Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
- Mary Oliver
I’m in the book business, and one of the things I have learned is that certain words in titles can work against you when you are trying to entice someone to buy a book. Two of those words are relationships and community. Are those the first topics that come to mind when you want to spend your money on a book? Not me. They sound a little dry.
That’s why I gave this blog entry the title I did. We all want happiness. Though you might call it fulfillment or contentment, happiness is the simplest and most direct way to put it. The funny thing about happiness, however, is that it’s never easy. It’s simple and direct, but not easy.
Why isn’t it easy? Here’s the reason: The keys to happiness lie in our relationships with others.
I recently read an article in The Christian Century entitled “Our Life Together” by Christine Pohl, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. Pohl discusses the relationships we have in church, and I’d argue that they aren’t all that different from relationships we have at work or at home. She writes about how people often describe the experience of relationship and community by talking about a time of intense emotional bonding, like at a retreat or shared activity. Yet, she argues, “communities need more than shared history and tasks to endure. A combination of grace, fidelity and truth makes communities safe enough for people to take the risks that are necessary for growth and transformation.”
Briefly, here’s what Pohl recommends as the simple steps to creating that safe and graceful community (and happiness), whether it’s just two people or a whole group:
Call attention to the things that you appreciate—not just material blessings, but the things that someone else does for you.
Do what you say you’ll do, especially in the little things, which add up.
Tell the truth, and in relationships, that means providing correction for one another. We all need it, and offered gently, we all want it.
Start with a smile, embrace one another, and give your time and attention.
If you’d really like to dive deeper into the topic of strengthening community in a faith setting, check out Pohl’s recent book, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us. And on second thought, it’s not such a bad book title after all.