Authors: Jennie Allen
If you can’t let that thing go, then go to that person. Ask them what they meant by that. You might have misunderstood them, so give them space to explain. But no matter what, don’t let bitterness fester. Paul said, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
In other words, don’t keep a running tab of the other person’s faults or sins.
When someone says you’ve caused them pain or harm, be quick to apologize and ask what you can do to make amends. You don’t need to say much else. In fact, the more you say, the more it turns into defending yourself.
I’ve learned that there is very little good done in defending myself, even if my actions or intentions were right. I can’t tell you how many times people have brought me something that hurt them, and I didn’t even know I’d sinned. There was no ill intention, no purposeful hurt, and I didn’t even realize I had said or done the things that so clearly caused pain. That doesn’t matter. They felt hurt, specifically by me.
I take responsibility for hurting them, even if I didn’t mean to.
King David never defended his own name. He held people back from defending his name. He was comfortable with being misunderstood or people thinking ill of him. He knew God would defend what deserved to be defended. God is the defender of our names, which means we get to live unoffendable.
If you think someone is upset with you, but they haven’t come to you with a concern, what can you do?
I’m a big believer in getting everything out on the table. Don’t spend time trying to construct a story around what someone might be thinking about you. Instead, just pick up the phone and call or send a text and make sure the two of you are okay.
In doing this, sometimes I learn that everything’s great,
sometimes I’m able to resolve a problem before it blows up between us, and sometimes the person says that nothing is wrong but I can clearly see there’s something building inside. Here’s the verse I live by: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
I will do what I can, but I can’t control that other person or make them tell me if something is upsetting them. I can’t force it to be okay. I can rest knowing I’ve done everything I can.
But the challenge before us is deeper than just conflict resolution. It’s choosing to prioritize each other again and again, committing consistent time day in and day out. Sometimes that means we get hurt, and sometimes it means we are simply inconvenienced.
Throughout history most people stuck together because they were literally stuck together—for the entirety of their lives, no less. You live in an Italian village of fifty people and get in a fight? Tough. You are at the only little Italian grocer (owned by the person you are fighting with) the next day, picking up carrots, pasta, and biscuit cookie thingies.
But these days too many of us are experts at quitting each other, and most of us can figure out a way to hide from everyone while we do it.
What I am calling you to instead, what Paul was calling us to, what God is calling us to, is a wholly different, supernatural mindset that is guarded, supplied, and filled with Christ Jesus. He is the way we think, relate, speak, reconcile, forgive, and love. Because we’ve been given such abundance, we give
away our abundance. This is our story. This is how we live out the gospel.
We choose to be inconvenienced for the sake of each other.
If you think about it, friendship—all relationships, really—is a giant inconvenience, at least if we’re doing it right.
And the inconvenience chosen again and again changes us, wakes us up, makes us laugh and love and hope and dream.
Yeah, intertwining my life with other people is inconvenient, but I’ll take that kind of trouble again and again over the ease and emptiness of trying to go it alone.
To leave behind our loneliness and enjoy the reward of community we have to keep showing up, keep being vulnerable, keep coming to the table. Be together, work together, and share life together—over and over again. Then one day we look up and realize our friendships have grown deep.
One reason it’s so hard to have good friends is that getting something on the calendar takes so much work. So first put something regular on your calendar. It takes the work out of this. Schedule it like I did with my friends in Austin. Pick the time and place where you’ll all show up.
Second, once you have found your close people, break all the rules of how you spend time together:
Purposefully leave your house a mess.
Invite someone to your dinner party an hour early to help with prep or ask them to stay late and help you clean up.
Leave your laundry out on the couch and ask them to help you fold.
Ask if they’ll pick your kid up on their way over.
Borrow the ingredient you forgot instead of running to the store to buy it.
Bother someone to run the errand with you.
Stop by someone’s house unannounced.
Bring someone a meal without warning.
Ask to borrow clothes for a special event instead of shopping for a new dress.
Ask someone to help you clean out your closet.
Offer to help someone paint a room.
Ask to join someone else’s family dinner.
(That last one’s truly bold.)
The suggestions above may be way outside your comfort zone, but I am here to tell you that unless and until you and I get serious about logging time with people—significant, consistent time—we simply can’t enjoy the level of friendship we long for, the kind of relationship that makes us feel connected and known. How do I know this? Because a few very smart people have quantified what it takes to be a friend.
I mentioned earlier that it takes two hundred hours together for an acquaintance to become a close friend. Let me tell you where that little tidbit came from. The University of Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar said our relational spheres comprise layers of people who fall into categories such as acquaintances, casual friends, friends, good friends, and intimate friends. But what was groundbreaking about his work was the fact that he put numbers to those
categories. While we can maintain roughly 150 meaningful relationships at a time, he suggested only fifty of those people would be considered “friends” and only five would be considered “intimate friends.”
Inspired by Dunbar’s research, University of Kansas professor Jeffrey Hall began poking around at those various relational layers: How did a meaningful relationship move from being a casual friend, say, to a friend? What type of investment was needed for this transition to occur? How long would it take? The results of the research he dove into are fascinating to me. As reported in
“He found that it took about 50 hours of interaction to move from acquaintance to casual friend, about 90 hours to move from casual friend to friend, and more than 200 hours to qualify as a best friend.”
This all begs the question:
With the people you consider your most intimate friends, how many hours have you logged?
That impromptu trip to the mall that lasted a couple of hours? That’s 1 percent of an intimate relationship logged. The cookout in your backyard that spans an entire summer’s afternoon? You’ve just racked up 3 percent of a ride-or-die friendship. The constant togetherness at the two-day women’s retreat? That’s a good 25 percent right there. My guess is that the reason you feel close to certain people is that you have faithfully put in the time together.
Any guesses as to where to find that kind of time when we’re all too busy for friends? Yep. Mealtime—while you’re prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up food.
My team, my small group, Zac’s family, my kids and all their friends—if I cook, someone will usually show up. My
kids have learned to ask, “Is there enough for [fill in a number] people?” And sometimes there isn’t, but lots of times, it just works.
We have to become people who stay. We have to become friends who show up to chop things for a few hours and stay even later to do the dishes, not just to eat. And we need to do this consistently, time and time again.
I’m convinced a key reason for our loneliness is that we give up too easily.
Friendships take time—a
of time. A lot of working it out. A lot of showing up. A lot of cleaning out closets. A lot of tears. A lot of laughter. A lot of food. A lot of inconvenience.
We give up so easily because it’s costly. It’s messy. It’s hard.
hard. Take a minute. Breathe in and accept that truth.
Now hear me: you can do hard things.
God is with you, in you, and for you. You, my friend, can show up.
You can hurt someone and apologize. You can be hurt and forgive.
You can choose consistency and inconvenience.
And the friendship you gain will be worth it.
Who in your friend group needs to be supported? Organize a way for everyone to do something nice for that person.
Reach out to a friend who is pulling away from you and/or God, someone who is isolating herself. Take over a meal and check on her.
Ask your friend to pray together with you.
Let go of minor offenses and truly move on.
Don’t gossip when you have been wronged.
Pray about a hurt you experience before talking through it with your friend.
Be the one who says, “I feel like things aren’t right between us. Is there anything we should talk through?”
After you have reconciled, or if you’ve chosen to simply let go of a hurt, treat your friend normally the next time you see her.
Send a casual, lighthearted text about something you can do together.
This is a tough one. Because community could be a bigger priority for you than for your spouse, it’s important you have a unified perspective on how to incorporate it into your lives. You both need this. My suggestion: read this book together and build a shared vision for how to pursue deeper relationships.
Not necessarily. You might be a laid-back person who isn’t easily offended. But be sure you are not secretly holding on to any bitterness if you have a less combative personality. And be sure you aren’t playing it too safe with your current friendships or caught up in people pleasing. Are you saying the hard things? Are you being honest with your feelings?
This is why I love the pattern of mission built into our friendships. Hopefully we’re noticing the people around us who need God or need deeper friendships and we’re constantly
pulling them in. Hopefully we are, out of our healthy friendships, ministering and loving people intentionally. If mission is a part of your close friendships, they won’t become stagnant. But friendships always get unhealthy if they aren’t focused on a life-giving purpose.
LAST WEEK A HANDFUL OF
friends came over, mostly single friends from work and some young marrieds with babies. The subject of family came up, and each person told stories not of their nuclear families but of families they frequently visit for dinner or have lived with at various points in their lives.
Logan talked about living with the McFarlins before she and her husband had the income to find their own place. Hannah talked about all the singles who lived with her parents while she was growing up and how she missed those big, extended-family dinners. Another friend mentioned her grandfather, who had lived with her family when she and her siblings were young.
Caroline, our sitter turned IFtern turned friend, laughed and, looking at me, said, “I’m basically your adopted daughter, based on how much time I’ve spent with you and your family.”
It’s possible that you are still looking around and wondering who your village is. But I hope you are learning to see that the potential for a diverse huddle of humans to love and to love you back is everywhere!
Family is God’s very first, best place for us to learn and live community. But what we think of as family is a far cry from His original design. You can try, but no amount of research is going to turn up ancient evidence of a mom, a dad, and 2.5 kids living on their own, fenced off from everyone else, on a one-third-acre plot of land. What you will find, if you go hunting for details on how things used to be, is a whole lot of communal living.
Ages ago, when the average life span saw people dying far younger than they do today, the concept of family included everyone from parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to half siblings, neighbors, cousins, coworkers, and friends who felt like family but actually weren’t. The idea of a single-family dwelling hadn’t yet been invented, which meant that to be human was to be surrounded by other humans—in villages, nearly 100 percent of the time.
Everything shifted in the 1920s after a social anthropologist named Bronislaw Malinowski coined the term “nuclear family” in reference to a social unit consisting solely of 2 parents and their 2.5 children. The concept of the nuclear family revolutionized marketing because a small, insulated, defined group of people made excellent consumer targets for everything from diapers to Crock-Pots.
The fewer things people shared, the more they individually had to buy.
It worked. Toaster sales went through the roof.
Meanwhile, our understanding of family shrank, singles were isolated, young mamas were left feeling alone to raise their kids, and elderly people were marginalized. We hid behind taller fences, alone, with our shiny new toasters.
Or at least, most of us did. Some of us, thankfully, still recognize the beauty built into God’s original plan.
During the pandemic, my friend Tasha let me know that her great-aunt had contracted COVID-19. “She’s seventy-seven years old,” Tasha said, “and she has a caretaker who comes in a couple of times a week to help her. Evidently one of her caretakers was sick when she came to help her last week, and now she’s sick.”
Tasha’s great-aunt lives in North Carolina. After sharing a home for years with her own mother, she was now trying to live on her own. But because the great-aunt had a positive COVID-19 test, caretakers weren’t allowed entry into her house, and Tasha was worried.
“Her sister is going to come down from New York and stay with her for at least a month,” Tasha then said, “so that ought to help.”
“Your great-aunt’s sister, who is probably also in her seventies or even her eighties, is going to leave her home in New York to go live in North Carolina for an entire month?” I asked.
“Yeah, of course,” Tasha said.
She went on to tell me that in most Black communities
“we take care of our family members, and our neighbors become like family.” She said, “We are in it together, Jennie—life, loss, victory, sorrow, COVID-19, the whole bit. We are
no matter what.”
In addition to this sister relocating for weeks on end to care for a loved one, Tasha told me that family members who were local had already arranged a meal train to ensure that the woman didn’t miss a single meal. Tasha herself had hit up Amazon to deliver every nonperishable she could think of to her ailing great-aunt.
All this struck me as quite a sacrifice and honestly also quite beautiful, and I said so. Then Tasha reminded me that collective living is just “how things are” in communities like hers. “African Americans live intergenerationally,” she said, “and will do whatever it takes to take care of each other.”
Taking care of one another.
Isn’t that what we all crave?
And yet something in us resists the thought of relying on others and of others relying on us.
When a friend of mine got married a few years ago, his new wife, a white American, initially appreciated the underpinnings of his Asian culture—the way families stuck together, the way grown kids cared for their aging elders, and so forth. Then he floated the idea of his mother, a widow, coming to live with them and…let’s just say it felt harder to appreciate the culture that looked so rich in theory.
Many of us are failing miserably when it comes to taking care of one another, and while this isn’t a book about caring for aging parents, it was one of the most convicting things I observed about different people both within our culture and
around the world. They take care of their families. In fact, they stick together all their lives.
I told you earlier that I believe with all my heart that the first, best community God created was the family. During creation, on day six He built His masterpiece: humans. Adam. Eve. A man and his wife, who could then procreate and have children. A family—made in the image of God.
Right from the start God determined that it was never good for a person to be alone, to live alone, to exist separate from other persons, and so God put forth His solution: ready-made community, for you and for me. From that moment onward, whenever life felt hard or scary or frustrating, we’d have people to come home to, someone to lean on, shoulders on which to bury our tearstained faces. A friend. Our family would be there for us, and we would be there for them. This would not be a come-and-go arrangement but rather a covenant commitment.
We would stick together through every season, seeing, knowing, loving, serving.
We would practice relating within the four walls of our home so that when we went out into the world, we would know how to love others well.
We would know how to ask good questions because we practiced good question-asking at home.
We would know how to show empathy to hurting people because we practiced empathetic communication at home.
We would know how to live unoffended because we practiced letting go of our hurts at home.
We would know how to extend earnest forgiveness because we practiced forgiving others at home.
We would know how to work through differences and disagreements because we practiced effective conflict resolution at home.
Family was supposed to be our first community, a gathering of people who accepted and loved us and then taught us to accept and love others well.
This was God’s original plan, both to bless people within families and then to bless
the rest of the world.
“God places the lonely in families,” the psalmist promised; “he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”
I’ve always loved that verse because of the comparison between family members and prisoners who have been freed. The picture of the family ought to be a picture of outright freedom, of chains being thrown off, of joy. Which is why historically it was not considered a big deal to set aside our own desires and care for those in our family. I’m thinking here of exhortations such as the one in 1 Timothy, where the apostle Paul reminded his young protégé that family matters: “Those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.”
Pretty harsh language, right? So harsh that it nearly reads as hyperbole, as in, “
we care for the members of our family, Timothy. I mean, this is so obvious that I probably don’t even need to say it.”
The “relatives” part to those living in Paul’s day would
include not only those in your immediate family, but also extended family members and even the stranger who was passing by and needed a place to stay, food to eat, or short-term care of some other kind. Some historians suggest that this gathering of related people could have numbered up to one hundred, a far cry from the 2.63 people in the modern family of today.
included all those you were responsible for. Those you willingly cared for. Those with whom you’d rise or fall.
You’d share meals with these people.
You’d do chores with these people.
You’d raise children with these people.
You’d labor with these people.
You’d entertain dreams with these people.
You’d swap stories with these people.
You’d work through disagreements with these people.
You’d celebrate wins with these people.
You’d grieve disappointments with these people.
You’d welcome new babies with these people.
You’d bury loved ones with these people.
You’d do all the stuff of life with these people. And you’d do this every day.
All this togetherness built into God’s plan for family probably begs a question:
What if these people we call family consistently drive us absolutely crazy?!
Or far worse, they are completely absent or abusive?
I know. I hear your stories of unthinkable atrocities
committed by family members. First, hear me clearly: toxic abuse absolutely requires boundaries and perhaps estrangement. Please seek help if you are in that position now or if you experienced it growing up and have never healed from it. No one should go through that alone.
But for most of us, our family members aren’t truly toxic. They just drive us crazy! Or maybe we just don’t like some of them.
Maybe they are critical of how you parent or what you want to do after college.
Maybe they pressure you to get married or to vote the same way they do.
Maybe they manipulate you with money or correct your grammar or complain constantly that you never come to visit.
Or maybe, like my friend’s brother, they come and stay for too long and expect you to take care of them at Christmas.
If we have our preference, we usually seek out intimate relationships with people who don’t drive us too crazy, aren’t critical, and are a lot like us.
But with family you don’t get to pick your people. Which means that most likely they won’t all be easy to love.
When we were adopting Cooper, we read a lot about family attachment and how disruptive it can be to a soul to lose the first relationships that were supposed to be everything. It still makes me cry as I type this because while adoption is redemptive, it fundamentally arises from the most unimaginable disruption: the loss of the people who brought you into existence.
When attachment with your first relationships breaks down in any way and for any reason, attachment becomes
difficult and scary on any level. It’s why if you sign up for therapy tomorrow, in the first twenty minutes you’ll be asked about your relationship with your parents.
The good news is that we can learn a better way to relate, and we absolutely can heal. I’ve experienced it.
I was thirty years old when I sat down with my dad to tell him how I lived with a limp from the hurts he had inadvertently brought into my life. At the time I was a young parent myself but still didn’t realize how easy it is to wound your kids.
I wrote my dad a six-page letter, three pages of gratitude and three pages of wounds, and read it aloud. It felt important. I had done the work, including years of counseling, but I had never shared with him the hurt that some of his behaviors had caused me.
This was the day, and yet I couldn’t conceive of any good that would come from this conversation I knew I needed to have. First, I didn’t want to hurt my dad. Second, I couldn’t see how this would end well. Either my dad would criticize me, validating my worst fears, or he would shrug it off and casually say that he hadn’t meant anything by his words and actions. In short, invalidating the hurts of my childhood.
Here’s the beautiful truth about my earthly daddy: he loves Jesus, he loves his family, and he has spent his entire life trying to be a good father and a loving husband. As his daughter, I have so much to be thankful for. And yet I still walked away from my upbringing with baggage, hurt, and a bit of a spiraling identity crisis.
We all carry attachment issues into adulthood because we all have sinners for parents.
My dad listened to every word I said that day. He cried happy tears over my gratitude for tuck-ins and for his
working tirelessly to provide for us. He cried bitter ones when I carefully explained how I’d often feared that I was never enough in his estimation.
He cried. He listened. And then he did something I couldn’t have imagined prior to this conversation: he told me about his relationship with his mom and his dad. In short, he said, “Jennie, I messed up. It was my fault, not yours. And let me tell you where I first heard the message that I had to be perfect: it was from my mom and dad. I heard that message, I absorbed that message, and then I passed that message on to you.”
We love others in the manner in which we ourselves were loved.
Equally true: we tend to hurt others in the manner in which we ourselves have been hurt. The cycle perpetuates itself until something interrupts it and someone says, “Enough.”
That’s what Dad and I did that day. In unison, we said, “Enough.”