I recently met a women's pastor, Debbie, at a speaking event. I'm not big on small talk, so within 30 seconds we were talking about friendships among women in the church. Debbie said, and I hear this a lot from women's ministry directors, that the number one thing women struggle with is finding meaningful friendships. She said something that was specifically interesting, too: Their church is changing the language they use to promote gatherings for women. They used to say, "Come find your tribe," but now recognize that it's an unrealistic promise. Most women don't show up to MOPS or Bible study and find 5-7 women that they connect with equally, who become their "tribe" and with whom they will now do life with in a group. Sisters, I relate. My book about female friendship is unique among its kind in one particular way: It doesn't focus on forming a tribe, as other Christians books on friendship have done. It focuses on finding encouraging, life-giving friendship with one healthy, self-aware woman at a time. We don't live in a tribal culture, in which we never travel more than 20 miles from our homes. We live in a fast-paced, usually two-working-adults-per-household culture, in which people change homes and jobs frequently, in which our children have their own tribes and activities, and in which we communicate on the phone as often as we do in person. It's difficult to find a group of friends who stays in the same place and has a compatible schedule for a long period of time. It's equally hard to find a group of people who all get along for a long time, and whose kids get along with each other for a long time. And I think that's okay. I attended MOPS for nine years at my home church when my babies were still babies. And for each year, each MOPS season, my small-group table became a community (some years more successfully than others. This group was a great one). Together we played, partied (parks and cupcakes, not dance clubs), prayed, and gave advice and encouragement. But none of those mini-tribes stayed together for longer than a year or two. Instead, from each year, I kept one close friend with whom I'm still in touch and feel close to. Other women from those tribes paired off, too, for geographical, personality, and even financial reasons.
So today, I have a support network of amazing women in my life, but they are more like my bridesmaids than my tribe. Among them: a couple of college roommates, a friend from my newlywed era, a friend from my quilting group (yes, I'm THAT dorky), a couple of MOPS mamas, and a couple of neighbors. They come together on my special occasions (b-days, baby showers, my up-coming book release party) and eat, drink and cheer for each other as they hit my pinata. But then they go off to their own entourage or circle of bridesmaids, of which I am also a part, coming to their special occasions and being friendly with their other besties, whom I've met over the decades.
The point is this: If you don't feel like you have a tribe, I feel that you are normal. We'd probably all love to have a group of friends that does spaghetti dinner two Fridays a month, babysits each others' kids, and helps each other hang the Christmas lights. But if we don't, that's okay. It doesn't mean we are failing in friendship.
We can be grateful for the individual friendships we have and the God-given blessings they are in our lives, meeting our needs in unique ways.
We can also have reasonable expectations of our churches, women's ministries and small group programs: that they may not be a place to meet our next circle of friends, but one or two precious individuals.
We can show up to these gatherings knowing we might not find our tribe. But there's always room for another bridesmaid.