If you commute an hour or more to school, you probably relate to the idea of feeling disconnected from your community. You may notice that students who live on (or near) campus are plugged in to a lifestyle that feels just out of reach for you.
Committing to social clubs or participating in after-class activities feels exhausting because at the end of the night, you still need to make the long journey back home. Hours later, you’re back on the commute grind, heading back to campus again, only to repeat the cycle.
Unfortunately, this is also my current experience with church. At times I feel disconnected from my spiritual community during the week. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy worshipping God with my friends at church on Sunday, but because of my commute, I sometimes feel more like an outside observer than a vital part of my spiritual community.
When I am at home during the week, I’m not able to do anything with my church friends. This is not the way I envisioned myself building Christian friendships.
My physical limitations with cerebral palsy complicate my ability to feel like a vital part of any community. I have to communicate through a special device; this takes a lot of effort for both me and the person listening. Simply asking someone how their day is ends up being more of a chore than an enjoyable conversation—for both of us. Because of this, it takes me more time than most to build meaningful relationships.
In my ideal world, I would love to live my whole life in just one community. I imagine how much easier it would be to stay connected with people throughout the week. To actually meet up and spend time together. But this is not the case with me for now. This is the tension I feel in my current commute to spiritual community.
The two worlds I live in
I live in Waterloo, but my family and I attend a church near our cottage in Flesherton, an hour and a half away. At times, the commute becomes somewhat tiresome and disheartening.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my church. We wouldn’t drive 90 minutes one way, every week if we didn’t. They have taught me so well and supported me incredibly selflessly. But it’s hard to keep connected and live life with my church friends there.. It isn’t exactly “doing life together with friends” as I had hoped. My parents feel the exact same way as I do. Even though we make use of technology, like facebook and texting, it’s just not the same as face to face.
The commuter lifestyle also somehow seems to make time fly by faster. Things happen in my friends’ lives without me being there. It feels like they are living life without me; some even get married without me observing much of their dating history. Usually, we only have time to say a quick hi and bye, since they are busy with their own lives in the community. But I am thankful that we can at least take little moments to pray for and encourage one another.
Despite my limited times with them, I still try to remember Paul’s words that teach me how to live in community with my friends. “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.’’ 2 Corinthians 13:11.
But if I am really honest, I long for deeper connection.
A taste of community
Part of the reason I long for more connection is that I have, at one time, experienced the benefits of living my life entirely in the same community. During my time at college, I was able to do things together with my friends throughout the week. I felt more a part of that community in the day to day.
I loved being with my friends at special events, such as retreats and banquets. It was so meaningful to have extended times to hang out. Being with them during the week was like a joyful extension of the time of worshipping God on the weekend.
I suppose I should count my blessings; one of my personal support workers is a Christian, and sometimes I go to her church during the week. I even went to her bible study and met some other young people. It‘s good, but I feel like I’m missing out on other opportunities like worship nights at that church. Fear of missing out is the big theme of my commuter lifestyle.
The thing is, even if I was in the best possible community, on this side of heaven, I know I would still long for deeper spiritual connection. Even in this struggle I can trust that God is at work and using my circumstance to make me more like Jesus. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.’ Romans 8:28-29 (ESV).
Perhaps, you too, are feeling disconnected from your Christian friends during the week. You also have a longing for have deeper Christian friendship. What can you do? What are your options?
- Make use of technology to bring you face to face with your Christian friends. Screen time on social media itself isn’t a strong enough connection for your soul throughout the week. It is, however, a good supplement to connection and a great way to coordinate face to face meetings—so don’t be afraid to use it that way! It can also be used as a great way to reach out for prayer as well. Even praying together with a Christian friend via phone or chat can encourage. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:25 NLT”
- Be vulnerable and ask Christian friends if they would consider getting together for regular and consistent times of prayer and sharing what is going on in your lives . Negotiate how you can meet part way. Look for small groups already meeting in your area. The worries of life can easily squeeze out what is most important, our relationship to God and others. Meaningful relationships require time to reveal who we really are and pray about what concerns us most with friends. Look for ways you can serve together with your friends.
- Consider a move that unifies where you live and worship. If I am going have close Christian friendships, I need consistent times and places to develop them. Living close to the friends I worship with helps this a lot. It may mean moving to a different place of worship. It may mean moving from the place you are currently living to be closer to where you worship. Look for Christians in your community that would be able to meet with you during the week. One of the greatest things about having a close church community is how it can help keep us accountable, and good accountability is something nobody should give up.
It is important for me to remember that I live in a broken and fallen world. Human love is limited and comes with wounds. I can’t expect spiritual connection to be perfect or easy. I have to trust God and take steps of faith and vulnerability. I need to get close to friends to experience spiritual connection. And I suspect that’s true for a lot of us from time to time.
BY OLIVIA ELDER
Olivia Eder lives in Waterloo, Ont with her family. She was born with a disability called Cerebral Palsy. Olivia currently writes blogs for university students on different themes.
She graduated from Heritage College and Seminary last April and is currently working at Kidsability.
She also gives some of her time mentoring a high school student who lives with the same disability. Olivia enjoys giving presentations to her former Elementary school educating students about disabilities and how to treat people with disabilities. In her spare time she reads, sings, travels, swims and spends time with family and friends.