“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
When our family was grown up and had flown the nest, my husband and I decided it was time to sell our family home and buy an apartment. I had prepared myself for the challenges of living in a much smaller space, but I was quite unprepared for a much bigger challenge that assailed us, after we had moved in. Living with a group of very close neighbours! Of course I realised others would be sharing the building, but it took a while for it to sink in that sharing common areas proved to be a whole new learning experience. It was a surprise to hear differing views on decorating the lobby/ type of plants for the garden/ allowing pets/ how much money to pay for insurance etc. I began to realise that if we were to have a harmonious building we would have to be in tune with these new people in our lives. We would have to quash some of our own opinions about how we would run the affairs of our building and to listen to others and to accept what the majority believed to be best, otherwise living in our new apartment, however beautiful it was inside, was going to be far from pleasant. We needed to live in unity with others in the building.
The problem of living in unity is not only confined to apartment buildings. When there are groups of people living or working together, how to live in unity becomes a very important component of harmonious living and nowhere is it more important than in our church family. Paul quickly realised this with the little fledgling churches he had established and emphasised it repeatedly in his letters.
“ Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)
We may have believed that those who secret themselves away from the pressures of the world in monasteries or convents have a better chance of achieving this living in unity, but St. Therese of Lisieux in her autobiography , “The Story of a Soul”, paints quite a different picture of life within the convent walls. She is very open about some of the annoying characteristics of those around her, even to one nun who complained bitterly all the time about her ailments to one who made odd clacking noises through the prayer time to another who playfully splashed water on those around her while doing the laundry. We readily sympathise with her. Her solution is one worth following. She easily admits to the Lord that she cannot love these particular ones as she is weak and imperfect, but says to him, “You, yourself must go on loving them in and through me”. [The Story of the Soul: Chapter 9]
How do we relate to this story within our own church family? Would others exclaim, “See how they love one another”, as early pagans observed the early Christians, when they look at our congregation? Would others long to join us because our values are so different from the secular world? Would others note our unified steadfast belief in the Lord Jesus Christ? How can we present a unified front to those outside so that all who see us know we love and follow him who first loved us? How can we be like Therese and allow the Lord to love those difficult people in our lives, in and through us?
Paul has wonderful advice for all of us who long to live in unity with our fellow believers.
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. “ (Colossians 3:13-14)