“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” –Psalm 133:1
Joni and Friends Family Retreats are beautiful for many reasons. I have been to five retreats, and each one I have been to has highlighted a different attribute of God. The most recent retreat I went to highlighted God as a relational God.
God’s relational nature is seen throughout scripture in many ways. One of the most vivid pictures of His relationalness is through the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are in perfect relation with one another.
In Hebrew, Genesis 2:4-25 uses the name Yahweh when referring to God. Yahweh means “I am.” This name is used to express God’s covenantal relationship with His people. “Knowing the Bible” says it this way, “God wants to have a relationship with His people, and so He is giving them permission to call Him by a personal name rather than by His formal name.”*
God dwelt with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8-9). The Lord dwelt with the Israelites in a pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21-22). At Pentecost, God’s people were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).
These are just a few examples that God clearly shows His emphasis on being in community with His people. He pursues His children and does not leave them to themselves.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.”
As Christians, we are called to be like God. Because of this, we should also imitate God’s relationalness. We all have a great need for community with people. God himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
We often think our families touched by disability’s biggest need is for respite and care. While this is often true, they also need community, to be in relationships. God created us to be in relationships. Disability can often isolate.
At Family Retreat, one of our families said,
“As much of a blessing it is for people to receive respite time and care and extra hands and teaching, that is not their biggest need. I think their biggest need is to be a part of community, part of family. I have observed that in a lot of different ways here. That is the need you are really meeting, allowing them, the whole family, to feel a part of a larger family.”
Church leaders, keep the reality of isolation in mind. We can all often feel isolation in many different ways. Be conscious of the isolation disability may bring. Think of creative ways you can involve those touched by disability in your church. Create spaces where individuals can serve, but also where families can fellowship with other families in the church. Families, be aware of the isolation often caused by disability. Be vulnerable with others; allow others to share your burdens.
The Christian, however, must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated. The burden of men was so heavy for God Himself that He had to endure the Cross. God verily bore the burden of men in the body of Jesus Christ. But He bore them as a mother carries her child, as a shepherd enfolds the lost lamb that has been found. God took men upon Himself and they weighted Him to the ground, but God remained with them and they with God. In bearing with men God maintained fellowship with them. It was the law of Christ that was fulfilled in the Cross. And Christians must share in this law.
―Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
Emmalyne Kwasny is a senior at Mississippi State University and serves as editor-in-chief of the university’s student-led newspaper, The Reflector. Emmalyne volunteers with Joni and Friends Mississippi and has interned with Joni and Friends Cause 4 Life.