Okay, this is going to turn into a crazy Russian-doll scenario. A kind of blog-ception, so try to follow along.
In 2014, I wrote a post about Gerig Hall, a dorm on my college campus. In it, I reference a different blog post from 2012 where I decided to get to know the people who lived there, and then I go on to describe how meaningful that process was for me. It’s a roundabout love letter to people who welcomed me in, the beginning and end of that story.
At that point, I was just barely starting to get connected to my church, coming out of a pretty lonely time where I’d struggled to adjust to living in a new place without knowing anyone. If you look closely, maybe you can hear it between the lines in the 2014 post: a kind of thawing, a tired determination, a distant hope that I might find real community again.
It’s 2017. I did. It took longer than I wanted or expected, and it required me to change some of my attitudes, but recently a card that I keep in my Bible fell out and reminded me where I am now.
Isn’t that the best? It’s basically a construction-paper-and-marker definition of hospitality and Christian community. (Okay, maybe the door in the picture should actually be open, but I choose to interpret it as a subtle depiction of the moment just before the opening, for greater emotional resonance. #ArtAppreciation)
When I think about what I’m most thankful for this year, those “open-door” relationships come to mind: the people who have gotten close enough to let down their guard and ask hard questions and look after me. Sometimes I don’t understand the way they think or share any of their interests or agree with them on everything. Sometimes they probably think I’m a little crazy or annoying or selfish (and sometimes I am). But I love them, and our lives are open to each other, and that’s significant.
Especially among people in my stage of life, I hear lots of discussions about how deep friendships are difficult to cultivate as adults—almost impossible, depending on who you ask. I’m all for pointing out problems, but I’ve also noticed most discussions don’t offer any advice. This isn’t going to cover every scenario, but here’s what I’d add to those conversations:
- Don’t come to a new stage of life with a cast list. By this, I mean don’t have certain roles that you’re looking to fill. Then you’ll spend all your time scanning your acquaintances to see who can be “the new [insert name here],” expecting conversations to follow a script, and being disappointed when someone who you’re sure should be in your life by now misses a cue. Of course, you’d never put it that way, but it sometimes happens sneakily. It did to me. Here’s what I learned: people will always disappoint you when they’re trying to live up to roles they didn’t know they were auditioning for. It’s a limiting and frustrating way to live.
- Relationships may not look like what you think they will. For example, maybe you’re dreaming of a mentor who will invite you weekly to a cozy coffee shop and ask to hear all about your life and give wise advice for all your struggles. Okay, but what if instead mentorship looks like getting in snatches of great conversation while helping a church member paint a garage? Or watching how people you admire discipline their children? Or having a friend who sends you occasional texts of encouragement? You’re still growing, but sometimes that requires becoming part of people’s already-in-progress lives wherever you can instead of clinging to an Instagram-able ideal of what your relationships should look like.
- You may have to be the first to move. Sometimes, you have to invite people over or follow-up on an invitation to “hang out sometime” or start serving in a ministry or introduce yourself. This was hard for me for a while. I occasionally need to be reassured that I matter—that people actually want to spend time with me—and if I’m the one doing most of the seeking others out in my friendships, I can start to wonder and worry. But again…I realized that’s self-focused. Obviously, figure out who is actually interested in investing time in your life, but you might need to take the lead on gathering people who you want to get to know.
Basically, if you want more open-door relationships…try to be that sort of person for others. It’s hard and risky…and also beautiful, as so many things worth doing are.
For those still waiting for an end to their loneliness, I hope this isn’t discouraging, like I’m giving you a list of extra things to do when you barely have the emotional energy to show up. I’ve been there. I get it. That’s not what this was meant to be.
It’s a reminder to you to hold on, and where you can, knock on doors if they’re not yet open.
To be honest, I’m thankful for that season of loneliness now, because I learned things in it that I couldn’t have learned any other way (because I’m absurdly stubborn). But I’m thankful for community too.
We’re called to love, and that love gets involved in others’ lives. It sets aside preconceived ideas and learns and asks questions and volunteers for the hard things and doesn’t give up easily.
In a generation of drifters, let’s stay. Because only in staying—only in a long, everyday sort of faithfulness—can we really see what God’s up to and get to the end of the story.