I’m kind of a bread addict. This summer, I baked it for the first time in my life. There is just something about a steaming loaf of crispy, floury crust on the outside and flaky deliciousness on the inside that grabs at me. Despite having only recently donned a baker’s hat, rolled up my sleeves, and floured up the kitchen, I do know one thing: you can have all of the right ingredients, line them up on the countertop, leave them alone for a few hours (or years, but that’s a gross thought), and nothing will happen. No matter how long you let them sit there, a bona fide loaf of bread will never morph into being just because the ingredients are in close proximity to one another.
The same is true for unity. I’ve been dwelling on oneness, friendship, and authentic community for a while now, all in the hopes of our growing together. Regardless of how many tools we have, though, this particular loaf of bread will never come into existence until we take the ingredients out of their packages and then follow the recipe. The first part (“buying the ingredients,” or gathering enough information about unity) is pretty easy; the second part (“actually baking,” or putting what we know into practice) is much harder. It requires floured hands and dirty knees, a messy kitchen and a few awkward conversations before things settle into the comfortable rhythm of prayer-saturated, heart-level friendship.
Where do we start? Imagine yourself as the center of a target, with rings going out from you. Each of these rings represents a group of people in your world that could very much benefit from your intentional steps toward unity. The closest ring to you is your family (and those few friends who feel like family). Moving toward oneness with these people might include things like clearing out some time from your overloaded schedule to be with them, starting a new tradition, and keeping your tongue in check to prevent damaging those closest to you (who often get the brunt of your emotions because you feel safest with them). The next ring out is your friends. Ways you can build unity into this group include hanging out together, being vulnerable with and accountable to them, and purposefully making memories together. I have found that serving others with friends can be another fantastic glue for our souls.
Third circle people are coworkers and acquaintances. Even if there is no overwhelming desire to be besties with these folks, you can present yourself as open and cheerful, encouraging them in small things and being Jesus in their lives. Finally, the outermost ring represents the rest of the world—those you’ve never met but are still related to in your common humanity. It’s even possible to build oneness at this level. Don’t believe me? Think of the 9/11 aftermath: complete strangers were building one another up in prayer and meeting very real needs for people they would never see. Any time you clap for someone you don’t know at an awards ceremony or donate to a worthy cause, you’re strengthening your bond with individuals in the outer ring, baking unity into lives you aren’t even aware of.
In each of these circles, check for weak spots: do you need to apologize to anyone? Forgive anyone? Reach out to anyone? A harder (but helpful) idea is to pare down who is in which circle: are toxic “friends” sucking up way more time and energy than they should? Bump them down. While you don’t need to be cruel or rude about this process, allowing chronic negativity or stress to infiltrate the deepest places in your heart is not healthy for you or your family. Letting go of individuals (and thoughts, for that matter) who pose a legitimate threat to your well-being will allow you to give more fully and freely to the safe people in your life. Extend effort. Build unity. Bake bread. The hungry world is waiting for what only you can do!