Read Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World Online
Authors: Jennie Allen
In Rwanda, Pastor Fred called up Cooper to a different way of engaging with those village boys, a way that would not just stroke Coop’s ego, but that would honor each person present. In that moment, Cooper had a decision to make. He could either push back against that input—whether silently, by fuming, or verbally, by pleading his case—or he could receive the feedback and improve.
I have to give props to my son, who chose the better way. He listened to Pastor Fred’s advice, then he acted on it. As in, right then and there, he did. He course corrected in the moment, and his entire day changed as a result.
Our group left that village and headed to the next stop, about an hour’s van ride away. After the initial hustle and bustle of loading up, hollering goodbye, and sticking arms out the windows to wave at our new friends until they were mere specks in the dust cloud we’d kicked up, a quiet settled over the lot of us. We were filled up and worn out and spent.
I peeked at Cooper, who was nestled into the last row of the van, to check on him, to smile at him. And the image I saw I will never forget: Cooper’s head was leaning on Pastor Fred’s shoulder and Pastor Fred’s head was resting on Cooper’s head. My boy and Pastor Fred were both fast asleep.
We want this kind of accountability. We find rest in it. Truth in love is the safest place to be, even if it stings a little. Iron sharpens iron. It isn’t supposed to be comfortable. But it leads us closer to God and closer to who He wants us to be—and that ends up feeling like home.
Ask people for advice. This opens up room for them to speak candidly.
Remember what your friend tells you. Put prompts on your calendar or in your phone to remind you to pray.
Do an overnight retreat with five friends you are getting close with.
Give a few trusted people permission to call you out.
Get around older women and ask them to show you how to handle a situation.
Look for someone approximately fifteen years older than you. Ask her, “What’s one piece of advice you’d give yourself if you were in the same season I’m in?”
I’m a big believer in asking permission in friendships. Ask, “Do you want to hold each other accountable to growing and maturing? I would love for you to speak into my life, and I would love to speak into your life, if you agree.”
Some people will reject the invitation and some people will crave it and some people will take it but the conversation will be so uncomfortable you’ll think you shouldn’t have done it. That’s okay. If they give you permission, stay the course.
However, many people overuse the verse “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” and underuse the verse “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
So let’s be slow to call out other people’s sin, while being quick to ask them to call out our sin.
First, look for healthy people and become a healthy person. Counselor Jim Cofield shared with me once some basic qualities of a healthy friend.
I am a receptive person rather than reactive.
I am more resilient than rigid.
I am aware and mindful rather than unaware and emotionally clueless.
I am responsible for my own life.
I don’t blame or take victim status.
I am empathetic.
I am strong.
I am stable.
I am realistic.
I don’t have expectations that are unattainable.
I see the world in a beautiful way and don’t grow stale.
I believe God is for me.
I am grateful and content.
I know how to trust, hope, be humble, desire, and love well.
To some degree, no matter how long you have known someone, it will feel like a risk. No one is perfectly safe. Trust builds as you share vulnerably in smaller ways. But when you have seen enough to believe this is someone you enjoy and you want to attempt to trust, go for it!
I’M TOO EXHAUSTED FROM BEING A MOM, WIFE, EMPLOYEE TO BE A GOOD FRIEND.
THE THING THAT STOPS ME FROM FINDING AND KEEPING MY PEOPLE IS THAT I WORRY THAT THEY WILL TAKE ME AWAY FROM MY FIRST PRIORITIES: MY FAMILY AND MINISTRY.
NOBODY IS AVAILABLE WHEN I NEED THEM.
I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET PAST THE GETTING-TO-KNOW-YOU SMALL TALK.
TO BE HONEST, IT’S EASIER TO DO LIFE BY MYSELF.
PEOPLE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR ME.
WHAT’S KEEPING YOU BUSY THESE
days? What are you up to today, this week? I’m serious. What activities are you involved in? Not what are you thinking about doing, or what are you thinking about becoming involved in, but rather, what are you actually doing? What responsibilities are you carrying week to week during this particular season of life? What roles are you playing? What things are you expected to show up for? Where are you investing your time and heart?
More important, as you think about all the places you go in a given week, who do you see beside you? Take a look at the chart we created in chapter 5.
During the pandemic, a friend was lamenting the isolation she felt due to what seemed to be a never-ending series of
lockdowns and restrictions. I totally got her frustration. But I also knew that some parts of life were still happening for her, even if on a modified or reduced scale.
“What is still happening?” I asked her. “Take this past week, for example. What things were you able to do?”
Turns out her elementary-age kids were still in school. And her daughter’s dance classes were still held. And her six-person book club still met outdoors. She’d run errands almost every day. She’d been in countless Zoom meetings because she and her colleagues were still working from home. She’d spent an afternoon serving a nonprofit she’s part of, packing holiday care packages for women and men who would spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in the prison south of town.
“I know you haven’t been able to do everything you want to do lately, but your last seven days sound pretty amazing!” I told her. “You were around tons of people. Why not strike up a friendship with them?”
My friend’s involvements during this season of her life, the activities that required her to show up, in the flesh, and engage, included such variety: work meetings, kid’s dance class, errands, volunteer work, book club, and more. Yet even with all these encounters with other people who were doing the same things she was doing—accomplishing meaningful work, keeping a busy household running, reading good books, and so forth—my friend felt isolated and alone. Why? Because her closest friends weren’t involved in any of those aspects of her life. It’s as if her people and her priorities existed in separate worlds.
It may be difficult to imagine, but there was a time in history when a person’s life work happened solely and completely in the context of the community he called home. The appropriately named Fertile Crescent, an area that includes such modern-day locales as Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel, is thought to have been the site of the first recognized practice of agriculture. Entire bands of hunter-gatherers stopped roaming and settled down there thousands of years ago. They learned to make tools. They learned to domesticate plants and animals. They learned to construct more permanent housing. They learned to create something of a stable existence for themselves.
And just as important as what they were doing was who they were doing it with: the other people who lived there too. Yes, these communities worked together, but they also ate meals together and relaxed together at the end of the day. They raised children together and solved problems together and lived the entirety of their lives in plain view of others in their midst.
But during the Industrial Revolution people started to choose better jobs over the communities, the
they loved. People started working in factories in cities, which generally meant that instead of sticking around to work the family farm young people moved away to the city, reducing time spent with family and friends. Where once the sun set the pace for working life, now people logged twelve-hour days, if not longer.
Through the nineteenth century as cities grew and housing became more difficult to find, many people spent additional hours riding the train home to the suburbs after long workdays.
They weren’t people “of” the city, just people who worked there. At the same time, they spent less and less time at home and in their neighborhoods. Soon enough, both places lacked community, connection, anything more than superficial interaction.
No wonder loneliness showed up.
From there, the suburbanization of the entire Western world rolled like a wave through society, further separating family from family, person from person, soul from soul, life from life. Add to that trend the recent emergence of social media, which elevates virtual connection over all that happens in real life, and it’s pretty easy to see why so many people feel so isolated.
Our work lives have little to do with our home lives.
Our home lives have little to do with our social lives.
Our social lives have little to do with our spiritual lives—if we still have spiritual lives at all.
It’s as if we’re trying to live simultaneously in three separate realities. No wonder we’re exhausted and frazzled. We’re running in fifteen different directions day by day, bumping into scores of people, even as we feel utterly alone. Then we spend our spare minutes scrolling Instagram, where everyone looks perfectly connected and happy, or scrolling the news, where we pick up a fresh batch of problems we are supposed to be caring about and tweeting about and crafting a plan to solve.
Any attempts to carve out time to love others and connect with others just add to the pressure and busyness we already carry, and so we isolate even further.
This chaos is too much for our minds to carry.
But what if I gave you permission to simplify? What if already built into your schedule was a team waiting to run with you, people ready to be something deeper than supper club friends, individuals who could be your teammates through blood, sweat, and tears?
Let me ask you this:
Who could you pull into the missions you are already accomplishing?
Who could you join on their missions?
Who are you already on mission with that could become a deeper friend?
Throughout so much of history—and still today, in two-thirds of the world’s countries—people have lived in the context of a tight-knit community, whether a village, a people group, a tribe. And those groups historically are unified around a shared purpose. Every person has a role. Some roles are hands-on: there are people who hunt, people who tend crops, people who cook, people who serve. Some roles are leadership based: there are chiefs and song leaders and child-rearers and scribes. Some people are better than others at seeing problems. Some people are better than others at solving problems. Some villagers are funny. Some are compassionate. Some are artistic. Some are wise. But no role is more important than another. It takes everyone to make the thing work.
This type of system likely sounds familiar to you, because it’s written into the very fiber of your design as a human being. Long before humankind tamed the Fertile Crescent, God Himself laid out a community with a shared mission, as you’ll recall. To Adam and Eve He said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
To the disciples Jesus said as He was going to heaven, “Go make more disciples.” To the local church God’s plan again was spelled out by the apostle Paul: “For just as each of us has one body with many members,” we read in Romans 12, “and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
God gives the people who follow Him a shared purpose, along with gifts that require us to depend on each other to accomplish that purpose.
We all crave being connected in a shared purpose because we all were built for it.
You want to know one of the biggest problems we face when it comes to friendship?
We mistakenly think friendship is about us.
But the most satisfying and bonding types of relationships arise when friendship and community are centered on a bigger mission. And guess what? If you’re a follower of Jesus, then:
You have a built-in mission no matter your job, neighborhood, hobby, club, or school: share the love of God.
You have a village, a team, to pursue that mission with you: your local church.
As members of the body of Christ, we are to love each other and God so well that other people want this love and follow Jesus.
We read in the gospel of Luke that Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples in pairs with the assignment to just love people, eat with people, and be with people. Then they were to report back on whether each village was a good place to minister. He never sent people alone, and He always began ministry with sharing food and spending time in homes,
I mentioned earlier that I’m privileged to lead a nonprofit organization called IF:Gathering. We build tools and experiences to help women connect with God. Our team feels more like a family than coworkers, evidenced at this moment by the endless text thread we’re all on, where one of us keeps posting new-baby pictures and another is asking for prayer for a deadline. We do life together in deep ways. We call out each other’s sin. We share meals, even when the gatherings have nothing to do with work. My kids count many of my longtime teammates at IF:Gathering as aunties and friends.
We do life together.
I always tell my team that how we love God and each other is the most important work we do in this office. Something about that is foreign to our concept of work in America. But we are bound together in a shared mission and a calling that defines our relationships more profoundly than any title or salary or org chart. We run after God together, and we help
other people do the same. It’s sacred work, and it is a mission that unites us in a deeper way than just sharing an office and accomplishing a task.
One of my earliest teammates is Chloe Hamaker. Chloe and I started working together long distance more than seven years ago, when I was just beginning public ministry. She eventually ended up taking over much of my ministry as the executive director.
Two years ago, I was at a birthday party for my sister Brooke, who runs a dude ranch in Colorado and lives intimately connected to a lot of her coworkers. At the party were amazing women of various ages, all of whom invest in my sister and whom my sister counts as dear friends. Yes, technically they work for Brooke, but as I watched them interact I realized that my sister does not have a dividing line between work and life. These are her friends, and they are on mission together each day.
Later that night, just past 11:00 p.m., I picked up my phone to call Chloe.
She answered, surprised that I was calling so late.
“I need to tell you something,” I blurted. “You are one of my best friends! I know that sounds really awkward since we’ve been friends for more than seven years, and I don’t know if that crosses some work-life boundary, but through working together for all these years, you really have become one of my very best friends.”
Chloe laughed and said, “Well, I know.”
Even though she is more than ten years my junior and is in a different life stage than I am and reports to me on an org
chart, she had long gotten used to the idea that we were the dearest of sister-friends. We go to each other’s birthdays and talk on the phone so much that Siri made her my emergency contact. Don’t worry—Zac is one too. But having a shared mission and doing life together really does make two people the
C. S. Lewis said, “Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”
Whether you attend school or manage a home or manage a company, work was meant to bring fulfillment and promote thriving for those we love and know. But we complain about our God-given jobs, and we gossip about the God-given people we’ve been given to do that work beside. Worse, work has been redefined as a hollow pursuit of money rather than a pursuit of human thriving. This is
not the point!
My favorite podcast pastor, Tim Keller, said it this way:
[Work] is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.
This pattern is found in all kinds of work. Farming takes the physical material of soil and seed and produces food. Music takes the physics of sound and rearranges it into something beautiful and thrilling that brings meaning to life. When we take fabric and make
a piece of clothing, when we push a broom and clean up a room, when we use technology to harness the forces of electricity, when we take an unformed, naive human mind and teach it a subject, when we teach a couple how to resolve their relational disputes, when we take simple materials and turn them into a poignant work of art—we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling, and subduing. Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and “unfold” creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development.
So we start with a mission to bring thriving and then we look for colaborers to build with. It is the greatest and messiest fun!
Maybe your days are filled with toddlers or college classes or PTA task lists. Fine. But what if those places became mission fields and the people in your places became teammates? Don’t you want to be part of something exciting and meaningful? Are you sick of living in your bubble of self-fulfillment and meeting your own small needs? What if you got to wake up every day with an assignment and a team of people by your side?
You can. This one truly is as simple as a change in perspective.
My friend Pete told me about when his father-in-law fell ill and had to move to a nursing home. This elderly man of God felt frustrated that he could no longer minister to people the way he had for so many decades. But instead of giving up, he decided that if he was going to be bedridden in a nursing
home and unable to go anywhere, then that room would have to be where he did his work and the nursing staff would have to be his team!
“He had us make a sign to hang on his door,” Pete said. It read:
Marvin W. Burnham
Every single day, from the time he moved in until the day he passed away, people would knock on that door, slip inside, sit down in the guest chair that was pulled up close to his bed, and confide in him their disappointments in life, both the sins that had been done against them and the sins that they themselves had committed. In response, Mr. Burnham would hold their hands, nod his head in understanding, and speak words that healed their souls. “If you will accept it, Jesus wants to forgive you,” he would say. “And when you have been forgiven, you can go and forgive others too.”
Mr. Burnham’s funeral was one big lovefest, a celebration of the sneaky ways the staff helped him run his little operation and the lives changed by it.
Anywhere can become a place to carry out your mission and anyone can become teammates.
Don’t sit on your rear end at home and try to make friends. Go do something. Teach Sunday school, volunteer at VBS, join a kickball team. What is something you can commit to for six months?
Go do that and find some people to do
it with you. Or choose to see the potential friendships right under your nose in the activities you’re already pursuing.
Friends won’t fall from the sky. Friends are always