Spontaneous football is the best. Turning up at the park with a ball and forming teams with whoever happens to be around. (You can tell I’ve figured out the formula: the more people you have playing, the less you have to run around the pitch.) We’ve had some memorable matches this way with friends and with people who were strangers.
Feeling a bit weary of the daily requirement to kick a football with our boys when we were in Devon last week, we had a go at asking a group of nearby children and another family if they wanted to play. Result! Seven extra players.
We knew nothing about them but we were soon cheering one another on and having a great time. We assumed that we were the ones who weren’t local – but it turned out that only one of the children was from the village. We were all strangers, really. (The father of the other family, we discovered afterwards, was a PE Master from Eton College. That might explain why he was so good at football. And polite.)
Lately, whenever I take time to think about what I really long for in life, I come up with the word ‘community’. This might be partly due to the fact that we are living far away from our extended families or it might be because I had some really good experiences of sharing life with people in the past, but it seems a slightly strange thing for an introvert to long for.
What is community? For me, it’s a place where everyone is allowed to shine and all feel free to contribute the best that they are and have. It’s holding yourself back so that others can have a go. It’s allowing ownership by everyone, not just following the vision of a few. More than anything it’s being vulnerable enough to admit that you need and value other people especially if you’re actually trying to build the kind of kingdom Jesus talked about.
When you live in a family, it’s easy to think that community stops there. (And there is a lot to learn about creating a community-like family.) But our kids don’t just want to play football with their parents- believe me! I want to be the kind of person that is willing to ask strangers, ‘Would you like to join us?’ And I want to believe that if they say ‘yes’, it will be good for them and also for me.
Another thing we did in Devon was to go to an indoor climbing centre. Both of the boys climbed about halfway up the enormous wall a few times before coming down again. This was fine with me – the heights were making me feel a bit queasy even at a distance. When our youngest was having his turn – I went up to the viewing balcony, just to take his picture and I found myself at eye level with him as he clung to the handholds. All I did was smile and say ‘you’re doing really well’ and that was enough to make him determinedly climb all the way to the top. Honestly, I had no intention of spurring him on but that simple praise was seemingly all that was needed to push him to the top.
That’s what I think we can do in community for each other. You’re doing really well. Do you want to join in?