“My Kids just aren’t cute anymore.”
That was what I told my friend over the phone while trying to juggle getting chicken nuggets out of the oven and my phone on my shoulder. We were talking about how it had been so hard for us both the past year to make solid friendships. We had both moved and both had been struggling with finding a new tribe. I am not a very outgoing person. While I am friendly and once you get to know me, you see how much of a talker I actually am, as my sister tells me “It takes 3-4 times of meeting you to get to your fun side.” I was feeling alone inside of the church.
I’m a card-carrying, banner waving, heart on my sleeve, hate small talk and large groups introvert. I used to think I was a weirdo. In college, it seemed most of the girls on the dorm floor were going out together and hanging out. Me? I was reading textbooks or listening to music or enjoying my double room…. alone. I wasn’t LONELY, I was alone and it was glorious. My parents knew I would have a hard time with a roommate and let me have a dorm room all to myself. They knew I needed an escape from all the people. I would go out sometimes or hang out in the rec center or the roof or the hospital cafeteria (did I mention I went to a nursing college?) but when it came time to bolt when I was done socializing for the week, I would hit my peaceful room all alone and sigh.
So how did a young woman go from wanting to be alone to feeling so intrinsically alone just a few short years later?
As I said before, I had moved and while the adventure is always fun, what is never fun is the friendship dating. Friendship dating is like speed dating but less bell ringing and more like Fight Club.
Rule #1 of Friendship Dating. We don’t talk about friendship dating.
On that fateful phone call, my good friend and I had been discussing our friendship dating woes. I had joked about taking out an ad on the local community board.
“Married female seeks a friend who is also female to do stuff with like go to the zoo with our kids and go out to eat and talk about books. Homeschooler a plus. If you enjoy awkward silences and nerd references, then call the number below.”
I’m not sure how well that ad would have gone.
We were talking about how when we were younger, the kids were younger and we were in MOPS together it seemed we could meet other moms more easily. We had things in common and topics to discuss. As life goes, children grow up and start school and those of us with homeschoolers are left going to coops and trying for solid friendships with other homeschoolers. It’s not a bad process, I had found many friends through homeschooling groups and scouts and activities my now school-aged children enjoyed. I wasn’t always a busy bee but I had plenty of opportunities to say hello to others.
That was until I moved.
I realized, shortly after we had settled on a church, that I was the mom at our church with the kids that were “older”. Not youth group age, where the kids could make friendships with others on their own and I could find solidarity with other tween moms. Not babies, where their sweetness and chubbiness leads to conversations. Not even toddlers where their chocolate covered stickiness leads to empathy. My kids are at an age, six and eleven, where they are just “kids”. They just aren’t cute anymore, they are growing with gangly arms and strange quirks. While I think they are pretty amazing kids and most who get to know them see how God has made them funny and silly, kind and beautiful….. me, the mom? I am a mom of school-aged kids.
I’m invisible in plain sight.
Table for 1
While my kiddos maybe making friends with some children at church, the church itself is our only place right now to get social interaction. It isn’t for lack of trying, that I can assure you. We are homeschoolers and I have set out to find homeschool groups to fit our needs. While we did find one, we can’t always attend and the kids have a hard time making friends with a revolving door of students. I’m not complaining, the kids have a blast but I wish there was more.
More for them.
More for me.
I have done the “head over to such and such a park” for playdates with other homeschoolers in groups. While I would like to say that the third times the charm and I have made friends, after 18 months of striking out, it’s not high on my list of things on the agenda. But I’m lonely, so I try. I try to make the playdates work, stepping out of my comfort zone, awkwardly saying hello. My kids do better than I do, choosing to do what all kids do and grab the nearest person their size and start a game of tag. It’s harder as a mom. As the last year and a half has worn on, I’ve felt the idea of finding a friend to text on a Thursday afternoon to meet up at the swimming pool slipping further away.
A Hospital for Souls
A church is a hospital, a place to bring your brokenness and be mended, made whole at an altar. It is a place to feel God, to commune with him, to worship him. I was always reminded of that by a pastor friend of mine. He liked to say that a church should be the place where the broken come to be made new. I believe that wholeheartedly.
At the same time though, a church is a body of humans and let’s face it, humans are creatures of habit. We like certain shows, certain places, certain times. We have rolls and agendas and deadlines. So we shouldn’t be surprised when humans cling to the ones they feel most comfortable with instead of going outside their inner circle to a stranger, no matter how cute her new cat-eye glasses may be.
But it’s hard Y’all. It’s so hard.
It isn’t just me.
There are the young men and woman who are single who don’t know where they fit. They can teach Sunday School or lead plays, but they aren’t always thought of on a Friday night. There are the older ones who feel their best days are behind them. There is even your own pastor and pastor’s wife who sometimes feel left out and forgotten. They can be available for counseling and pastoral care but not many think to call them to see if they want to go bowling or bring them a meal just because. There are the youth leaders with their zeal for the younger generation, that get overlooked when activities are being planned. It isn’t intentional but the lack of community sometimes can be hurtful, especially inside a church.
Look, I get it. Us humans, we have friends we enjoy the company of. We like to be around certain people and maybe not so much some others. It’s perfectly okay to have a circle of friends, that isn’t what I’m addressing here. We are called by God to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” This is a commandment brought to us by Jesus, not a suggestion for when we are in the mood. We are to love others the way we love ourselves. We are to love others the way we love our tribe, our pose, our gaggle of friends. We are told that loving our neighbors, no matter who they are is just as important as loving ourselves.
I am not saying that we can’t have a group we chose to hang around. This is only natural and honestly, should be encouraged. All I am saying is that maybe, just every once in a while, look up. Look out at the see of people inside your church body. They are hurting. They are lonely. They may come to every service, attend every youth play or Easter cantata and show up at every ladies meeting, but if you really look at them you will see the hard truth. They aren’t sitting by anyone, no one comes up to them after service to say hello, no one shakes their hand or hugs their neck. They come to get out of the house and be around another person. They need to interact with someone, anyone. They are lonely, so very lonely, all the way to their core. Maybe they have no one in their family who attends and having the church community is a lifeline to them.
The idea of churches as a sanctuary is not a new one. Many understand the concept due in part to Victor Hugo and his use of it in his wildly popular book Hunchback of Notre Dame published in 1831. The idea of a holy place of worship used as a sanctuary is not solely Christian. It dates back to classical Rome and Greece where it was understood parts of holy temples were sacred and therefore protected, even the people inside them. While it wasn’t something Rome like, it was a practice used and carried on in the first churches in the first century. It evolved into what we read about in Hugo’s book to where if someone got a body part, any body part, into the church doors, or on its grounds, that person could be given sanctuary and many times were… at least until heads cooled and proper authorities could obtain the person. On record, as late as even the 17th century and King James the I there are names of at least 1,000 people who called sanctuary within the walls of churches. Churches should still be offering sanctuary, but of course of a different kind. It should be a place those who are hurting come to be around those who came help them to feel better about whatever is going on. Our churches should be friendly places of hope.
I challenge our churches to be more loving, more warm, more welcoming. Our churches, our communities, are filled with people who are lonely. Every day is the same and they tire of the monotony. We need to approach our community with the same love we approach our dearest friends. We need to cross rivers and mountains for people. We need to be the ones to call when tires go flat, or air conditioners go out, or we just want to hang out poolside on a Thursday. We need to look at the moms with kids who are school-aged and go over to them and ask them what their favorite movie, or book, or ice cream flavor is. We need to become more available.
A recent study found that loneliness among the elderly increases their mortality rate. We have seniors who are widowed attending churches weekly who no one talks to once they get to church. Another study came out recently about the mental health of children and in it, the scientists found that social media leads to increased loneliness. Our children, teens, young adults, young marrieds are more connected now than ever and yet they feel more alone now than in any other time in history. We need to be mindful of the people around us and actually talk to them.
We need to finally see the people around us and start investing in them.
We need to show Jesus.
I realize (or my husband pointed out) that while I am lonely and wishing I had my tribe from back home here, I also don’t make it easy for others to get to know me. I am usually reading after service waiting for my kids and husband to get done talking. This doesn’t exactly make me approachable. At the same time, I am reading because no one is talking to me. It becomes a vicious circle. If I am wanting to make the loneliness stop, I need to be more willing to make friends. It is something I am working on because, even in light of the fact I do wear cute cat-eyed glasses and dress more librarian than chic, I am far from perfect. God made me an individual, someone with certain attributes and yet, I am closing myself off, not showing others what makes me likable.
I am not practicing what I am asking others to do.
This making a friend thing is a two-way street.
Maybe the answer lies somewhere between closing yourself off and being out there. Maybe it is more like one person, texting, saying come over, I just made popcorn. Maybe, to fight the loneliness, we just need to be willing to be more inclusive.
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