When you live in intentional community and you are open to people visiting, both for a meal and for longer visits, at some point you will suffer from what is known as visitor fatigue. I will explain why.
In my experience (albeit limited), excluding personal visitors like family or friends, there are a few different kinds of visitors to a community like ours.
1. The visitor who is has lived here before or who has close ties to the community, ie, they grew up here or they live in a sister community.
2. The visitor who is interested in joining this particular community.
3. The visitor who has come to make connections or volunteer or (in past years) intern at a specific business in the community
4. The visitor who wants to meet like-minded people and share interests.
5. The visitor who has strong ideals and wants to talk to people here about those ideals
The first four visitors though perhaps tiring at times, in some way or another usually enrich the community with their gifts. They long to share their lives, both long-term and short-term and they long for this community to succeed, to grow, to be challenged, to find ways to better love God and show others a Christ-like love. They ask questions of us, they want to know us and encourage us and build relationships.
The fifth group is often the cause of visitor fatigue and unfortunately, they are (in some years) the most numerous type of guest.
Intentional community, because it is typically counter-cultural, attracts lots of different kinds of people. What most of them have in common is strong ideals. They often have radical ways of living their life, and in the case of Christian communities, they have diverse ways of viewing the Bible. They believe in these views very strongly and though mild-mannered they may seem at first, they become solid and stubborn as bricks when their strongly held ideals are challenged.
During recent meals with these kind of visitors, it wasn't long before the conversation became more of a platform for them to preach at us. While trying to serve food and corral two young children, we've been criticized, talked-down to, told what our theology should be, told why we aren't quite radical enough and in one case, left without a thank you.
Farmer and I spend lots of energy trying to live and love in ways that Christ taught us. We agonize over our failures and question ourselves. We seek to love our neighbors, to share our lives with them, to live in community, to support and encourage the church. We are wrong a lot. But we are trying.
But all it takes are a few couples who are wandering aimlessly around the country, 'following the spirit,' living without families or jobs (in some cases leaving children behind for others to care for), and their hyped-up ideals to lay us flat.
Because you know what? It's really easy to stick to your ideals when you won't let others question them. It's easy to judge and point the finger when you shut away community and the world and your families, buffering yourself against any doubts that the way you believe is the only way to believe. The more I'm in community and church, the less sure I am of most things. And the more I invest myself in community, the more certain I am that I'm in great need of forgiveness and of the God who offers it. The more I try love my neighbor, the more I am sure that the most important thing is true: that God is good, that he loves us and that we should love each other with a Christlike love.
I don't want to become jaded. I don't want to default to the cynical, bitter part of me.
I want to offer hospitality, lovingly and without asking for anything in return. Even (and maybe especially) to the unpleasant, the patronizing, the rude guest who takes it all out of me. Is that what's required of me?
All I know is that I'm unprepared. God help me, I'm not ready to love them properly. I'm not ready to not be defensive. I'm not ready to be okay with being misunderstood, to respond always in gentleness, to love them with compassion.