So far, I have lived in five different local communities as a military spouse. In each one, I find military spouse friends. Although it isn't always easy to find those friends, it is easier than making friends with the civilian population.
For most of us, it's easy to remain insulated within the military community. We know how to come into contact and build relationships with other military spouses. Our relationships with fellow military families are easy places to live out what we talked about last week. It's easier to be authentic about your struggles and to genuinely strive to understand people when they share so many elements of your lifestyle. But sticking to only military friends wastes half of the beauty of living within so many communities.
To fully take advantage of sharing the Gospel through this lifestyle, we also have to go into our local communities, reaching beyond military friendships. And as we go, we must open our rotating door carefully to the non-military communities around us, with the genuine desire to build real relationships.
For Jesus, too, it probably would have been safer and easier to stick to teaching his disciples. As His followers, they enjoyed the intimate friendship that is so often born of camaraderie and shared experiences. But He intentionally stepped outside of His comfort zone and strived to build relationships with people outside His inner circle, despite what it cost Him.
For us, our witness inside the military community is powerful and essential. But just like Jesus, we can't stop there. And as we go out into our communities, we need to follow His example in key ways, like the ones we discussed last week. We have to pray for our relationships and opportunities; we need to be honest about who we are; we need to genuinely strive to understand our friends. But we also need to learn three important lessons from Jesus as we step outside of our familiar circles:
He Didn't Shun Them Because of Who They Were
Jesus didn't avoid difficult or questionable people. That was one of the things about Him that really ticked religiously "pure" people off. They hated that He cared about the people who were outsiders to their religion. But it was a crucial part of His mission:
“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:17 ESV).
As we set out, it isn't for us to judge the sins of others, especially when they aren't believers. As David Mathis wrote, "Christian holiness is not the avoidance of darkness at all costs. It includes going into the darkness, letting our Light shine without compromise, and bringing people back from the darkness by the power of God." You can't help Jesus reach the lost if you avoid them.
In essence, Jesus didn't let the ways He was different from sinners keep Him from caring about them. While the lesson of not judging others is universal to Christians, this concept applies to military spouses in a more specific dimension as well: we can't think less of others' lives just because they're different from ours.
With challenge after challenge in military life, and a large community to commiserate with (online, especially), it's becoming more common for military spouses to laugh civilians’ complaints about their lives. If you think this isn't true, and even if this isn’t you, consider some of the popular memes you've seen that say things like, "Oh, your husband is going on a business trip for one week and you feel overwhelmed? That's cute."
You can't truly love, know, and have compassion on people if you also disdain them or feel superior to them. Suffering and sacrifice in military life are often worn as a badge of honor, but to serve others well we all have to set our pride aside. Building relationships isn't a comparison game. It isn't about who suffers more. You may feel like your struggles are worse than your civilian friend's but everyone has their "10" on the pain scale, and until it's exceeded, it still feels like "10" to them.
Yet, He Wasn't of This World
In all of His interactions with sinners, in all of the moments where He shared the most profound love of their lives with them, Jesus didn't sin. He went out into the world, but He was not of it. Through His word, we are called to do the same (John 17:15-16). Going out into the community to build relationships with people who aren't Christians doesn't mean that we compromise our obedience to Christ. Meeting someone where they're at means coming to them with compassion, not literally meeting them in a sin you know you shouldn’t act on.
As you go out, it will be important to guard yourself from falling into sins (Galatians 6:1). If you need support, find a fellow Christian who can hold you accountable and possibly even go into the community with you. Even Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs, although He had given them authority over unclean spirits (Mark 6:7).
It Won't Be Easy
Alongside everything God has called us to as Christians, there should be a tag that says, "This won't be easy." Whether you are sharing your faith within or outside the military community you will face adversity. People won't agree with you. Some people may even try to tear your faith down. Most of the disciples we know from the New Testament died obeying Jesus' call to share His truth. We thankfully don't live in a country where that is our main concern, but we must find courage to face adversity, nonetheless. In the scheme of eternity, it will be worth it.
So, how do you reach your community? Go out and be a part of it. Volunteer, join local groups focused on your interests, and have conversations with the people you come into contact with. From the butcher you see at the grocery store every week to the woman you meet in CrossFit, there are opportunities to build relationships all around you.
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In what ways have you felt superior to those outside military life? In what ways have you resented someone who gets to enjoy some elements of a non-military lifestyle? How has this kept you from really wanting to engage in others’ lives or meet them in their struggles or joys?
How did Jesus balance grace and truth in His interactions with others? How can we follow His example in tangible ways?
How can the trials you have been through comfort, encourage, and help equip others to deal with life’s hardships?
Think of one person that you come into contact with regularly (daily, weekly, etc.). Start praying for them each day and make a concerted effort to get to know them better — ask more questions about his/her family, past, job, and interests. Find out when her birthday is and surprise her with something small (take them a coffee in the morning or ask her to lunch). The possibilities are endless! Alongside regular prayer for that person, step outside of your comfort zone this week by thinking of one way to be more intentional with him/her!