A Great Cloud of Witnesses
By: Ellie Falahee
Last week I had the absolute honor of serving as a counselor at Pine Hills Camp with more than 60 incredible female leaders on staff and nearly 200 bold, spirited, and inspiring campers. As always, my week spent surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses was powerful and convicting. I am always awed by the love and light each person at camp exudes and feel called to better live my own faith after watching them live out theirs. There is truly something moving about closing your eyes in the Big White Tent at Morning Prayer and allowing the praises of others to help raise your own praises, as, in community, the Lord is lauded and lifted high.
But, having returned from this somewhat-Utopian reality and thrust back into the not-so perfect world, I am struck by how much more difficult it is to maintain this communal sense of praise without (wait for it) the community! Don’t get me wrong – we are called to each individually strive for Heaven, and the strength of the community lies only insofar as the strength of each unique member. But, we were not created to only strive on our own! Christ literally founded the Church so that we wouldn’t have to find our own way! Both the individual and communal are integral aspects of our journey with the Lord.
So what does this mean? How can we balance these parts of our walk with Christ without feeding too heavily into one while neglecting the other? It is a difficult equilibrium to find – discerning if we are too reliant on community that our individual prayer has become stifled, or if we are too immersed in personal prayer that we forget to reach outside of ourselves and grow in communion with others as well.
A prayer that I say every night before bed is “Forgive me Lord, for seeking fulfilment in creation not the Creator.” No community, however perfect, can satisfy our hearts. And this is often a trap into which I fall; believing that somehow the greatness of those around me will ooze into my soul and I will magically draw closer to the Lord simply because they are drawing closer to Him, too. That is unfortunately not how it works. In order to go deeper with the Lord, we have to do just that: go! It’s not something someone can force on you, or choose for you. It requires a conscious, intentional, and individual decision that this is the path you desire and you will leave all else behind that deters you from pursuing it. The purpose of the community is to encourage you to make this leap and cheer for you on the journey; actual movement towards Heaven relies on you choosing to pick your feet up and take steps in the right direction.
As this new school year takes off, and things begin changing, I challenge us to look around at the communities in which we find ourselves. Are they encouraging us down the right path? Do they cheer for us when we walk towards Heaven or push us down whenever we try to take a step? There is undeniable fruit in a community of like-minded, power-house, earth-shakers who have their eyes set on the One. But, at the end of the day, we must remember that true growth with Christ requires our personal “yes” as well, and continued commitment to reaffirming that yes every single day. This isn’t a decision others can make for us, nor a path they can walk in our place. The Christian life is a personal journey within a giant community; a path we must choose, but a path that (surrounded by the right people) will continually drive us towards encouragement and repeatedly remind us that we are not alone, urging us, along with the many other sojourners, towards Heaven.
Ellie is a nineteen year old sophomore at the University of Michigan who loves to learn, to explore, and to hear other peoples' stories. She feels most alive when serving others or spending time in the great outdoors. (Bonus points for doing both at the same time!) Her favorite things include mountains, ginger tea, good books, and authentic laughter. And, she really hates cheese.