By STEFANIE BENNETT | CONTRIBUTOR
Part 3: Challenges in Sisterhood, Chapters 10-12 (pp. 145-185)
I was bracing myself for some hard conversations today. Weren’t you?
In considering this section of Fox’s book, “Challenges in Sisterhood” (Chapters 10-12), I expected our conversations to be riddled with stories of ways in which community had failed us, and to feel such shame over the ways I had failed at community.
But blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united to Christ! (c.f. Ephesians 1:3, emphasis mine).
Instead of complaints and critique, I listened to godly, faithful women of the church rejoice at the ways in which God had supplied their needs and healed them, even in the midst of deep disappointment and loneliness inflicted by believers they loved and trusted. They did not dwell on their hurts—nor dismiss them as petty–, but rather, chose to dwell on the healing of God through the work of God and the love of others.
They rejoiced that, even though change and even conflict were woven into their lives, they could find the purposefulness of these discomforts by looking to the “God of all comfort” who has authored and is perfecting our faith. And then, they considered how their experiences were useful for deepening their ministries to others who might also feel lonely, rejected, or neglected.
And doesn’t the example of these godly ladies point us right back to the very reason why we need community– to help us take our eyes off of ourselves, draw us out from our isolation, and show us the beauty and selflessness of our Savior—which then compels us, similarly, to build up the body in love and service?
In spite of the glorious promise of community, however, Fox’s chapters also forced me to remember that community must be cultivated (Chapter 10), and with that, there will arise barriers and challenges (Chapters 11-12). (Translation: Work and Problems!)
In truth, it doesn’t take much to discourage us from the things we don’t want to do. If I even think the gym is going to be crowded, I’m out. My landscaping suffers because watering it means standing outside in the heat. And it may be the same way with community. Faced with any of the challenges Fox mentions in Chapter 11—loss or rejection of a friend, disconnectedness, shallow friendships, and circular loneliness– we can be tempted to run away in self-preservation at the smallest sign of rejection or discomfort.
This is where the grounding we received from the previous chapters of the book (and Jana’s exhortation during the study) help us remain committed to community, even in more serious disappointments. We remember that we were made for community. We recognize that community was hopelessly broken until Christ intervened to restore it. And now, Christ’s blood unites believers for all eternity with a bond stronger than human blood. And from this knowledge, we can help, rejoice with, exhort, learn from each other, and grow together, even when community is imperfect.
We recognize that conflict and barriers to community are part of the fallen world. They are one more reminder that, for now, we live in tents, but we are looking toward a heavenly city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (c.f. Hebrews 11:9b). But we take heart to know that, in Christ, our eternal community has already begun, and although we only see in part, when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away and we will enjoy perfect communion with God and his Bride forevermore (c.f. 1 Corinthians 13:9). Amen!
For this reason, we are compelled to hold fast to our community of faith, in spite of personal pain or disappointment, because of Jesus Christ, who loved his Bride to the point of death, even though he also was gossiped about, rejected, abandoned, and made to feel unwelcome by the very people he came to serve.
And He, being rooted and established in love, shows us the way forward into community, beyond our failings and the failings of others:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:12-14, emphasis mine).
And with this love, we are left, not with hostility, but with hospitality. We can risk our comfort for the comfort of others because of the comfort we have been given by God himself (c.f. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5). We can reach out to others—strangers, the hurting, visitors—because the risk is greatly diminished when we, ourselves, are basking in the welcoming hospitality of the Son, our Perfect Example.