This blog is from a journal entry that I wrote for my Intentional Living in an Age of Diversion class. I have been spending this semester with 6 others (2 of whom have lived in intentional communities) learning about what makes for communal life. Last class, we were having a discussion about how young adults live in the tension of not really having clear guidelines as to when they have reached full adulthood. This was inspired by a book that we have been reading by David Janzen (The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus).
Young adults within the North American society are in a state of trying to “find themselves.” They generally are an independent, some-what self-centered bunch who want more gizmos and gadgets than they possibly know what to do with. They are at a place of trying to find maturity in a society which is increasingly vague on the definition. Our society feels that maturity is tied into being “grounded”. Milestones such as marriage and raising a family somehow make one seem older. A job providing a steady income is seen as a mark of maturity. Moving out of one’s parent’s house, buying their own place, and having to pay their own rent and utilities along with buying one’s own groceries and cooking their own food are seen as responsibility. But is being “grounded” really proof of “growing up?” or is it simply just more proof that one is individualistic and giving into the entitled mindset of the American Dream? Once one owns a house, a car, and has a family do they suddenly become more mature or does maturity take more than that? Does maturity really have to do with looking out for the greater good of humanity and learning to live in community with a wide range of people from different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds? Does growing up mean that we need to have our own kids or simply that we raise kids together while organically farming all of our own food and living intentionally?
I always had a the sense that I would be “grounded” by 23 or 24. That I would get my first church and start pastoring. Although a pastor’s wage is generally low, I would know where to put down roots and buy my first house and my first car. Perhaps I would get married at some point and start a family.
Yet lately I feel that God is calling me to a different type of family. To have brothers and sisters who are differently abled that I am and to have children who grow up in a different reality; knowing a new kind of “normal”.
Sometimes I get a bit frustrated with certain patterns of thinking. Sometimes I am appalled at my own understandings. It seems the world (including many well-meaning Christians) think of intentional community as something a bunch of young 20 year olds do because they want to keep their college experience alive and aren’t ready to “grow up” yet. Not ready to be a pastor? Lack the necessary life experience to be a chaplain? Aren’t mature enough to go to grad school? No problem, spend a year or two in intentional community or a year overseas and then you’ll be ready.
These experiences have definitely proven formative time and time again. One does learn a lot about themselves and how to interact with others while living in a forgiving community that seeks to foster spiritual growth and wholeness and that seeks to mentor young adults. However, I also think that joining an “intentional community” without a long term commitment not only defeats the purpose of communal living, but also is inter-personally dangerous, perhaps even a recipe for disaster.
I say this as one who originally thought (and still thinks) that I will spent 2 years in 2 different intentional communities and then possibly go overseas for a year before “settling down” and “growing roots.” There are still so many things I want to do and accomplish and I love getting my hands on all the experiences I can.
Neither intentional community would let me sign for more than a year right away. The first year is almost a “dating” phase – you need to see if it’s a good fit, if you are giving and receiving, and if personality dynamics work out. Going into a community with an idealistic mindset that you will stay there your whole life usually doesn’t pan out so well either. Jean Vanier (the founder of L’Arche) writes that young adults enter maturity when they go from idealism into the daily grind of community life which sometimes includes unhappy days where communal members completely get on your nerves.
At the same time, living in community is no less of an “adult” task than is being a pastor. In some ways, it may even be moreso, for after a day of work, power and relational dynamics remain needing to be solved. The young single person without a family becomes a mother to the screaming twins or the adult who has a developmental disability. Cooking, cleaning, chores, and dishes must all be done because the house is not your own, and the paper that is 2 days overdue remains unwritten for yet another evening because a crisis came up that needed to be attended to. Your dreams are not your own, they are shared amongst this group of friends. Your vision constantly shaped and refined. Your growing edges brought to light and constantly examined.
Jean Vanier speaks of how he finds young assistants at L’Arche to not quite be ready for the task, and yet, the day they are thrown in to community they begin to shape and form. Many young adults aren’t willing to commit to L’Arche long term – many will stay for a summer, a year, 2 years, 3. Many will leave changed, transformed, a different person. Only a few will put down roots in this community. Some may discover a calling towards celibacy. A small handful will decide that community comes before their own dreams and desires. It is indeed a challenge for L’Arche to remain an intentional community when many people do not stay long enough to keep fostering communal growth and relationships. This is one of the greatest challenges of L’Arche.
One needs to ask themselves: am I simply living communally for the experience or is it more than that?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with learning and growing with others. Community is a wonderful part of the beautiful web of life. We can’t fully live apart from community. Even the inner-city hermit eventually craves interaction at least to buy milk and cheese. Much maturity takes place alongside fellow pilgrims. Yet, community life is a calling, not simply a “stepping stone.” Not simply a way of “getting stripes” or “equipping one’s self” for future endeavours. Community is a way of living, breathing, and birthing life into the world. I’m blessed to be a part of the spiritual midwifery that is taking place.