Loneliness, Vulnerability & Community
No one wants to be that person. The one who is needy, who so desperately wants friends. I recall an old friend of mine sharing a story about how, when she first moved to a new country, she so desperately wanting friends that she walked into a woman's group and broke down crying. And rather than reaching out to her - everyone just stared. Yikes! That story made me cringe because it reveals some important truths, first that we all have a desperate need for community and second, it's harder to make connections than we would like to believe.
My husband and I have moved five times in the last three years - which, if you do the math, means we haven't stayed anywhere for very long. While jumping around cities and neighbourhoods - we grieve the loss of community every time we've had to say goodbye and start from scratch. (Which makes us so grateful for the sweet friendships along the way that have stuck, despite our frequent relocations!)
You may feel the same lack of community without having moved but after a significant change in the season of life that you are in (or all your friends are in).
I have heard a fair amount of moms talk about this - feeling like they are out of touch with their friends who don't have children. "All they want to do is go out, and stay out - which I can't do with a baby and bedtimes!" It doesn't help that as a mom most of your availability is during the daytime which is when most people are away at work. Loneliness is a real struggle for a lot of women, especially in the stay at home mom phase. When you are home alone with children all day who can't exactly reciprocate adult conversation - we can become desperate for adult interaction.
Loneliness can affect anyone in any season - I recall the same feeling in different seasons of my life - newly married or single. I feel as though no one is really immune. In our world of social media we can really feel left out of people's lives or life stages and at the same time desperately crave depth of connection.
So how do we fight this feeling of loneliness in whatever season we are in?
First we must recognize that it is normal to feel unsatisfied with isolation because we were created to be in community. God did not make us to be lone rangers on this earth. We are made to work side by side, hand in hand - to grow together through life. I was struck recently by the realization that a lot of the pronouns that Jesus uses when he talks about how we are to live, are plural. Even in the well known prayer -Our Father- notice that the whole prayer uses plural pronounces like our, us and we. This purpose for the Christian life is not to be lived out alone but in community. We need community- God created us in his image and God himself exists in community ( Father, Son and Spirit). So our intrinsic design is to be connected and it's normal to feel out of sync when we don't.
Second we must understand that the solution to loneliness isn't necessarily more friendships but deeper ones. In her book Free of Me, Sharon Miller talks about an article she had read called ' The Lethality of Loneliness'. She shares "the article drew a distinction between 'loneliness' and 'being alone,' since many of us feel lonely in spite having friends. Loneliness, it explained, comes from the lack of close friends. Even when you're surrounded by people, loneliness is 'the want of intimacy'" When I read that, it hit me like a pound of bricks! In this digital era, we have become the most 'connected' we have ever been and yet we have some of the shallowest relationships we have ever had. Having more followers on Instagram will not make you feel less lonely - building deeper- more vulnerable connections with people will. We need to press in past ankle deep friendships - we need to open our homes and lives to others in a real way - more than our happy life snapshots.
Third- which may be the hardest step - is we must be vulnerable. We must put ourselves out there to build new or deeper friendships. We must have heart to hearts with near strangers - people are grasping for authenticity. I don't want to be friends with the mom that has got it all together and makes having children look like a breeze. I don't want to walk into a spotless house, with a mom that 'apologizes for the mess' (like what mess?). I don't want to follow the person on Instagram that posts pictures of their 'perfect' two week post-partum' bod and tells me I can do it too if I tried.
I wan't real moms. I want real friends. I want friends who are honest about their struggles, that don't try and sugar coat the season of life that they are in.
But I can't just want that friend - I need to be them.
And that's what makes this step the hardest. We all don't want to go first - but vulnerability breeds vulnerability. I love the TED talk by Brené Brown that is called 'The Power of Vulnerability'. She shares some powerful research about our need for connection and how vulnerability is the key. The truth is I don't want to be the person that puts myself out there because I may be rejected - but that's how everyone around us is feeling too. If I ask the first question, if I initiate the first play date... what if they don't like me? The reality is - they may not. That's the risk of vulnerability, it could result in rejection, but the reward is far greater. Some of my best friendships have happened because someone has reach out to me and shared their story - their real life messy story. And some of my best friendships have grown because I was the one who reached out to share my messiness. So reach out - and be open about who you truly are. And I want to encourage you, when someone shares their heart with you, reciprocate!
Community is complex - it's needed - it's messy - it's beautiful.
Some resources I mentioned:
Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
Free of Me: Sharon Miller ( Loving this book and it has an amazing chapter on friendships & loneliness)