This is a working theory, but there was a time when we were all on an equal playing field.
When our communities lived in our back pockets. We rose and slept in the same dorms, houses and apartment complexes.
We went through life's ups and downs together. Like when we entered the folds of middle school. Or when we each ran the risk of ripping the mailbox off its hinges in anticipation of our college acceptance letters.
That was stage one. An incubation stage. A psychological place where we rested. Finding commiseration and peace by groaning through the growing pains together.
Then college happened. Stage two and the roads forked infinitely. Our paths diverged like the branches of trees. Squiggly, twisting, growth outward. Reaching out from where we were first planted all together. Rooted in the same precise spot in the ground.
It's then, stage three, that we fall ahead/behind. We move north/south/east/west. We experience joy/heartbreak. We choose careers/families. We work nights/days. We gain/lose faith.
Maybe it's just this stage of our lives, but it doesn't seem like we're treating each other very well outside of our silos. Outside of the places in life that we aren't automatically inclined to understand without extra thought or effort.
Like it or not, in church, in real life, we are segregated into our stages.
And I think we're nearly failing each other. Like the body is torn. The limbs of each stage trying to function on their own.
There are certainly exceptional people in many lives and churches breaking through these stages. I am grateful for them. They're making a huge impact. The married couple that invites a single into their home. The single who cooks dinner for the couple with a new baby.
The pastor (like mine) who connects to them all.
These are the types I people that I hope to be. These are the people fighting for community.
But I confess that lately (as in, always) I've been a part of the problem.
It's a little hard not to feel left behind as we look forward to our desired place in life. It's difficult to battle the feeling of irrelevance when facing a community full of a waterfall of stages. Each with challenges and benefits in their own right.
It's just so much easier to connect with the people in your own stage. To be attracted to the men and women with our same hopes and fears. Nursing the same wounds and exposing the same scars.
But, if you listen well to your friends in every area of life, you will discover the challenges each holds:
The marrieds with children. Figuring out who they are as parents. Learning that even the smallest dose of selflessness is hard to take. Like during the 2 a.m. feedings, and trying to patiently explain parenthood to people who just have. no. idea.
The marrieds. Finding out who they are as a couple. Balancing life, jobs and friends with spending . Learning patience and how to move ahead without leaving the other behind.
The engageds. Fighting to schedule time to be with each other outside of planning and stressing and to-do lists that keep growing. Like the guest list. Oftentimes running into social and societal conflicts. Fearful of hurting feelings, and dreaming of the future. The pressure of the wedding day in and of itself. Battling whether or not to keep the name you were born into, or cleaving yourself from your family's legacy and joining a new one.
The couples. Discovering that relationships don't solve problems. Discerning what negative traits in a significant other are deal-breakers and what are just signs of an imperfect heart struggling through trials in an imperfect world. Wondering if this time their relationship will be different. And begging God to tell them if this is the one for fear of losing precious time.
The singles. Making it on their own. Zeroing in on the left hands of every person they pass, male or female. Being exhausted by the carousel of wonderment about the future. Paying bills and loans with starting salaries. And wondering what it is about them, specifically, that has handicapped them in the life-running race. Maybe fighting through parenthood themselves. Maybe wrestling through the residue of divorce.
I'll be the first to say it because I struggle with it myself: we need to learn how to love each other in our different stages. We need to learn how to pay attention to the hurts and difficulties of others.
I don't know how to fix the problem, other than to fight for my girlfriends. To pray for a united church body. To text and leave phone messages. To ask for patience when I fail to love and understand others. And shell out grace like a carnival ticket.
Because that's the one thing that ties us all together in these stages of life: grace. And it's just so much more of a beautiful picture when we all learn about it together. No matter where we're from, or what stage of life we have landed in.
photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via photopin cc
photo credit: timsamoff via photopin cc