of these things about my boy. But recently, another aspect of my son has emerged, one that has only grown my appreciation for him: Jonah is discovering that he deeply loves his grandparents.
Every weekend for the past couple of months, Jonah has asked to spend the night at his grandparents’ house. Being the suspicious mom that I am, I investigated his new-found appreciation. “Are they stuffing you with candy? Letting you stay up all hours of the night?” After some questioning, I soon discovered why Jonah asks to spend time with his grandparents: he loves them.
He loves the stories they tell him and the questions they ask him about his week. He loves playing the game Quiddler with them and watching Jeopardy together. And he really loves eating the pickles that his Grammie keeps stocked in the kitchen just for him.
He also feels needed there. Jonah’s grandparents give him jobs to do around the house, and pay him for his work. While staying up past his bedtime may have something to do with it, what draws Jonah to his grandparents’ house each weekend is that when he is with them, he feels special, and he knows he is loved.
It is not that my husband and I don’t show Jonah love. But as much as we love him, we are not his grandparents. My parents play a role in his life that we never could. They share stories with him. They show him that he is needed and that he belongs. And they teach him about who he is by sharing who they are.
Like Jonah, all of us are created to be in relationship with others. We thrive when in communities where we are both held accountable when we need reminding, and held in loving arms when we need comfort. Families play this role. Congregations play this role. And when solid communities are lacking, other less-than-desirable options can play this role. Today, that role is too often being played by virtual communities online.
Robert and Laura Keeley recently wrote an essay on the Building Blocks of Faith. In it, they describe four common themes in congregational faith formation. These themes can be summarized in four “I” statements that get at the role that congregations fulfill in the lives of their members. They are:
I have hope.
I am called and equipped.
The Keelys point out something that I think we all know, but perhaps seldom articulate. That is, the most powerful way that we learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus comes not from reading books, but through being in relationships with others. Timothy learned about faithfulness from his mother and grandmother. Ruth learned about hope from her mother-in-law. Jacob learned about forgiveness from his brother. I have found that I learn just as much about obedience to God from the young woman I mentor as from the woman who mentors me.
No matter what our age or stage of life, we all need communities that play these roles in our lives, communities where our faith is shaped, nurtured, challenged, and has room to grow. We all want to know that we belong. We want to feel loved, to be needed, and to have hope. When we are part of a community that practices hospitality, transparency, accountability and grace, we see Christ more clearly. It is there that we also find the belonging, understanding, equipping and hope that we need to follow Christ as his disciples.
Just as Jonah needs his grandparents, we need each other. Whether through listening to each other or praying together or sharing a jar of pickles, we show Christ to each other by living the faith that God has instilled in us. Never underestimate the power of being in relationship with others in your congregation and community. It just might make all the difference in the life, and faith, of someone else.