Lean On Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community

Lean On Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community

by Anne Miller


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"Reading this gut-honest book will be like cold water to your parched soul." Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times best-selling author of The Best Yes

"Anne's story is a disturbingly searching, deeply convicting, and delightfully arousing call to community, the kind that only Jesus makes possible. Read it and you'll want to relate as perhaps you've never related before, with both vulnerability and commitment. Leave safe relating behind, and connect with healing power."Dr. Larry Crabb, best-selling author of Connecting

Life has a way of throwing unexpected obstacles in our path, tripping us up, and bringing us to our knees. When these crises hit, who do you call? Who do you lean on? Anne Marie Miller found herself in one of those valleys on the floor of a hotel bathroom while on a business trip. Months of stress accumulated and took its toll. In a moment of desperation, she picked up the phone and called a friend for guidance. That simple phone call was the first step in a transforming journey of evaluating what community truly meant and looked like in her life.

We live in a world and a generation where the word “community” is often discussed. But how genuine and authentic are your relationships really? Anne Marie noticed an important tension all of us must recognize in order to have life-giving friendships: “We desperately want to belong yet at the same time, we yearn for independence.”

In Lean On Me, Anne Marie Miller takes us along as she sets out to dig below the superficial and explore what choices are necessary to find intentional, vulnerable, and consistent community. Jesus was passionate about truth-speaking relationships. And with Anne Marie’s narrative and practical insights interwoven together, you will feel more equipped in your quest for these types of relationships as you seek people to lean on and as you pour love into those around you.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780849946004
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/14/2014
Pages: 198
Sales rank: 872,596
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Anne Marie Miller lives with her husband, Tim Miller in Franklin, Tennessee. Under the name Anne Jackson, she wrote two books: Mad Church Disease and Permission to Speak Freely. Anne speaks at colleges, conventions and churches on the topics of social justice, sexuality, health, addiction, and biblical themes of grace and restoration. She writes for Relevant Magazine, and has been featured in publications such asChristianity Today and Outreach.

Read an Excerpt

Lean On Me

Finding Intentional, Vulnerable, and Consistent Community

By Aanne Marie Miller

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Anne Marie Miller
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8499-4600-4



Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.


Can you feel it?

Buried into the molecules and electricity that cause our hearts to beat, lives and breathes a longing we can only attempt to describe. It is not inert; it moves and grows and feels pain and rejoices, and it can do all of these things in chorus with little effort on our part.

This desire demands our attention, much like an infant crying out for his mother. There are no coherent words and no formed questions, just a cry that can be best interpreted as, Please be with me. Nourish me. Warm me. Embrace me. Love me. See me.

However loud this cry, a duality also exists, just as hidden and puzzling. We desperately want to belong, yet at the same time we yearn for independence. We want to prove to ourselves and those around us we can survive on our own. That we are not dependent. We are free. To rely on someone else is weakness, this conflicting voice utters. The ears of our spirits listen.

These two voices are innate. The first humans lost their native divine dependence when they consumed knowledge from a tree. It is a daily struggle and a daily surrender to allow ourselves the freedom to wrestle with our holy need for interdependence upon each other in the body of Christ.

* * *

Where do I belong?

I never knew how to answer that question. In thirty-four years of life, I've lived all over the United States, up and down Interstate 35 from Dallas to Kansas City, with a short six-month stop in Oklahoma along the way. I went north to Michigan, and over to the plains of western Illinois. Further west to Los Angeles. East to Nashville.

When I was a child, my father, a Baptist pastor, was called to a new church every couple of years or so, and the routine was the same each time: our family of four crowded into the cab of a barely street-legal yellow moving truck he paid for in cash, and away we went down the boiling Texas interstate to whatever destination was next in our future. We rolled the truck windows all the way down, which gave the impression of having air-conditioning but in reality only allowed in the hot, gritty air. My scrawny legs stuck to the grey vinyl seats as Neil Diamond sang to us through the truck's speakers on the journey to our new home. The tape player was the one part on the moving truck that always functioned without fail.

When I was five years old, our house and the church next door were the only signs of human life for miles in a patchwork of four Texas farms. The nearest neighbor was a fifteen-minute drive on dirt roads built above irrigation canals, unless one walked across the five-hundred-acre plot behind our house. When we moved in a month or two before harvest time, it was a fortress of corn twice as tall as me, hiding the habitat around us. But after the combines cleared the land, I could see straight across the empty red earth to my friend Stephanie's house.

Rattlesnakes, bobcats, and a feral mismatch of other not-so-kind desert creatures brought out the protective side in my parents. My younger brother and I were only allowed to play in the dirt parking lot of the church or near the front porch if we went outside. After one particular disagreement with my parents, I decided I was going to run away. I was emancipating myself. No longer would I give in to their demands and unfair chores like scrubbing the green beans and carrots we grew in our garden.

I carefully packed all my valuables in an aluminum Sesame Street lunch box and went to the porch. I waited. With my mom's watchful eye following my every move, I sat in the dirt under the honeysuckle vines that took over the black metal railing. I hid in its shadow with the fuzzy bees, plucking sticky stems from the shrubs and pressing out their intoxicating nectar until the drops escaped and landed on my tongue.

My mother moved away from the kitchen windows and I took the opportunity to make my escape. I grabbed my lunchbox and blindly took off across a field of corn, running as fast as my small legs would take me. The corn was not friendly, scratching my thin skin as fallen ears tripped me while I sprinted.

My tiny heart was pumping fast as I claimed my liberty: I did not need my parents anymore. Exhilaration! No more swatting at bugs as I pulled up produce from their garden. Freedom! My lungs started to ache and I slowed. Where is Stephanie's house? I know it's this way. Fear replaced my confidence.

What if nobody knows I'm missing? What if I'm out here alone? Forever?

I continued walking, certain a tragic fate waited for me. A crop duster flew overhead and I looked up through the stalks; the white sun flared and burned its image into my vision. Hot tears rolled down my flushed face. I brushed the dust and bugs from my hair.

And then I heard voices coming from somewhere nearby.

I started running and the voices became recognizable. I heard Jerry, Stephanie's grandfather. And then I heard my dad.

The rows of corn grabbed my little body and carried me the rest of the way with their green husk arms, finally launching me right into the safety of the middle of Jerry's front yard. I dropped my lunch box and ran to my dad weeping and heaving and apologizing. For as much as I wanted to be on my own, even in the short time I was gone, I came to a clear understanding that I needed someone to know me, to know where I was, and to protect me. That day, the duality of independence and needing others took root in my soft kindergarten heart.

We all need a place to belong. That's something we've been told from preschool to adulthood. Go sit with the kid who sits alone at the lunch table. We all need a place to belong. If you're the kid sitting alone at the lunch table, go sit with a group. We all need a place to belong. Go meet your new neighbors and invite them over for dinner. We all need a place to belong. If you're new to town, why don't you join our church and find a small group and begin serving and sign your kids up for the soccer team?

It may be an overused adage, but it's true. We all need a place to belong. In both the Old and New Testaments, we are given examples of relationships, from the way the Trinity created us in their image to stories of close friendships, tribes, marriages, and families. You can't go very far in the Bible without encountering a story about a relationship.

But who can I really trust?

I know I have good friends ... great friends! There's just no way I could tell them about that secret thing I've hidden far away from the light.

Our church is so big I don't feel like anyone really knows me there. We're in a small group, but it just feels forced.

Sometimes I feel like my closest friends aren't my Christian friends. How is that even possible? I thought since we shared the same faith, we would be there for each other.

Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind or passed through your lips? I know they have mine. Especially in the church, we live in a generation where the word community is almost used as much as—if not more than—the Lord's Prayer.

As our developed societies have become more independent, we've felt the effects of disconnectedness on such a deep level, we're afraid to admit it at times. Even though we have screens and pixels to connect us to anyone, anywhere, anytime, we've never felt more lonely or unhappy in any decade in modern history. We're surrounded by people everywhere we go—both physically and virtually—yet the need to feel that we belong somewhere is undeniably palpable.

Churches and groups within our communities try to find the solution to this ache. From the first time you enter the doors of most churches, you'll hear something about joining a group, getting plugged in, or "doing life together." With the increase in the number of big churches growing larger, this step of intentionality is necessary in order to facilitate relationships. Shaking hands during a Sunday morning service does not provide an environment conducive to cultivating relationships.

We create programs and small groups and activities to introduce people to each other. Often, this structure works well. We meet people with similar interests or in comparable life stages and we form relationships. Our calendar boxes are filled with cookouts and mission trips and Bible studies and girls' nights out. I have heard so many stories of how someone moved to a new town, attended a new church, joined a small group and even though the relationships were new, that small group evolved and proved to be a saving force during a difficult time.

I think that everyone feels the need to belong. Do you? Are you caught fighting the contradiction of needing others, being needed, and wanting to be on your own? Does fear keep you from reaching out to others? Do you want to know how to strengthen the community where you live and love?

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35 ESV). This verse is just one of many scriptures to help push us forward in our quest of desiring genuine relationships and community.

We will not find perfect community on this planet. The only perfect union that exists is between God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Until we continue on into our eternal lives after we pass from this earth, we will never encounter the unadulterated and pure communion in the way it was meant to be experienced before the fall in Eden.

However, we're not called to be perfect or to have perfect relationships. We're urged to seek the kingdom and live holy lives fully dependent on God and in relationship with others. It is first in this dependence on God, and then in our interdependence with other believers as the Spirit unites us, where we can experience a truly joyful and abundant community here on earth as it is in heaven.



When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"


The first question God ever asked was a simple one. "Where are you?" After Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree and realized they had severed their perfect relationship with God, they hid. This cosmic moment was the first time fear and shame entered into our world. It was the catalyst for the duality of dependence and independence. God desired perfect communion with his creation but did not compel them to it. In his mercy, he gave them a choice. As soon as the decision was made to act against his desire, his heart grieved the loss of the unblemished relationship he wove with Adam and Eve. So, he pursued them to restore it.

While walking in the garden in the cool of the day, God asked the question, "Where are you?" to the hiding couple. He could have lashed out at them for their misstep, but his slow and calm demeanor reveals to us thousands of years later how deeply God longs for whole relationships where nothing is missing and nothing is broken. He offered Adam and Eve the opportunity to confess and be reconciled with him, and each other, setting up the prime example for how we should do the same.

Our Relationship with God

We need to know where we are in our relationships. What is your response as God walks with you and asks you, "Where are you?" Are you hiding from him, ashamed? Your mistakes don't have to force you to cover the most vulnerable areas in your life. God sees you, he loves you, and he wants to be in a relationship with you. Through the excruciating and sorrowful sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, on a cross over two thousand years ago, your connection with him doesn't have to be severed. If you don't have this relationship and you want it, the Bible says if we believe in him and confess our need for a relationship with him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and save us from separation from him, creating a bond of salvation that can never be broken.2 If you choose this now or have made this decision to follow Christ in the past, it doesn't matter how many times you concede to your old faults and habits; God is always waiting for you to answer his question, "Where are you?" with, "I'm right here. Broken. Please, forgive me, Father."

Our Relationship with Others

My best friend in elementary school was Hilary Smith. We bonded over sharing pencils during a test in the first grade and were inseparable until I moved away a few years later. We played piano, liked the color pink, crimped our hair, and preferred books to Barbies. We never fought-ever. But then I moved and life wasn't so simple. Middle school friendships were trickier. Not everyone could be trusted, especially girls. One day, someone would be your best friend and the next day, they'd be your worst enemy. High school was even more complex now that boys were cute and hormones surged. This time period of morphing from a studious teen into an official adult was relationally formative. My associations with others were no longer so casual. Careers, churches, neighborhoods, community-service opportunities, and sports leagues vastly expanded my spectrum of relationships in the last two decades, not to mention the Internet moving from a hardwired desktop to the phone in my pocket. We're connected to so many people at so many levels almost all of the time. If we do find a moment apart from this connectivity, the quietness often causes introspection: What makes someone a friend? How vulnerable should we be with our small groups? The mom we meet in the line to pick up the kids at school? On our blogs? What do our interactions with others demonstrate?

Four Categories of Relationships

If you look at how relationships within community function, there are four general categories:

1. Not Vulnerable and Not Committed

2. Vulnerable and Not Committed

3. Committed and Not Vulnerable

4. Committed and Vulnerable

Not Vulnerable and Not Committed

The people who fall in the not vulnerable and not committed category don't really have any group of people on whom they can depend. They aren't vulnerable, so they keep the details of their lives private, and they're not committed, so they aren't accountable to any person for any reason. If all of your relationships fall in this category, you do not have healthy community.

Vulnerable and Not Committed

Those who are vulnerable and not committed are people who have no problem opening up about their life and their struggles. This is an admirable trait to have, but it is one that needs to be used with discretion. The people in this group, although they can share freely, are not committed to anyone. Though they may be aware of how they can grow, they don't let anyone in to help them.

Committed and Not Vulnerable

When someone is committed but not vulnerable, they have made a step to be in a group or have some consistent relationships in their lives. However, they won't share anything below the surface. Based on my experience with small groups, I usually landed in the "Committed and Not Vulnerable" category.

Committed and Vulnerable

Out of the four groups, those who are committed and vulnerable are generally in the healthiest relationships. They are open about the realities of life with a consistent group of people. Because of the trust built by being committed, the ability to be vulnerable is easier. People in this category can celebrate the good things in life, mourn the losses, and help carry each other as they grow closer to God and to each other. These are the vital relationships every person needs in place. Not every relationship can or should be committed and vulnerable, but we need at least one or two people in order to have healthy, thriving community.

Nothing Stays the Same

While these categories are helpful, it's likely that we don't fit neatly into any one particular category, but instead have tiny pieces of ourselves scattered across all of them; and where we are fluctuates and falls into many midranges rather than one extreme. We are liquid humans living liquid lives, like water sloshing between glasses, souls and minds in constant motion, twirling and shifting, changing—never quite what we were and never quite what we're going to be.


Excerpted from Lean On Me by Aanne Marie Miller. Copyright © 2014 Anne Marie Miller. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Makeup of Community

1 Created for Belonging 3

2 Where Are You? 10

3 Relating in the Everyday and the Crisis 21

4 Choosing the Shelter of Relationships 30

Part 2 Needing and Being Somebody to Lean On

5 Falling into Surrender 43

6 The Importance of Diversity 57

7 Losing Control and Embracing Commitment 66

8 Practicing Vulnerability 79

9 Persevering through Pain 92

10 The Collision of Faith and Hope 101

11 Receiving and Returning 114

12 Safe Places 123

13 Circles or Spirals 137

14 Big Challenges and Small Steps 147

Resources 155

Acknowledgments 158

Reader's Guide 161

Notes 197

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