Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World (13 page)

BOOK: Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World
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We Are Gathered Together to Give Love Away
 

It bears repeating: if you are a follower of Jesus, you truly do have a significant purpose attached to every seemingly mundane part of your life. There is a weight to every human we see on the street, at the playground, at the store, in your apartment complex.

C. S. Lewis said it this way: “There are no
ordinary
people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
[6]

We carry weighty purpose into every interaction we have, and every human carries in them a weight of glory. When we understand this idea, we love differently. We view our daily work and encounters differently.

A friend who is a pastor in the underground church told me, “We have a saying in the Middle East that you don’t know someone until you’ve gone on a trip with them and you’ve eaten with them. It’s so true. The camaraderie. You don’t see that in the West. When, for example, COVID-19 hit the Middle East, me and the leaders all hunkered down in one house. The twenty of us with kids. You really bond when that happens.”

He continued, “True discipleship doesn’t happen out there; it happens in a home.
True discipleship isn’t something you do once a week. It’s what you do every day because that’s when you get to know people.
It’s when you’re with them during the good times and the bad times. When they’re sick and when they’re healthy. That’s what builds true family. The blood of Christ makes us family, but we need to experience it together every day.”

On mission together. Making disciples in our ordinary moments.

God built a longing inside each of us to be about something other than our own individual success. We’re going to be in heaven together forever with the people we love, so our goal in connecting isn’t just personal satisfaction, but to see people saved before Jesus returns.

If you want good friends, then run a race together, build a house together, cook a meal together, and do it all while working together for the greatest mission a human can have: giving God away.

It isn’t good for anyone to be alone and also isn’t good for man (or woman) to be idle! In the beginning and before the Fall, God gave us each other and then He gave us actual real-life, get-your-hands-dirty work to do.

Alone we want to escape or cope, but in community we help each other do hard things.

I am about to get up in your business—or God’s Word is, anyway. Here is what the apostle Paul said in 2 Thessalonians:
“We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work.”
[7]

In other words?
Get busy!

I asked my pastor friend why the Church in the West has lost the sense of camaraderie and connectedness that characterizes his community in the Middle East. He said, “Because the West is all about individualism, convenience, and being comfortable.
Discipleship is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and very messy.

My friend Ann said it this way: “I want to die working beside people I love with dirt under my fingernails.” Dirt under our fingernails, building a garden that goes on forever. Not a bad way to live.

Let’s get back to the simple way of following Jesus and making disciples. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just tell somebody about your God. Choose the line with the cashier instead of the self-checkout line, look her in the eyes, and talk with her. Put family and people back in your everyday life. And together fight back against this individualistic culture that has intoxicated us into thinking that convenience and personal achievement equal happiness, because they don’t.

Our time on earth is short.

Our mission is crucial.

We have to get back to building the kingdom, messily, dirt under our fingernails—together.

Ideas for Pursuing a Mission Together
 
  • Join a club. Gardening, tennis, cards, running, biking, volunteering.

  • Go play pickleball, tennis, spikeball. Invite the people on the court to join your game.

  • Host a freezer meal night. Chop and prepare the food together and everyone takes home a few meals!

  • As a small group, sign up for a semester of kids’ ministry duty together, working in the nursery, teaching a class, mentoring teens.

  • Go to fun workout classes. Struggle together, laugh, and get Sonic afterward!

  • Plan a supper club with your neighbors. Cook through a cookbook together! Everyone prepares and brings one recipe.

  • Paint someone’s room, clean out a closet, or plant some flowers together.

  • If you usually work at home by yourself, take your laptop to a coffee shop one morning and invite a friend to sit with you.

BUT WHAT ABOUT…
…if I just don’t have time for this?

I realize that few people are sitting around looking for more to do. But take another look at your time inventory. Are you doing the things that will give purpose and meaning to the most important parts of life, such as relationships and connection? Make sure you’re doing the right things with your time. If you’re truly busy, there should be opportunities already baked into your life to connect more deeply with people. You just have to view them that way.

…taking a relationship deeper when we already spend a lot of time together?

Have a dreaming session, lay out some of the ideas above, and choose one to try. Not all of them. Just pick one simple way to connect over a shared mission that incorporates your mutual passions and gifts.

…the fact that I’m single and all my married friends are always busy with their spouses or kids? How do I do this if they’re too busy for me?

Some of my very best friends are single, and I appreciate that they are more flexible about dropping by and running errands with me. Initiate with your friends who have kids. Chances are, they’ll be grateful for adult conversation and companionship. People still get lonely and in a rut once they have a spouse or a family. And your friendship is still needed in their lives. Be sure to ask them to keep initiating with you too. Tell them you are comfortable being invited to be a part of their family.

RIGHT WHEN I START TO GET DEEP WITH SOMEONE, I PULL BACK WHEN THERE’S A HINT OF TENSION OR I THINK THEY MIGHT BE UPSET WITH ME.
—BROOKE

I HAVE EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT I THINK “MY PEOPLE” SHOULD BE, AND THEY DON’T MEASURE UP.
—SANDRA

TO BE HONEST, I’D RATHER JUST MOVE ON AND FIND A NEW FRIEND THAN STICK IT OUT.
—CARRIE

I’M THE ONLY ONE INVESTING IN THIS FRIENDSHIP.
—JENNIFER

FINDING AND KEEPING AND GOING DEEP WITH FRIENDS IS CHALLENGING BECAUSE OF THE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS I HAVE OF OTHERS.
—KAYLA

STAYING FRIENDS AFTER AN ARGUMENT IS JUST TOO AWKWARD. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO MOVE PAST IT.
—ELLA

9.
COMMITTED
 

IF YOU’RE ACTIVELY PUTTING INTO
action all the relational principles and practices we’ve been exploring, you are for sure going to come to a moment in the very near future when you’ll want to bail out on someone. Mark my words.

I was in the middle of writing this book when my sister-in-law Ashley called. “Can I come pick you up so we can go somewhere and talk?” she asked.

I assumed something difficult was happening in her life and, of course, said yes.

Ashley picked me up, and we drove to a park on a brilliant sunny day. As we sat in the car, she told me how I had said a few things recently that hurt her. She cried as she talked about how hard it was to bring this to me but how the candor was necessary. She didn’t want to slowly start pulling back from me. She didn’t want to “quit me,” she said.

Those two words brought waves of fear crashing over my head. My immediate reaction was panic; was I about to lose another friend? And one who was a family member?

Shame came in and stayed.

What have
I done? I keep hurting people!

Apparently I hurt people without even realizing it, and most often it is the people closest to me, whom I love most. I was already neck deep in writing this book, and had I learned nothing? Here I was, telling you to find your people, even as I was losing mine?

I breathed in and out. I listened. I waited.

Ashley and I both faced a choice as we sat in the car on that beautiful day. We could…

Self-protect.

Blame.

Pull back.

Even walk away.

Or we could fight.

Fight it out, fight for each other, fight to understand, and fight to stay.

After she laid out all the hurt she was feeling and why, Ashley said, “I am staying. This is me fighting for us.”

In the days that followed that conversation, this thought frequently passed through me:
You aren’t safe to be yourself with Ashley anymore, Jennie. You’ll need to walk on eggshells from now on.

Why was that my internal reaction? In bringing this hurt and conflict to me, Ashley was proving her safety. She was proving her love. She was proving her commitment to me. She was not angry; she was hurt, and she wanted restoration.
She didn’t want me to pull back or to walk on eggshells.

Conflict should
make
friendships, not
break
them.
If we don’t run.

A few days later, when my fears had passed, Ashley and I went to dinner. I looked at her and said, “I love you so much. Telling me what you told me was such a gift to me. I am sorry. I was wrong. I am so sorry I hurt you. I never want to hurt you, but I did, and I will again. But still, I want you to feel safe with me. Tell me how to do that better, please.”

The next thing she said was pure magic. Ashley gave me two super-easy, simple ways that I could love her well, things that were specific to her needs and our relationship. And in that moment, I realized I didn’t need to quit, I didn’t need to spiral in fear, and I didn’t need to self-protect.

What I needed was to grow.

Conflict Is Part of Healthy Relationships
 

Conflict isn’t the enemy to our friendships; conflict is fodder to make them grow. Conflict is inevitable in the kind of deep community we are talking about here. But handled biblically, it can strengthen and deepen our relationships.

I’ve made no secret that I view this book at least partly as an experiment in which you play an active role. I dream of you and others taking these practices from millennia of village life and applying them in your apartment complexes, in your suburban neighborhoods, in your dorms or urban townhomes.

I picture you opening doors to new friends, gathering by
fires, asking better questions, sharpening others and being sharpened by them, and picking up a mission with a few people you love. I even picture you fighting! Yep.
Because I’ve never had a truly intimate friendship that was free of conflict.

So I picture you fighting, stepping away for a moment—and I picture you coming back to the table, back to each other.

I believe that God is asking you and me to let people into our daily lives, into our deepest struggles, into our sin, into our routines, into our work, and into our dreams.

“Encourage one another and build each other up.”

“Bear one another’s burdens.”

“Comfort one another.”

“Exhort one another every day.”

“Confess your sins to one another.”

“Forgive one another.”
[1]

The Bible is filled with such instructions for how we are to interact with others. If God is commanding us to forgive each other, then that means you and I are living in close enough proximity that I can reach you—and also hurt you. When He says that we are to bear one another’s burdens, this means that I am close enough to get up under that burden alongside you and relieve some of the load. How can I confess my sin to or admonish you unless I can look you in the eye and tell you? You and I have to be
close
if we’re going to keep these “one another” commandments.


We must become people who come close.

We must become people who engage.

We must become people who choose to stay.

Conflict in the Right Context
 

My biggest issue with community is that I too often hurt people or that they hurt me. It is a regular storyline. I mean, almost weekly some conflict has to be resolved in my life. That’s just part of healthy community.
The hurt is part of the health
—it’s weird to think about, but it’s true.

I was recently talking with my brother-in-law Tony, who runs the dude ranch with my sister. As I explained the premise of this book, how we have to get back to living life in villages like every other generation, he shook his head and smirked as if to say, “I live in one of those, and it can be a mess!”

The actual words that came out of his mouth were, “Jennie, village life sounds great until you realize you’re surrounded by a bunch of cannibals.”

But what is true of the ranch is that it has a reputation for building leaders. It hires boys and girls and eventually releases them into the world as leaders who are humble, as men and women with college degrees who have cleaned toilets, as healthy people who know how to work hard and love harder. Because sixty-plus people stuck in the middle of nowhere may look like a big mess, but all the messy sharpening is building character.

This happens because Brooke and Tony have laid down
some relational rules for their ranch staff. Things like, you have to say what you mean and mean what you say. And you keep short accounts with people instead of letting irritations fester into all-out war. And you speak highly of each other instead of gossiping or spreading half-truths. “Whenever a new set of staff members rolls in,” Brooke once told me, “we get them addressing and resolving conflict within the first week, no exceptions. We live too close to each other and so we have to have a lot of hard conversations.”

I laughed at Tony’s cannibal comment, but Tony wasn’t trying to be funny; he was being totally sincere, and I get it. The interactions at the ranch bear witness to a fundamental truth about human nature: the closer we are to other people, the more our rough edges will scrape them. Tony knows the cost of living with transparency and accountability. Tony knows the hurt he’s felt and the hurt people he’s shepherded in his little village. But that little village is changing lives not in spite of the conflict and hurts but because of the conflict and hurts.

But knowing the fruit that comes from healthy conflict doesn’t take away its pain.

For too many of us, the pain we’ve suffered on previous occasions when we opened ourselves up to authentic community is so raw, so deep, so real, that we’re reluctant to try again.

That’s why we need relationships with God at the center and united in a shared mission. Without people pleasing, pride, and personal happiness at the center of our relationships, we live free enough to fight and humble enough to apologize and safe enough to work it out. People can disappoint you, and you can hurt other people, and forgiveness can be issued when
we’re looking to God, not others, for our hope, our identity, our purpose.

Because of Jesus, it really is possible to live this way.

Picture the scene on the night of the Last Supper. Jesus knew that the events leading to His crucifixion had been set in motion. He soon would be betrayed and hurt by nearly every one of His closest people. But in the midst of the hurt and rejection He must have been experiencing while sitting at the table with them, He pulled out bread and He broke it for His friends to eat. He poured wine for His friends to drink.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ ”
[2]

The ultimate table of reconciliation has been set, built on the broken body and spilled blood of our Savior.

This is why we can forgive.

It’s why we can come together at the table with other sinners. We can, because He did. We can, because He made a way for us to be right with Him and right with each other.

Come to the Table
 

Throughout history and cultures, coming to a table, breaking bread together, has always represented reconciliation and healing.

In all my travels and conversations about the topic of community, this has come up again and again. From Italy to Africa, food. Meals. Tables.
People consistently and regularly come together around food.

When we visited our family’s small village in Italy, my uncle’s cousin Luciano Fornaciari was waiting in the center of the little village of Sutri. He carried a huge American flag and bore a beautiful, wide smile. He hugged us tight, though we’d never met. We were family, and we were about to see what that meant in Italian villages.

Cousin Luciano hustled us through the quiet cobblestone streets into his sister’s restaurant, which was packed with couples, friends, kids, and the elderly all eating lunch together. He led us into the back room to a table that seated at least twenty-five people, all of whom he was related to. Suddenly my family was bombarded with exuberant Italian greetings and joyously suffocating hugs. We may not have been related by blood, but we were their family.

We sat down to lunch with grandparents, in-laws, kids of all ages, and felt like royalty.

Six full courses.

Lots of laughter.

Lots of time.

Lots of people talking over each other.

Lots of love.

Lots of…fighting.

Did I mention the fighting?

I didn’t understand the language, but we recognized anger and frustration. We knew what was meant by the shaking of fists.
My uncle’s cousin was the only English speaker, and he told me a little of what was playing out. Then he said, “No worries. This is how it goes.”

For generations the members of this family had all lived within blocks of each other in the same tiny village where they were born. They’ll likely be back at that same table for lunch tomorrow.

Conflict is safe when you know you won’t quit each other.

But we must agree not to quit.

Now, hear me. Sometimes the relationship might need to end. Maybe it is just so toxic that you need to separate or set more stringent boundaries. Or you have tried to reconcile and come to understanding multiple times, but the friendship continues in disagreement and dissension. You’ve done a lot of work to resolve it, but it’s not happening.

The apostle Paul went through this with multiple relationships. Paul and Peter worked things out, but they stayed away from each other for the most part. Paul and Barnabas went separate ways, and it ended up serving the gospel.

But if you quit, that will mean you start over in finding your people. Guess what? The new people are going to hurt you too. Or you will hurt them. Or both. Because we all do.

If you stay, you work through it and grow stronger together.

How many times have you avoided or even ghosted someone who could have possibly been a forever friend if you did the work and didn’t run?

Conflict is a part of life, and we have to figure out how to deal with it in a way that honors and glorifies God to the rest of the world.

How Do We Do This?
 

Let’s get really practical. How can we have healthy conflict?

1. Assume the Best

If we’re going to deal with an offense, it needs to be a real offense. This is my rule on when to address something: don’t react too quickly. So many hurts are just misunderstandings. We can make up this whole narrative in our heads about what someone thinks from one thing they said or did. The other person doesn’t even know anything’s amiss, while we’re in all-out-war mode! Instead, assume the best and try to move on. We can do this because our hope is heaven, where our citizenship truly is.
We are satisfied in our relationship with God so we can be content with people being people.
We can let them disappoint us and just let it go.

BOOK: Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World
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