Words by Christina Strachoff
Before beginning CityLove, I was particularly looking forward to the service and spiritual formation components of the program. These seemed the most important to advancing the mission of the program, and I was eager to focus on these aspects of my life full-time—aspects that I often neglected as a college student for the past 4 years. I expected and hoped to grow spiritually and in my ability to serve, but what I didn't expect was the growth that would come from the third component of the program—community.
Embracing community has always been difficult for me. I don't have the easiest time opening up to people, and isolating myself has often seemed more attractive than relying on or being vulnerable with others. While I’ve liked the idea of being in the deep relationships one finds in community, I never really understood this as an essential. But through living and working with the CityLove team this year, God has really opened my eyes to the value of community.
A huge way He did this has been through our weekly team lunch meetings. Every Monday, we share a simple meal together in the Renaissance Church kitchen and talk. We discuss everything from projects we’re working on, to our analyses of The Office, to habits we want to cultivate in our lives. One of the most important things these conversations have created space for is sharing our burdens with one another.
One season of CityLove was particularly tough for me and I was able to talk about that with the team at our meetings. I’d taken on my first teaching position at an incredible local arts non-profit. They do important work increasing youth access to arts learning, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to come alongside them. Not to mention, I was teaching on one of my favorite disciplines, ceramic sculpture, and had the privilege of working with a knowledgeable, compassionate team and creative, enthusiastic young artists. But during this time, I began struggling with a lot of anxiety. Now, I’ve lived with anxiety most of my life, but this was more intense than I’d ever experienced. My wavering mental health impacted my daily life significantly, and I began falling back into unhealthy habits of coping that I used to struggle with.
This hard season taught me that this thing called community isn’t as scary as I thought it was. Being able to talk about my experience openly and honestly with the team was truly healing for me. No matter how much or little I shared, I was met with encouragement and support. The team didn’t judge me for not always being 100% enthused by my work, and they never condemned me for being anxious. It was still a difficult season, but I learned that I could —and should—lean on my brothers and sisters.
God showed me this year that we aren’t made to be alone. We’re designed to live in relationships. To know and allow ourselves to be known by the people in our lives; to care for and be cared for by them; to shape, challenge, support, and serve one another. Learning this, and actually believing it, has been both humbling and freeing for me. I’m humbled by the reality that I can’t do life on my own, and I’m freed by the truth that I don’t have to.
The impacts of the CityLove team, as well as the greater Renaissance Church community, simply being there and showing up for me has fostered a heart in me of greater intentionality in my relationships. I’ve noticed myself more willing and motivated to show up for others in simple ways. Like staying on an unexpectedly lengthy, just-to-chat phone call, or choosing to get dinner with a friend instead of sending those emails that can wait until the morning.
All that being said, I hope this is an encouragement to you—maybe especially if you’re prone to isolation like me—that being in community is valuable and beautiful and, though it sometimes takes us out of our comfort zones, we were made for it.
[L]et us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. -Hebrews 10:24-25
Christina grew up in Southeastern Massachusetts and felt a pull to full time missions while in college at the Rhode Island School of Design.