Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Why It's Hard to Find (and Keep) Your Tribe


I had a dream last night that I was living with my college roommate again.  I've had the privilege of spending time with her a couple of times this year, which is unusual as we live in different states with jobs and families and busy lives.  Getting to spend time with her and her husband again has reminded me how it feels to be surrounded by your people.  In my dream I was also forced to work again in the museum gift shop that employed me in college  I think that part of the dream stems from how lost I feel running the new software system at my current job, but I think I'll focus on one major emotional analysis at a time.

In college, building a meaningful bond with someone was easy.  Patsy and I went to the same school, worshipped at the same church, lived together and even worked together.  When you spend that kind of quality time, your lives become intertwined - enmeshed even- if you let them.  As a grown-up with a family and 2 jobs and a busy life, that kind of time is impossible to pour into anyone that you did not birth or adopt.  So I have to be honest,  I have spent the majority of my adulthood wishing for bosom friends (to steal from Anne of Green Gables).  When the children are toddlers and a mom's main job is to chase them around, play groups made this task easier and more fun.  So finding friends seemed slightly easier.  If you could find a friend for your kid to play with, you could find one for yourself as well.  But now that my children are tweens and teens who don't need playdates and constant supervision, the whole bonding process seems almost impossible.

No matter how difficult it is, though, God created us for community.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up."  And the New Testament is full of "each others".  Love each other, forgive each other, regard each other more highly than yourselves.  Teach and correct each other, encourage each other, bear each other's burdens.  Serve each other, submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, and I could go on and on (references found on Bible.org).  The point is that God designed us to help each other grow up into relationship with Him as we grow toward each other.  "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."  Proverbs 27:17  This kind of growth can't happen on an island.  We need the input of others who are seeking after God.

I know all these things in my heart, and I have always wanted these types of friendships.  I can't tell you how many years since college that I have spent lamenting my lack of a "bosom" friend and praying for God to send me one - even entering into unhealthy relationships to try to find it.  I tried to convince myself that certain friendships could be mutually edifying when deep down I knew they could not.  I found a life group that seemed to fill all these needs and then mourned it when it fell apart and it became almost impossible to maintain the same level of friendship without the structure of schedule.  I have blamed my loneliness for so long on schedules and circumstances and just not finding the right person or group, until blame smacked me right between the eyes.

Thinking back on my friendship with Patsy reminded me of the quality, and quantity of time we spent together.  Granted, a 40-something with a family can't possibly spend as much time with friends as a college student; but I've been reminded that meaningful relationships don't develop by accident.  And they most certainly aren't maintained without effort.  I have been stingy with my time.  I have filled my calendar with activities, projects, meetings and errands.  And I'm facing the fact that I'm getting older and more tired.  I have prioritized relaxing on the couch at home over visiting with a friend, or helping someone with a project.  I spend so much time in the car taking my kids from one activity to another that I don't carve out any moments to connect with other moms that can help me navigate the important stuff.  Kids' activities aren't what's important.  Their relationships are important.  Their spiritual lives are important.  Who am I fellowshipping with who has been there and done that?  I listen to the car stereo more than I listen to the wisdom of other women!  The stereo may entertain for a moment, but it will never build me up as a wife and mom the way my sisters in Christ can.

*Sigh*  It's time for me to stop wishing for a friend and start being one.  I need to stop using Facebook as a substitute for face to face time.  If I'm honest, Facebook is easier.  I can do it on my own time, in my spare time and I can control it.  But the intimacy is false.  True community takes a sacrifice of time and resources.  When I use my gifts and you use yours, it is mutually beneficial.  I have to loosen the reigns of control.  It's time I stopped telling myself that I'm too busy or burdened to socialize.  Sharing one another's burdens is one of the things God commanded us to do.  Errands might not be as speedy when you do them with someone else, but they could be a whole lot more fun.  It might be extra work to cook for the neighbors and invite them over when you cook for your family, but you just might find yourself with a reciprocal invitation.  And maybe a laugh.  Or a mentor.  I'm not usually big on New Year's Resolutions, but I have decided that in 2017 I will strive to prioritize relationships over tasks.  Interruptions over agendas.  I'll place importance on people.

I'm not naive enough to think that all I have to do is decide and it will be so.  These changes will be challenging.  So I would love your input.  What do you do to build and maintain friendships?  Do you have any ideas to squeeze quality time into your busy schedules?  What other advice do you have?

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