Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World (11 page)

BOOK: Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World
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Accountability Challenges Us to Reach Higher

Accountability isn’t just about sin avoidance or sin mitigation. It’s about challenging and inspiring one another, telling a friend she’s underestimating her abilities or urging her to take a risk when you see her holding back instead of dreaming big for God.

While writing this morning, I got in a conversation with the two young girls seated at the table next to me, who were eating brunch together. They told me that they met today to dream about the new year. I was familiar with the light in their eyes and the notes they were taking as they talked. I knew those happy tears, shed over eggs and thick slices of
bacon. I recognized what they were doing. They were choosing to get better together.

Bacon, coffee, dreams, making each other better, believing for each other what is difficult to believe for ourselves, reminding each other of Jesus and grace and heaven—this is the good stuff of friendships that will last.

The Process of Being Sharpened

I’m often asked about what I think makes friendships work, about what I think authentic community is, and while there are several aspects to that vision, at the top of the list would be the practice of saying hard things and the practice of listening to and receiving those hard things.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” remember? We have the opportunity to both sharpen and be sharpened, if only we’ll see our relationships as the anvil that they are. And yet who in a right mind wants to sign up for being the piece of metal that’s getting reshaped? Torturous flames, the pounding against an unforgiving surface, the bending and prodding and pain. Nobody thinks they want that experience, but we do. We actually crave it. We just don’t always know how to have it.

Begin with answering this:
Who in your life has wisdom to speak into your life?

Maybe it is a peer or somebody older. Remember that village life includes friends and mentors and a wider net of people
who can speak wisdom into your life, not just your obvious two to three closest.

Once you’ve identified your wise and trustworthy friend or friends, here’s how you intentionally pursue accountability:

  1. Give permission to this person or people to tell the truth to you.

  2. Ask them regularly:

    1. What area do you see in my life that I need to grow in?

    2. What practices do I need to embrace in order to grow and mature?

    3. Will you hold me accountable to this change?

  3. Plan a follow-up meeting. Schedule a time when you can revisit this conversation.

  4. Ask your friend or friends if you can hold them accountable for anything.

Don’t Settle for Nice

Listen, because this is important:
don’t take criticism from just anyone.
Choose the voices you intend to listen to. Give permission to only certain people to speak truth into your life. Look for people who will call you up higher, not those who will let things slide.

I’ve noticed a trend that suggests we must prioritize acceptance and tolerance at all costs, regardless of the decisions
people are making, the behaviors they’re manifesting, the beliefs they’re clinging to, or any of a thousand other things that may be leading them into harm. If we listen to what society tells us, then we will put tolerance at the tip-top of the list of requirements to be a good friend.

To each her own.

Honor your truth.

You do you.

It’s all nonsense. Why? Because the last thing you and I need are friends who do nothing more than cosign our stupidity. If I’m about to careen off a cliff and you choose to stand there cheering for me, we’ve got a problem. I don’t need acceptance when I’m being a fool; I need help. And so do you.

Don’t Surround Yourself with Mirrors

We not only need people who call out our foolishness, we need people in our lives who are not carbon copies of ourselves. We need to be in community with people of differing ethnicities, backgrounds, perspectives. As I’ve watched the Church become so divided in the past few years, I have leaned more deeply into relationships with people who think differently, who call out, for example, how an ideology impacts my friends of color. It’s one thing to watch the news and form an opinion about a policy. It is altogether a different thing to sit across from a friend who is teary about how to raise her child of color in a world fixated on hate.

We need people who challenge our presuppositions, increase our compassion, call out our racism, and challenge our materialism. So often those people have lives wildly different from mine. Sure, they love Jesus, but they have experienced the world and see it in ways I grow from and respect. It’s why my family loves to travel and counts handfuls of friends in many countries. We realize that our little spot on planet Earth, the color of our skin, the privilege we carry from parents who own homes and have secure incomes, the church we attend, the level of education we received—all this has shaped our opinions and perspectives.

How will we ever have our wrong thinking challenged or small thinking expanded without friends to challenge and expand it?

The Great Cover-Up

But we face a bigger enemy than discomfort when it comes to living accountable: our pride.

If shame makes us hide behind locked doors and high walls, pride is the paint, the wreath, and the cute landscaping that says, “All good here! In fact, we are better than good. We are amazing! Look at our beautiful new shrubs.”

Pride is the great cover-up for the fact that we are all sinners, in need of grace.

Adam and Eve eat the fruit, hide from God, and then devise a plan.
Maybe He won’t notice we’re naked and ashamed if we put on these cute little leaves?
So they pull out their sewing machine, throw together little outfits, and come out of hiding with their heads held high.

“All good here!” they chime. But God knows better.

Adam blames Eve.

Eve blames the snake.

Pride sinks them both.

Pride is our defense when we are accused. Pride is our insistence that our opinion is Bible truth. Pride is our good works we set out to showcase our virtue. Our achievements that affirm we are justified in our choices. Our proof we wave around to show we aren’t sinful.

But nothing on earth is more freeing than just owning our mistakes.

Being caught.

Admitting we sin.

Laying down our defenses and resting in God’s provision for our sins.

People who live this way are my favorites! They are self-deprecating and never defensive; they’re fun and honest and free.

I have Tim Keller in my earbuds so often that I’ve practically memorized most of his sermons, and one of my favorite takeaways from his body of work is this:

Our sin is worse than we imagine.

And the grace of God is bigger and better than we can imagine.

Accepting both truths sets us free.

A friend was griping to me about her mother-in-law a few days ago and got herself so worked up that she was almost in tears—angry tears. I watched as she tried to collect herself, and it was as if a giant neon sign appeared over her head flashing the word

“What are you afraid of?” I asked in almost a whisper, once she’d moved through the emotional burst.

The griping stopped, and the conversation turned to what was
going on.

I just said what I saw. I didn’t shame her for griping or for being afraid. I just observed aloud what she couldn’t see for herself, and she was able to safely process the true problem she needed to address in herself and in her expectations. I didn’t let her spin in her anger and rage. I didn’t leave her there, because leaving isn’t love.

I’m not going to lie: practicing two-way accountability is messy, and we sometimes clumsily hurt others more than we help. But if we just laid down our defensive posture and listened and learned, then maybe we’d find something better waiting for us. True accountability comes from deep love and care for our people. If our people know we love them, we can
bear with one another when our words come out a little wrong. We love them too much to leave them.

Often, we run when it gets difficult, but what if we stayed and didn’t cover up? What if the hard stuff is what brings the depth of friendship we are craving?

Yes, when we set aside our fig leaves and say what is true, or when we hear and listen to what is true, we put ourselves at greater risk of being hurt. I know. No one has wounded me more than the people who are closest to me. And sometimes my imperfect people speak harm and not correction. Sometimes they don’t understand or empathize. Sometimes they use my sin against me. Sometimes they gossip about what I have shared. Sometimes they leave me in judgment. Sometimes they reject me because I was honest. Sometimes they shut me out for good.

To be perfectly candid, these realities are terrifying. But even though every one of the things I just named has happened to me personally, I’m still pleading with you to sign up for this way of life. And I’m telling myself the same thing.

Here’s the deal: If you’re committed to grow in maturity and increase in wisdom and be relationally healthier ten years from now than you are at this moment, then you will start to see that iron anvil I mentioned not as punishment but as a means to the progress you desperately need. You will quit hiding, hedging, and decorating your wreath for your locked door. You will stop recoiling when questions are asked. You will give up on pretending that you have it all together. You will let a little useful pounding into your life.

Why? Because Scripture says we need this: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Lay It All Out There

God’s way to protect us from the enemy and sin is to share responsibility with each other—our people fighting for us and us fighting for them.

I’ve seen this. Often. In our small group, we go
I mean, we show each other all of it. And yet I have never experienced a group of people fight for us as this group does.

Since our earliest days in Dallas more than three years ago, Zac and I have been in this small group I’ve told you about, a weekly gathering of couples, organized through our church. I had no other friends in town, as you’ll recall, so I said yes to the invitation to join, despite my serious reservations.

A few months in, the leader matter-of-factly said something like, “Next week we’re going to lay out our finances for each other, including numbers, and talk about how we can hold each other accountable in our generosity, spending, and debt.”

I remember thinking.
You want to know what?!

Yep. They wanted specifics on purchases being considered, purchases that had been made, and overall financial standing. They wanted data—as in, spreadsheets were encouraged.

One of the couples was in the market for a new house, so, as was the custom of this group, they brought all the information to the other couples—how much the house would cost, how much they planned to use as a down payment and how much cash that would leave on hand, what the annual taxes
and other fees would be on this new living situation, other major expenses they were facing (not the least of which was two kids soon to be in college), and so forth. And then a massive conversation ensued.

People asked questions. People made observations. People offered alternatives for consideration. People prayed for clarity and wisdom on behalf of the prospective homebuyers. And as I sat there taking in all this activity, something almost tangible fell away from me. Fear fell. Because I saw how beautiful and reassuring accountability could be.

Since then, for the past four years, Zac and I have run every major financial decision by our group. And while that may sound horrifying to you—“You tell them everything?”—it has been a tremendous source of peace in our lives, this knowledge that these fellow sojourners have our backs. “Plans fail for lack of counsel,” Proverbs says, “but with many advisers they succeed.”
I’d always nodded in agreement with that sentiment; now I was doing what it says to do.

“But doesn’t that information ever get used against you?” you ask.

I suppose it could someday. Weaponization is always possible, but so far the benefits have outweighed the risks.

If accountability is done right and with the right people, we will love Jesus more and our lives will show that love to be real.

Setting the Ground Rules

I feel compelled to note that it’s way too easy to do this all wrong. When you sit across from someone and you share your
struggles and they share theirs, the natural inclination is to solve each other’s problems rather than point each other to Christ. We may be able to put a Band-Aid on each other’s issues, but what if we pointed our friends to the ultimate Physician instead of our quick fixes? Going to Jesus is where you start to see supernatural life change.

The first Bible study I wrote was called
Stuck: The Places We Get Stuck and the God Who Sets Us Free.
I taught this study for the first time in my home church because I knew I needed it and my friends needed it. About 150 women of all different ages came and sat in a little cafeteria of our church plant. We used conversation cards to guide the discussion, and the whole time, whenever we asked a really deep question, we ended up counseling each other. The women would tell each other how they handled situations from their own experience instead of pointing to the Word of God.

After that, I completely rebuilt the way I did Bible study. I set ground rules. I put Scripture at the center. At the beginning of each small group gathering, even if you had been in it four or five times, you had to read the ground rules together. The ground rules remain:
We don’t counsel each other with human wisdom. We point to the Word of God.

When one person shares a concern, another responds, “Okay, I hear you. Now, let’s go hear from God.” We don’t stop with venting. We don’t stop with fix-it worldly wisdom. We take all of it together to God and His Word.

You and I need friends who, instead of trying to fix us, help us to fix our eyes more firmly on Jesus.

BOOK: Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World
10.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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