~ Kenneth A. Schmidt ~
I participate with several other writers in an online writing group. When this group started meeting over a year ago, we were individuals - our relationship was more on a surface level as we wrote and critiqued each other's work. We shared the obvious joys or successes, but it took longer for us to begin sharing our rejections and needs as writers.
I'm not sure when it happened - when we crossed the line from being writing associates who were Christians to a Christian "community" of writers who care deeply for each other and support one another in prayer, in joys, in rejections and even in our day-to-day struggles, but it happened.
Several months ago, a few members of the group that were available at the designated time began to meet for an online Bible Study. Each week as we met together to study God's word, our relationship deepened as we began to be honest with each other and open up about what was really happening inside ourselves as writers.
It was a scary thing as we addressed the question of why we have to suffer as Christians and how God can use those sufferings to minister to others. For several weeks we talked about it, then one day I began to really hear what the others were saying. For the first time, I wept as I listened to one of my fellow writers because I felt I could really see the suffering she endured from her auto accident - the pain she went through then and the pain she continues to experience.
I shared the pain of depression I had experienced and felt as though my heart had been heard, understood and affirmed. I hope the others felt it too.
That day we went from being a group of individuals who wrote together to a group that really understood each other - with all our flaws, pain and inadequacies. This is the very intimacy Jesus calls us to with Him and with one another.
Now it becomes scary - in opening up to this group of caring friends, I have opened myself up to be hurt. Because we are sinful people and because we have suffered, we have the ability to hurt one another, perhaps not intentionally, but the possibility exists nevertheless. Hurt people hurt people.
But the truth is - Jesus knows I need the support and care of my friends. I need the intimacy of these relationships. I need the lessons of trust I am learning. As He walks with me He helps me to be vulnerable, open and honest in spite of that potential for hurt. He helps me to grow as a person and in my relationship with Him. If hurt happens, He will be there to walk me through it and help restore those relationships.
He said, "This is how people will know you are my disciples - because you love one another." May I paraphrase a bit? "This is how others will know you are my disciples, because you are open, honest and vulnerable with each other; because there is a trusting and strong, supportive, intimate relationship."
Can all Christians develop this kind of relationship? Probably not but Jesus is faithful to bring us to the point we are ready for such relationships. He will bring those across our path who will help us grow in intimacy; to fulfill this calling for our lives.