This post was originally posted at (in)courage.

Do you have authentic friendships? Are you living in true community?

Those questions sure seem to be popular right now. The encouragement to develop authentic, doing-life-together relationships with people, the chastisement to stop hiding, stop being afraid of getting hurt – it’s all the rage, isn’t it?

So we’re out here, plodding along, pushing through our fears, our nerves, our past experience that tells us people can be challenging and relationships can be complicated. We’re accepting invitations, asking hard questions, offering a hand or a hug to someone who needs it. We’re doing the thing.

But how do you know when you’re really doing it, when you’re doing life together, when you’re “living in community?” How do you know when you’ve reached the really real level of friendship? What do these buzzwords even mean?

True community can be elusive, like a flattering swimsuit or the sparkly unicorn my five-year-old swears is out there. And so-called authentic friendship can be just as hard to define as it is to find. Well, lucky for you, I’ve figured out exactly how to know when you’ve really found true friends and real community – and I’m happy to share.

How to Know if You’ve Found Community

Now, you might think that the first clue that you’ve created real community among your group of friends is when you get a phone call – or worse, hear the doorbell ring – and realize your friends are going to see your not-ready-for-company house, and you don’t panic.(Sure, you might shove a few things in the hall closet, but that’s normal.)

Or you might think that true community is clearly happening when you get together with friends and their families, and throughout the evening you realize someone else is feeding your child while you’re wiping her kid’s nose and your friend just hollered at your husband for his off-color joke while her husband just asked you for the recipe for the brownies in the kitchen. (It was a box mix.)

Then again, maybe you’ve recognized community when you find yourself needing help – a spare tire, a last-minute babysitter, a couch to crash on halfway through your road trip – and you know exactly who to call. And you don’t even feel guilty or nervous about asking.

Or maybe it’s when you find yourself hugging your friend’s parents at the birthday party without that awkward I-don’t-really-know-you-but-I’m-hugging-you feeling, texting her just to say you’re thinking of her, opening drawers and looking for the salad tongs instead of asking where they are, confessing your deepest secrets and listening to hers, laughing until you cry over remember-when stories and inside jokes, or spending the night debating everything from the best season of The Office to theology and politics to the appropriate way to wear skinny jeans.

But for me, community – true, authentic, in-your-face-and-your-heart community – has never been more apparent than the night I shared with my friends that I had another bad case of poison ivy and it was at its worst in a, let’s say, very sensitive spot. And their response? It was not sympathetic murmurs and gentle hugs, nor was it offers of home remedies or their own poison whatever survival stories. No, ma’am. My friends, my people, my community LAUGHED AT ME.

Oh yes! They laughed. And they mocked. And they said things like, “Really? What kind of, ahem, extracurricular activities were you doing at the church picnic to get poison ivy THERE?” (Shut up. I don’t know. The stuff travels, okay?)

And as I sat there with tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, I thought, “Well, I guess this is it, isn’t it? This right here is community. This comfortable like my stretchy pajama pants, familiar as my own reflection, laugh at you and with you, call you out on your crazy and hug you through it family – this is community.”

Now it’s your turn:

Have you found true community? How did you know?

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