Most of us act, interact and react in similar ways in our congregation and in our family. When people at our religious home come from similar backgrounds it all seems perfectly normal and seamless. Many of us look for a religious community that mirrors our family life.
But when there are differences, we are faced with a choice. Do we look for another community where we feel more comfortable or do we stay and let ourselves be shaped by new patterns of acting, interacting and reacting?
There are good reasons for both choices depending on the situation.
Many years ago, I chose to stay and it changed the course of my life in positive ways.
When I was in my 20s, I joined a church with my husband and our two young sons. I remember walking into church one day and noticing that a couple I had developed a close friendship with had taken seats on opposite sides of the room from each other.
They were somewhat older than my husband and I, and had become role models as well as friends. I had just seen them the night before. They were laughing and enjoying each other’s company. There couldn’t be anything wrong now could there?
No matter how tense things got at home, my parents always sat together in church. At least until they got divorced. I’d learned that you put on your best front in public. Sitting together meant things were o.k. Sitting apart implied that something drastic was wrong.
After the service, my good friends from church stood beside each other and talked good-naturedly as usual. I noticed week after week that sometimes they sat together and sometimes apart. I noticed it had nothing to do with the status of their relationship. If they sat apart it was because one had attended a meeting earlier and the other was talking to friends or they had driven separately and arrived at different times.
Watching my friends in church began to teach me important lessons about self-differentiation in a relationship. My husband and I didn’t have to be in the same place doing the same things to have a good relationship. In fact sometimes being free to go separate ways helped us to relate better.
Religious communities can teach us many important life skills precisely because they are similar to family. And because they are not family.
People from the small church I belonged to as a young adult took on roles similar to biological family members. But the church wasn’t my family. Sometimes those people did some things differently than my parents and grandparents. Sometimes they talked about values that were somewhat different from those I had grown up with.
It is at this intersection of family and religious group that patterns can either become completely locked in or can gently begin to change. That is the power of religious community.
We can learn to use that power to shape our lives and the world in positive ways. See more at www.Congogram.com.