This Is Part Three of the Series: Why Risk Real Relationships.
Lately I’ve been finding myself nostalgic for the communities of my past.
My sophomore year of college, I lived in a co-ed Christian fraternity house with two women and 17 men. There was always someone with whom to grab a cheap bite of food, talk philosophy or collapse on the couch to watch TV. (And also, there was Josie, a friend still in my life, to do occasionally rebellious things like smoke cigarettes in the park across the street, and go see a punk/ska show in San Francisco. I’m not a totally holy person.) In my early twenties while newly married, I worked for a local magazine, with an almost all-female staff. At times, it was not unlike finals week in the dorms, when collective stress bonds you and you order high-calorie takeout and work late. These women and I shared a lot of our personal lives. When I went into labor with my first child on Friday the 13th, they helped me keep track of my contractions throughout the day on a piece of scratch paper. When I was working part time and caring for my new child, my local Mothers of Preschoolers group became my tribe. We met weekly, and I made friends there, who became women I talked to daily on the phone and had weekly play-dates. Little happened in my life that one of those women did not bear witness to: from pediatrician appointments to family conflicts to toddler milestones. And when my children were younger, our lovely condo cul-de-sac was not unlike a big dorm. We were surrounded by other families with young kids, had keys to each other’s houses, ate spontaneous potluck suppers together, and could almost always step outside to find someone to talk to while our kids rode scooters or climbed trees. I’m in a different season now. Spending time with people is more complicated, as many of my mom friends have gone back to work in some form (myself included) and our kids are off with friends, at soccer practice or studying, rather than riding around in the front yard. I work and write from home when I’m not teaching, so my normal rhythm is to be in front of an audience or all by myself. It’s a shock to my system: all eyes on me, and then no eyes anywhere. I find myself wanting someone to bear witness to the details of my life. My long-time readers know what I really want is to be living in a sit-com, where Joey and Chandler are just across the hall and Phoebe is always crashing on the couch. Friends just waiting behind every door and on every piece of furniture! (Next week's blog is going to be on enmeshment and we'll address this urge of mine there.) But what I’m also learning is that the friends who love me – and I’m blessed to be deeply loved – don’t have to know everything and see everything to know me. The relationships we’ve built over the years are rooted in the deep sharing of our stories and secrets; the prayers we’ve said for each other and seen answered; the joys we have celebrated, and the sorrows we’ve weathered. Even a couple of new relationships I’ve made in the pandemic years (hi girls, you know who you are), are based not on how frequently we’ve been able to be in each other’s presence, but by how authentic our interactions have been. And this is key in understanding why we should risk real relationships. Because even in those communities for which I am now nostalgic, when I look back through realty’s lens, I can acknowledge that even in those spaces there were times I felt lonely. Where I was in a crowded room and unknown, where I performed or conformed to be accepted. The few relationships that are still with me from those times, are the ones I invested in one-on-one, slowly, richly, deeply, and with courage.
I have confidence in the strength of my community now, even when it doesn’t look like nightly late-night dinners on the fraternity couch or neighborhood potlucks. And this is ultimately because I know God bears witness to my daily details, and it’s Him that I long for in my deepest heart. My favorite name for God was given to him by the slave girl Hagar: El Roi, you are the God who sees me. Alone and desperate in the desert, Hagar met God, and God saw her needs, spoke her needs and met her needs. He does this for me, too. And I find risking real relationship with God comes when I am alone with my thoughts in my house, mid-day, choosing to ask Him to meet my need to be seen, trusting in faith that He is really there, really cares, and is really a present help in time of need. If you are feeling longing for deeper community and known-ness, I will always be one to cheer you on as you pursue deep friendships, which God knows you need. But I also pray that we both find peace in knowing that even when we feel alone, we never are.