Blog/CYM Blog Community in the Kingdom: The Necessity of Relationships in Ministry by Katie Prejean McGrady When I find myself evaluating the measure of my life (which often happens while I wistfully stare at clouds through airplane windows), I find that the numerous people I am blessed to call “friends” bring me great value, joy, purpose, and support in immensely beautiful and wonderful ways. I have people that write books, give great advice, are raising children, enjoy smoking cigars, are building a homestead, know everything there is to know about wine, love the Lord, and are funny, smart, generous, kind, holy, and talented beyond compare. I wouldn’t be who I am without the friends I am blessed to have, know, and love. But even as I write that sentence, and reflect on the gift of my friends, there is a harsh reality I must acknowledge: I struggle to make time for, value, protect, and rely on my friends. I love them, dearly, but I frequently forget I need them, and must make time to be with them to foster and grow our friendship. Those of us in ministry are stretched in ten-thousand directions on any given day. We have numerous tasks, places to be, things to do, and meetings to attend that could’ve easily been an email. We become exhausted and overwhelmed, and the last thing we want to do is go, do, or be anywhere with anyone else. Even though authentic friendships are a source of goodness in our lives and the value of community is truly priceless and precious, it’s still remarkably difficult to make time for friendships and to build community. We face real threats when it comes to fostering good, wholesome, life-giving community: We are consumed by our work: the lives of our teens, stress of our jobs, and desire to “be everywhere and do everything” is strong. We allow our tasks to sometimes overshadow the people we love. We occasionally treat our friends as people to merely vent to about those struggles we face. We accidentally end up using our friends as stress reliefs and sounding boards, and the time we spend with them becomes exhausting and more frustrating because we’ve simply wallowed in our stress and struggle with them. >We are tired, and the idea of spending more time with more people is grueling to just think about. All our effort has gone to everyone and everything else, and we’re broke. We discover all too quickly that making (and keeping) friends as an adult is difficult. There’s no sandbox to just go sit down in anymore. We don’t have similar class schedules or exams for which to study together. Instead, we have jobs, and our job has irregular hours and strange responsibilities that include caring about hormonal teens and their lives. Finding people that “get that” and “support that” isn’t always easy, so we curl into ourselves rather than try to help someone understand. Here’s perhaps the harshest reality we face when it comes to community and our struggle to establish and maintain it: the devil doesn’t want it to happen. The devil doesn’t want us to have friends. He wants to isolate us, cutting us off from anyone that could support or encourage us in our effort to build the Kingdom. He doesn’t want us to be around the very people that could assist us as we relax, recover, and are refreshed by their presence. He doesn’t want us to find others who want to build virtue. He hates the idea of anyone, ever, having any type of good, wholesome, virtuous fun. He doesn’t want Godly people to become friends with one another, because it makes his job of destroying our relationship with the Lord even harder. The devil wants us to be alone, so he lies to us and tells us that we’re too tired and it isn’t worth it. He makes the challenges to building community seem insurmountable, and he cuts us off from others so he can gain easier access to our hearts and minds. It’s a scary prospect, to think that the devil himself wants to isolate us from the Body of Christ. He wants to remove us entirely from the very Body that sustains, aids, guides, and rejoices with us as we pursue Heaven. It’s precisely because community is so good and immensely important that the devil works so hard to ruin it. Knowing we are targets for his destruction, we have to exert double the effort to establish, maintain, and foster life-giving, Christ centered friendships. We are not meant to be islands unto ourselves, operating in a silo of our own making. We must find those who will walk with us, rejoicing in their company and companionship. Firstly, we have to make time for others. Friendships aren’t formed or maintained if we are never with those people. I live by my calendar, constantly updating it with every new task. I have to intentionally schedule time to be with my friends, and when I place it down on the calendar alongside all my other tiny colored dots spread out over a few months, I’m given a visual reminder of what I’ve committed to and shown how much of my time I give to everything else. If I can do all that stuff, even if it’s for my job, then I can certainly make time to grab coffee, have dinner, or call to catch up. If even that seems difficult, then look to find moments and activities that regularly appear in your schedule. If you’re going to be at Mass on Sunday morning, then get a group of friends together for brunch after. Who doesn’t love brunch?! Or what about the coffee shop you’re always in? Why not ask a friend to meet you there? Make “making the time” easy on yourself at first by finding these opportunities that are readily available, inviting your friends into the reality of your schedule. Be fully present. So you’ve shown up. You are with your friend(s). But are you really with them? Are you fully present to them, showing them that this time together is precious and that their presence is a priceless gift? There’s nothing worse than being with someone and they’re distracted by the myriad of stimuli surrounding us: 4.7 inch screens constantly dinging in our pocket, the noisy TV covering the wall with the 24 hour news cycle of despair on display, or the constant pull of the ever-lengthening to-do list. Identify the distractions. Make conscious efforts to avoid or remove them so you can be together as you talk, listen, pray, and commune with one another. I guarantee all that stuff will be waiting for you when the coffee cup is empty and the conversation is over. Flip the “ministry switch” off I had a friend invite me over to dinner once, but the invite came with a caveat: we weren’t going to talk about work at all. I hadn’t realized, but every time we hung out, the conversation would inevitably end up covering our jobs in parishes and schools. It wasn’t that our work was insignificant or unimportant. It’s just that she wanted to talk about other things that didn’t always circle back to a classroom or high school student. It’s tough to remove ourselves from our ministry: it’s part of who we are, and if we do it well and truly care about our young people, then it sometimes dominates our thoughts. But we will burn out, and exhaust ourselves and our friends, if it’s all we ever think or talk about. We definitely need mentors and comrades who “get it” when it comes to the possessed copy machine or the ornery old pastor or the annoying helicopter parent, but we also need friends who can help us stop thinking about all that so we can chill with a board game, glass of wine, silly movie, or hours of conversation filled with goofy stories and endless laughter. Have Fun The time with our friends doesn’t need an agenda: sometimes it’s just meant to be a time together to laugh and relax and rejoice in the joy of life. Let’s approach our dinner parties, coffee dates, game nights, and dog-walks with no goal other than to be together and have a good time. Our fun should be just that: fun for its own sake, and that will give us pure and honest delight that reflects the joy of the Spirit. These are not particularly earth-shattering strategies. We remember what it was like to make friends as a kid: we walked up to someone, said our name, and then played. We shared toys, flung sand, laughed at silly cartoons, molded play-do, and ate snacks. Somehow, things became complicated when we grew up. Busy schedules and constant distractions, coupled with the devil’s ceaseless attacks, confused the simple principles of sharing time and space with others. But, if we truly want to build the Kingdom, we have to do what Jesus Himself did: make time for others, especially those people with whom we are in personal friendships. Jesus cared about people: He shared meals with total strangers, wept with mourners, laughed with believers, washed the feet of His closest companions, and even forgave His enemies from the Cross. Relationships, and time with others, mattered. We are building His Kingdom, so we must image the way He built and fostered relationships in that Kingdom if we are to do it well.