I’m a firm believer in the power that community holds. It might seem like sure a simple concept, but it’s true that the stresses and hurt we feel when we’re plugged into a solid, like-minded group of people is significantly less than when we feel isolated and alone.
If you’ve been keeping up with me at all then you’re no stranger to the fact that I was caught between a rock and a hard place this summer when my anxiety began to feel like too much to bear and made it hard to get out of bed. I experienced a lot of stressors within the course of 2 weeks – I lost a lot I didn’t anticipate losing. It came with a lot of damaged self-esteem, rejection, abandonment, and a lot of questioning if I’d ever be good enough. I know – it sounds pretty pathetic; but that’s the point the events I had gone through in such a short amount of time this past summer led me to. It didn’t really matter how many times I told myself “it has nothing to do with you,” or “this doesn’t define you,” I still managed to find a way to make myself feel as if surely there was something I could have done to make things different. That’s how the Enemy works; he has such a way of being able to twist our thoughts that even when we know things are out of our control, he can still find a way to be in the back of our mind saying “you weren’t good enough – and maybe you never will be.”
And let me tell you something – an abandoned college town during the dead of summer is not really the place you want to be when all you need to feel is human connection. Sure, I had a couple friends in town that I’d hang out with on occasion, but there was the constant struggle of “I don’t want to seem needy by asking to hang out too much,” “I’m scared of being turned down if they don’t want to hang out,” ya know – the usual toxic thoughts that can spin out of control if you let them. And unfortunately, I did.
Although I had been in Norman for two years, I hadn’t tried to get connected to a church – partially because I was busy with school and felt lazy on the weekends, but mostly because I was terrified of going by myself – if it was a smaller church, I was scared everyone would feel the need to flock to me to get to know me; but if it was a large church, I hated the thought of get drowned out and awkwardly hanging out by myself, as well as getting overstimulated by a crowd. But at this point of my summer, I was desperate. So, I found a young adult community night going on at a park nearby my apartment; I was nervous to be going alone, but I knew enough was enough and I was ready to put the heavy loneliness I felt behind me.
Thankfully, I got plugged into a group that made me feel genuinely welcomed. There is something so freeing about finding people that are intentional with you and that make you feel comfortable about opening up about what goes on in your head – people that don’t judge you for being human, for having flaws… and sure, it seems like kind of a no brainer; after all, “only God can judge me,” right? But I think we all know we’re susceptible to being human at times and can’t expect others not to do the same when it comes to thinking that we might know best; and to someone who just started treating an anxious mind with a prescription medication, sometimes it’s hard to know how the church might react to turning to doctors instead of perhaps “praying more” (which, of course, is always good).
Getting plugged into a community gave me something to look forward to. Over the summer, I got to the point that I felt anxious to go home from work in the evenings because it was just going to be another evening, another weekend likely spent alone. But my Lifegroup was intentional with me and made sure I was included, even when they had hardly any idea of who I was. They made me feel comfortable about being myself and coming forward with my baggage – and by doing so, they were able to help me stand myself back up a lot faster than I would have on my own. And that’s the power of community – it’s coming together to not only have people be there for you, but for you to have the opportunity to be there for others; to be able to take your thoughts away from yourself and be there for someone else. I have always found that the best way to stop thinking about myself is to help others; or even simply being around others with a positive energy. I always leave our meetings feeling uplifted and with a sense of belonging.
There was a period in about September when I felt especially down on myself – a lot of feelings of inadequacy and lack of hope filled my thoughts and I had such a hard time trying to get out of the rut and believing I am enough. And of course, I never shared that with anyone because it’s not exactly something someone likes to admit they’re feeling. However, one evening in Lifegroup, we did an exercise where everyone put an envelope with their name on it in the middle of the room and we all filled out little post-it notes with words of encouragement on it. Granted, at the time, I still felt like I was trying to get to know half of the people in my group, and most of them were unaware of what I had gone through that summer, let alone how I had been feeling in those recent weeks.
When I got home, I pulled out all the little notes everyone had written and I remember sitting in my room crying as I read – every note had an exact word I needed to hear. There were multiple notes stating “you are valued,” “you are treasured,” “you are a new creation,” and so on that spoke to the doubts I had been feeling.
With this community, I don’t feel out of place, I don’t feel phony, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a mask – I feel like myself, anxiety and all. In a short time, this group felt like family; and in this city of Norman that’s 195 miles away from my home, it’s what my soul so desperately needed – to be able to share the ups + downs of life with people who value you and want to see you succeed.
Community truly is important for everyone – there are some churches that will offer massive selections of different types of communities: college, young adult/professional, singles, marrieds, single parents, etc. However, I cannot emphasize enough how important community is when you struggle with mental health, especially anxiety and/or depression. I know the Enemy uses mental health as a way to make us feel like we can’t get plugged in – we feel like we’re not good enough, no one will like me, I’m too down, they’ll judge me, I don’t want to go by myself, I’m scared – these are all things I told myself, all the while I knew finding a community would be the thing to help me. But it makes sense that he finds ways to hold us back; I feel so much stronger with my Lifegroup than I was on my own, because I know that when things feel heavy, I have an army of prayer warriors standing behind me ready to help me any way they can… and that’s the last thing he wants.
Finding the right group can be a lot of trial + error and can be intimidating – I know, I’ve been there. If you’re struggling with getting plugged into a community, whether it be because you don’t know where to start or you’re struggling with mental health, please reach out on my contact form.
“TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE, BECAUSE THEY HAVE A GOOD RETURN FOR THEIR LABOR: IF EITHER OF THEM FALLS DOWN, ONE CAN HELP THE OTHER UP. BUT PITY ANYONE WHO FALLS AND HAS NO ONE TO HELP THEM UP.” | ECCLESIASTES 4:9-10