(Below are Nicole's thoughts on Day 17, 18, and 19 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comment section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)
In today's society, our lives are busy. More time is devoted to working long hours to take care of families. More time is spent taking children to this function or that. More time is spent trying to keep up with the Joneses. By the time Sunday comes around, it's difficult for a lot people to devote a whole entire morning to church. In Day 17, 18, and 19, Rick Warren shares with us the importance of belonging to a church family, how to have true fellowship with others, and how to take care of your "community." Why is this important? As Rick Warren tells us on Day 17...."We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God's purpose by ourselves." We have to make time for church, for God and for our spiritual growth.
Let's start by looking at Day 17, A Place To Belong. In this chapter, Rick Warren explains to us the six reasons why it is important to find a church family. They are....a church family identifies you as a believer, a church family moves you out of self-centered isolation, a church family helps you develop spiritual muscle, the Body of Christ needs you, you will share in Christ's mission in the world, and a church family will help keep you from backsliding. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? However, having a child with autism keeps a lot of families from attending church. So what do we do? How can we find a church family that fits our special families? I would encourage you all to research all of the churches in your community. See if you can find a church that has a special needs classrooms. If not, speak with someone at the church to see what they would suggest doing because you would really like to attend. In the area I live, there are three churches right down the street from me that have special needs classes. I didn't realize this until I started searching. I am very fortunate to have a church family that developed a special program just for children with autism. It's wonderful. I know my child is safe and is actually learning about Jesus while I do the same. A lot of churches are doing things to reach out to families like ours. We just need to find them and let them help us.
Rick Warren moves on to Day 18 by sharing the importance of Experiencing Life Together. This is where we are introduced to the word FELLOWSHIP. When I hear the word fellowship for some reason I picture my great-grandmother baking pies for the church fellowship program she's going to that evening. But what does it truly mean? On page 138 Rick says "Real fellowship is so much more than just showing up at services. It is experiencing life together. It includes unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical serving, sacrificial giving, sympathetic comforting and all the other "one another" commands found in the New Testament." In other words, it's when you have a group of other believers who place their hearts on the table and truly open up. We can share our fears, our hurts, our sins and never worry about what others are thinking of us. We pray for each other. We help each other. Rick Warren also shows us that through real fellowship we experience authenticity, mutuality, sympathy and mercy. I like to think that we as readers, commenters and writers of this blog, all fellowship together. Let's make our fellowship even stronger and really lean on each other.
On Day 19, we learn how to Cultivate Community. How do we develop a really strong healthy community? The first thing we learn is to cultivate a community we have to be honest. On page 147, Rick writes "Sadly, thousands of fellowships have been destroyed by a lack of honesty." If someone is doing something they shouldn't, we need to speak up and approach this person. We must chose our words wisely and say it as nice as possible. However, we need to be honest. The second thing that cultivates a community is humility. I love how Rick Warren explains humility in this chapter. "Humility is not thinking less of yourself: it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others. Humble people are so focused on serving others, they don't think of themselves." Cultivating a community also takes courtesy. To have courtesy towards others we need to understand where people are coming from. We also need to validate other people's feelings. I think too often in our busy society we really don't stop and let others know that it's ok to feel a certain way and really try to be there for them. We just rush to the next thing on our "to do" lists. Confidentiality is also an important part of cultivating a community. For us to really truly share ourselves with others, we need to feel safe. This is why God does not like gossip. It's so easy for us to gossip. We think it's harmless but it can really do a number on fellowship. The last thing that is important with cultivating a community is frequency. It is important to be in contact with your group as much as possible. As Christians, we crave real fellowship. As humans, we can destroy it. Rick shares on page 151..."When you look at the list of characteristics, it is obvious why genuine fellowship is so rare. It means giving up our self-centeredness and independence in order to become interdependent. But the benefits of sharing life together far outweigh the costs, and it prepares us for heaven."
As parents of children on the spectrum, we need to find a church family. We need to belong to this church family to help us during our difficult days and to celebrate with us during our huge milestones. The church is an excellent place to get the support we need. Once we're a part of this wonderful family, it is our responsibility to go even further and find true fellowship. To find other Christians that we can share our fears, our hopes and our hurts. If you don't belong to a church, I encourage you to find one where you can grow as a Christian and where your child can grow up learning about Christ.
Bible Verses from Day 17, 18 & 19
You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family
God's family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
-1 Timothy 3:15b
Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. -Colossians 3:15
How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God's people to live together in harmony! -Psalm 133:1
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other with dignity and honor. -James 3:18
They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. -Acts 2:42