I go on Facebook, and all I can see are pictures of new graduates, their faces beaming with joy.
A year ago, it was me, posing with six of my best friends from seminary. Gowned and smiling, our red and white hoods hanging down our backs. We pose seriously in one picture. We pretend to do a kickline in another one. We do the infamous jumping shots–a group tradition–in another.
They are viewbook type pictures. I saw these kinds of pictures when I signed up for divinity school. Smiling friends at basketball games or graduations, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. “Be part of Christian community,” the viewbooks and websites said.
I know something now I didn’t know then: Community is not instant. Those pictures, beaming with joy, are not pictures of the awkward beginnings or tedious middles. Those pictures are the end of a story. Behind those pictures are a thousand words that have been said, a thousand moments that have been lived.
There should be a disclaimer under these photos, with our hair all done and our dresses on and our faces beaming. It should say: “Not pictured.”
Not pictured: The awkward conversation we make with someone we’ve come to admire. We want to say, “Can we be best friends and cook dinner together and hike in the woods and watch movies?” Just cut the crap, skip all the steps, and get to the part where you tell each other your deepest secrets. But instead, it is slow.
Not pictured: The spontaneous invitations to dinner, messy house be damned. We take what we have in the fridge and the pantry and bless it with prayer and laughter and long conversation, and it is enough. We are fed, bellies and souls.
Not pictured: The boy breaks up with her the night the sermon needs to be written, and so we sit there with her. She reads parts of it aloud, and we help her craft the words, and somehow, in the midst of the tears, the sermons get written.
Not pictured: The sobbing phone call telling us about a death. We gather the friends together in the little prayer chapel and pray for her, her family. For peace and love and, somehow, light.
Not pictured: When we show each other our real selves, thinking that they’ll turn away, and somehow, they still love us. They love us all the more.
Not pictured: The “I’m sorrys,” the hard words that need to be said so that healing can come, the bacon on a Saturday morning, the hikes in the rain, the way they refuse to let you live the life that is less than you deserve, the chocolate bought at just the right time, the piles of books and articles at midnight, the giddy squeals after marriage proposals, the way they notice you are crying and squeeze your arm without words–because they know what you are crying about.
In the pictures, we do our best Super Classy Lady poses or look distinguished in our gowns and hoods. But my favorites are the ones where we are jumping. Robes flying in the wind, feet askew. Faces beaming because we’ve made it, and we’ve made it together.
The pictures don’t tell you, but it’s true: The only way you get to joy like this is through the awkward beginnings and the painful middles.
Community, real community, is a gift that you can only open up your hands and receive. And it is a treasure that you have to sell all you have to buy.
But at the end of it all is joy. Pure joy.