By Monica Thom Konschnik, Catholic Apostolate Center
After living in community during your year or more of service, you probably have learned a thing or two about relationships and community. Whether you just finished your term of service or you have been out for twenty years, there are many lessons to draw back on from that time and apply to your everyday life.
I feel very fortunate to have had a wonderful community experience of mutual respect and mostly strong communication when I did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I do know that is not the case for every community, but even in communities where there wasn’t the best communication or healthy relationships, there is still a lot to take away.
Communication in Community
When you don’t choose who you are living with, you need to work a little harder to be able to express your needs as well as be there for those with whom you are living. You need to step out of your comfort zone to be able to let the others see your quirks and shortcomings. This helps everyone adjust to provide a healthy and safe living space.
During my year of service with the JVC, I learned how to really communicate with others. As a very passive-aggressive person to start, I learned how to more appropriately communicate, and address conflicts head on. Occasionally, I still resort back to some passive aggressive behaviors, but because of living in my community, I am able to recognize when I am not being as direct as I should and can adjust my behavior.
Because of the vulnerability and awkwardness I experience in my first few months of JVC, I feel I became a better community member to roommates after JVC and now to my current roommate, my husband. I became more aware of the needs of others, sometimes setting aside my own wants and needs that got in the way of a successful community.
Sharing Your Faith
A unique characteristic of doing a faith-based volunteer program is the opportunity to be able to grow in your faith. There is something special about being able to share your spiritual experiences with those with whom you are living. In community, everyone is coming from such different places, but everyone is also in the experience together and can support and challenge one another to grow.
Living in community provided the opportunity for me to be able to find different ways to share my faith. With the weekly spirituality nights, I was able to find the words to articulate my faith journey. I was also able to go beyond words alone to express my faith. Simple acts of kindness or a smile became an essential way for me to live out my faith.
Living in community provides the opportunity not only for growing as a person and growing in your faith, but also the opportunity to have fun and enjoy those with whom you are living. It is not very often that you get the chance to live with a group of like-minded people, sharing money and resources, going through similar work experiences, living in a new city or country.
There is a special connection between your community members and yourself. Even if you never want to talk to a particular community member ever again, you still have a connection to that person because of the experience you shared. It is important, though, to be able to grow from those relationships even if they were not successful. Figure out within yourself where you could have been a better person. And maybe it is true that time does heal old wounds, and try to reconnect with that person once there is some space and more experience between you both.
The community I was a part of in New Orleans continues to communicate and support each other a few years after our year together. We have seen each other through three weddings, two children, one successful battle with cancer, job changes, moves, breakups, and new relationships. I’m grateful to have those six people in my life still and am thankful we had such an intense and wonderful experience together; an experience that has taught me to be a better communicator and a better person in relationships with those around me.