Blake Faris

My relationship with God could have been defined as surface level. I would go through the weekly motions, giving off the illusion I had it all together, but I’m not sure I fully understood what it meant to know God. I used to live in a consistent state of self-preservation topped with a performance-based mentality. It wasn't until I joined my community group that I found a group of people who loved me unconditionally. People who authentically gave me a space to be open and honest with myself, admitting shame that had been eating at me for years, begging to be released.

I moved to Riverside in 2017 to work at a job I had prepared myself for in school for five years — a job where I felt massively drained and unfulfilled. Then I was invited by a close friend of mine, Megan, to volunteer at this place called Sandals Youth.

My genuine thoughts were “why would I wake up, work eight hours at a job that I can’t stand, only to sacrifice my only down time to go volunteer with middle and high-schoolers for a few hours?”

But what I said was “no, thank you” with a smile and a topic change. Late 2017 I found myself having a hard time getting out of bed, feeling isolated and unfulfilled. With just a little prayer, a whole lot of opposition, some hefty student loans, and an unknown next step, I left my job. It was the best decision of 2017.

So now here I am, trying to figure out my next step with a lot less weight on my shoulders, stress shifted in a different direction, and still no friends. I found myself scrolling through social media, trying to ignore my own situation and compare myself to all of my followers on their wonderful vacations, thrilling lives, and beautiful engagements.

Then, on a late Wednesday night, who’s instagram story to I stumble across? My good friend Megan again, that’s who. She posted a video of herself and a group of other volunteers for Sandals Youth dancing full of joy in a parking lot.

Little did I know, I just watched a 15 second trailer featuring a movie about my future, starring the people that would soon become my closest friends and community. I reached back out to Megan and told her I was interested in doing youth ministry at Sandals.

I just volunteered for a church I don’t go to, in pursuit of friendships with people I didn’t know. I still wasn’t thinking about the students. I just entered a ministry for selfish intentions, completely unaware of the radical things God was about to unfold in my life.

Day one of Sandals Youth, I get placed as a discipleship leader of freshman in high school. To say that I had a life changing realization would be grossly underestimating the spiritual punch in the gut I received jumping in to youth ministry.

A group of 14-year-old students set the foundation for my first real encounter with community.

There I was, asking my high schoolers to be open and honest with me, while holding back my own shame and guilt. Eyes full of tears, every inch of my body holding me back, I was honest, open, and real, for the very first time. This was the realization that I needed to find a group of my own, a place to be poured into.

I found some fellow leaders in Youth Ministry that had a community group going and I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and asked to join in theirs. I quickly became assimilated in the lives of guys my own age, creating deep and meaningful relationship through the art of full vulnerability. It’s unbelievably freeing.

Being in my group has quite literally impacted every branch of my life. Community has prepared me to love others with compassion and vulnerability and it’s improved my communication with others. I have to be honest, joining a community group is not always easy. When you have lived your life keeping everyone at a distance, bringing people close, telling people all the gritty, ugly details can be embarrassing and seemingly impossible at times.

But the “calls-outs” in love are the hardest. For a person like me, when people call you out, you can feel like they don’t love you. You learn to understand and identify healthy responses from the people who love you, directed at the unhealthy behaviors or lifestyle choices you may or may not see in yourself. This is what I tell my students as it pertains to group, if you don’t have genuine love for the individual you are engaging, intended help them become better men and followers of Christ, keep your mouth shut and just listen, you have a lot to learn. That goes for all of us.

It’s been a year since I’ve joined community at Sandals. Through that time we have experienced life changes together, whether it be through celebrating marriage, mourning loss, letting people go to pursue aspirations or bringing people in to cultivate new friendships and opportunity for authenticity.

I have an unbelievable amount of growth left, and a lifetime of mess-ups and fall-backs. With that being said, if there is one thing I know, one thing I’m sure of, It’s that God has provided me with a group of people who are striving for more, striving to be better friends, better spouses, better leaders, better students, better followers of Jesus and lovers of His people.

I decided in 2017 that in my desire to live in comfort, I became dissatisfied.

True satisfaction comes from diving directly in to that which brings you the most discomfort.

Chances are, the direction that is most uncomfortable for us, just may be the door Jesus is calling us in to. I can say from personal experience that that path bears the most fruit, and bring that fruit to your new community group — people love free food.

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To find your place to be real, go to move.sc/groups.