Read Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World Online
Authors: Jennie Allen
I thought of these experiences in Italy and Uganda and the hole in my life where community should be as I sat in the airport flying home—alone, once again. And I knew I wanted something to change. I wanted someone beyond my family to realize I was gone, someone to know I was coming home, and someone to process all of it with me. I decided a regular get-together with a few people was the only way for it to consistently happen. So I texted several friends I didn’t yet know particularly well and explained how I was feeling and what I needed. A handful agreed to meet. Together we committed to connecting not just occasionally but regularly and intentionally.
We most often met in the evenings on my back porch, where we’d say what was true of our lives. Whenever one of us was traveling or sick, the others would get together anyway. We prioritized these times together over just about everything else. For nearly three years, we met this way. What is that, more than a hundred evenings together? At two hours a pop, we logged some serious and intimate time.
I clearly remember waiting at some gate of some airport in some town, trying to get home after speaking somewhere, and
my heart would leap, knowing I would be seeing my friends the next day. Those meetups were oxygen to my connection-craving soul, gulps of fresh air I craved. We would talk about our marriages, we would talk about our kids, we would talk about our jobs, and we would talk about God. We’d laugh. We’d tear up. We’d sigh over disappointment and pain. It didn’t stop with those group gatherings, either. Because we knew so much about what was happening with each other, our newfound intimacy bled into other parts of life.
We’d check in on each other.
And bring food to each other.
And shop with each other.
And listen to every small and big thing happening in our lives.
We traveled together and stuck together.
We were tight…
Until we were not.
One of those friends quit me. I mean, she actually looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t want to be friends anymore.”
I will never forget where I was sitting and how the world was spinning as she told me why she couldn’t keep investing in our friendship. And as you’ll see in the coming pages, this wasn’t the first or last time this happened to me. Without going into details, it was completely my fault.
The point is, I lost my regulars that day. Our little team fell apart.
And yes, I still had lots of friends in Austin. But that “in Austin” part matters here. Austin is not a small town. Austin is far-flung, a hundred cities in one. If your kids aren’t at my kids’ schools, if your workplace isn’t a block from my workplace, if your house isn’t within walking distance of my house, if your favorite restaurants aren’t on the same side of the lake as mine, well, then we might as well live on different planets for the number of times we’ll happen to cross each other’s path. I had plenty of occasional friends, people I’d see at planned times during highly scheduled events. And I loved those friends! But in terms of my real, deep, everyday friends, the women who knew my weekly comings and goings, my family’s ups and downs, most of what was really going on with me, those few friends were it. They were my people.
And after that one conversation with that one friend, I felt alone again.
I start with this yo-yo of a story because I think it’s important that you understand how I got here. These desperate and glorious seasons of relationships in my life represent what is true for you and me both:
Outside of Jesus, relationships are the greatest gifts we have on earth and simultaneously the most difficult part of being alive.
There are seasons when it feels like our relational cup is overflowing and seasons when we wonder if anyone even knows we are alive.
Maybe you’re a pastor’s wife who knows the whole church but never really feels known.
Or you’re single and just moved to a new town for a job and have to completely start over, alone.
Or you live alone and worry who would take care of your dog if you had to go to the hospital for some reason.
Or you have a lot of people who you consider friends, but you don’t feel a deep connection with anyone.
Or you’ve tried three small groups and still haven’t found the right fit.
Or you had the best of friends, but life happened and you drifted apart.
Or maybe you feel like you have absolutely no one and don’t even know where to begin.
Whatever situation has left you feeling detached and adrift, I’m about to throw you a life preserver.
A VILLAGE: IT’S A STATE OF
being we all desire. How do I know this? Because whenever I have a stressful day, guess what I turn on at the end of it?
The television show
Why did we love that show so much? The coffee-shop second home, the never-locked doors, the communal living, the unique personalities that stuck it out with one another no matter what. For a decade, those six friends did everything together. They laughed and cried and cheered and sighed—adulting, arm in arm. They were each other’s constant. They were each other’s home, and when we watched them, we felt like they were our friends, like their home was our home too. And while those six had been many not-so-great things along the way—neurotic and needy, offendable and obsessed, ridiculous and self-righteous, possessive and downright jerks—the one thing they’d never been was alone.
Nothing felt more wrong to me than the last episode of the series. Monica and Chandler brought their adopted twin
babies into the world and then moved a world away. Or that’s how it seemed, anyway. Right when they would need their friends the most, they settled for a swing set and a yard. I was appalled.
And yet so many of us make the very same trade.
We move to cool cities. We move for higher-paying jobs. We choose colleges for their reputation. We choose churches for the best preaching. We hunt for our dream home in the “right” neighborhoods. We shape our lives around a set of values that were handed to us from our terribly independent, success-driven culture.
But are we happy?
A few years ago, I went home to see my parents for the weekend and got together with some friends from childhood days. Nearly every one of my close friends from junior high and high school still live in the same community where we grew up. These girls became adults, moved out of their parents’ homes, went to college, got married, and then bought homes of their own just blocks from where their parents still live. When I go back to visit, it’s like rewinding to me, age seventeen. The streets are the same. The trees, while bigger, are the same. The landmarks are the same. My friends are exactly the same.
Anyway, that weekend, after three or four hours of sitting around the table eating, laughing, commiserating, and reliving
a hundred hilarious memories, we started vision casting about the retirement house on the beach we will one day share after our husbands are gone. We were joking (kind of), but the idea of deep-down communal living made my heart sing, and as much as I love my family, there is something about the vision of dear friends cooking together and sharing the daily mundane that sounds pretty perfect to me.
If you are an introvert, I worry that you’re about to put down this book. I realize that I am hardwired for relational connectivity more than most people, but please hear me out:
Even if a house full of friends isn’t your dream come true, you were built by God for deep relationships.
In fact, God existed in relationship with Himself before any of us were here. It’s called the Trinity. God is one, and God is three. (If you’ve never heard this before, don’t worry. It hurts my brain still, and I’ve been to seminary.) The key point is this: for all eternity, God has existed in relationship—as Father, Spirit, and Son (Jesus).
Scripture says that the Son exists to glorify the Father, and that the Father exists to glorify the Son. It says that the Spirit exists to glorify them both. What that means is that they help each other, they promote each other, they serve each other, and they love each other. What’s more, this exchange has been going on for all eternity.
It means that our God has been relational forever. It means that He created us
relationship—and not a relationship that is surface level or self-seeking. No, the relationship He has in mind for us is…
Author and pastor Tim Keller said,
The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two.
Relational. It’s who we are, because it’s who God is.
We were made in the image of God, who
relationship. This means our longing for healthy, mutually submissive, supportive, interdependent relationships isn’t simply us craving something good for us, like vegetables or vitamins; we are craving the fundamental reason we were created.
We weren’t just built
community; we were built because of it.
Woven into the fiber of our souls is a pattern for experiencing intimate relationship with God and then expressing that love in our families and communities and churches.
But here is where we go wrong. We look to people to complete and fill what only God was meant to fill. This is the primary reason we all are so unhappy with each other. We
have put our hope in imperfect people. But that hope can successfully be answered only in God Himself. Eternity was set in our hearts, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, which means only a relationship with an eternal God can fill our hearts.
Consider what you’re aiming your hope toward. Who is in the center of your affections? Who is in the center of your identity? We all have a choice. The answer will determine whether you live fulfilled or repeatedly disappointed.
If God is in the center of our relational circle, we will be fulfilled, and out of that fulfillment we can bless others. But if people are in the center of our relational circle, we end up pulling on others to meet needs that they can’t ever fully meet.
Jesus said it clearest. When asked to name the greatest commandment, He said all the commandments could be boiled down to this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When you have God in the right place, at the center of
your affections, you will more likely get people right. So, yes, that relationship comes first, but that relationship is meant to send us into loving others.
Throughout Scripture we see that God keeps building communities. In the Old Testament He starts with a family. That family becomes a people group. That people group grows into the nation of Israel. Throughout the New Testament you see God’s heart for the local church.
This is the way God moves throughout history. Family, community, a nation, and local church that reaches the world. God loves us to be together. God loves us to be on mission together. God loves us to worship Him together. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
We know that our togetherness matters to God.
The Bible was penned in the context of people daily living interconnected lives. The teachings of Scripture to Israel and to the Church assume people belonging to and depending on a group. In fact throughout most of the Bible, when it says “you,” the original Hebrew and Greek languages nearly always indicate a plural form: you all (or y’all, depending on how godly y’all are).
The Bible doesn’t speak to individuals. It’s written for people living out their faith together!
And this all matters so much because…
We make each other better.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
We remind each other of God and His plans for us.
“That you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
We fight for each other to not be distracted by sin.
“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
We complete each other.
“As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
We need each other to live out the purposes of God.
“Each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts.”
How arrogant are we to think that even though the God of the universe exists in community, our little fragile finite selves can survive without it? No, there is a beautiful God-built plan for having our souls be full, satisfied.
If this plan is so good for us, why don’t we just prioritize this plan, fight for this plan, and make this plan unfold every day of our lives?
Think about it: if God is relationship and He created us for relationship, then guess who hates it?
I mean, if deep, loving, intimate connection is God’s goal, then the enemy might hate nothing more than for you and me to enjoy deep, loving, intimate connection! And that’s why this isn’t a feel-good book about how to make friends. This is a depiction of war, a description of two distinct sides, and a reminder that
is at stake.
No wonder it feels like every aspect of our lives is stacked against our connection to other people.
That enemy seeks to destroy this good thing God created on the earth out of His love.
The enemy wants to divide us.
Rather than fighting for each other, he wants to see us fighting against each other. He wants to prevent the glory of God from shining through this city on a hill, a gathering of believers who are set apart for the purpose of displaying God to the world.
We are called to be a community of people, on a mission, delighting in God, delighting in each other, redeemed and reconciling the world, bringing them and inviting them into this family.
is the ultimate purpose of community.
Yes, it is to encourage you.
Yes, it is to comfort you.
Yes, it is to fight for you.
But ultimately community is meant to open the doors wide to every person on earth and invite them into a family that exists forever with God.
Yes, a life of connection is for your thriving, but this is also for eternity.
We must understand the war we’re in. We must understand that the enemy is subtle and sneaky and seeks to destroy you by destroying your relationships. We have no better defensive weapon than having the people who love God rally around us, fight for us, and fight with us.
Maybe you don’t believe in God or in Jesus. If so, please know how glad I am that you’re here and how deeply I wish we could meet. And I hope you encounter in these pages a God who built you, loves you, and has a plan for you to live with joy and connection to Him and to others.
We all crave a collective belonging. Because God built us for it.
And what should be true of us who love Jesus and follow Him is that, because we have found our identity in Him, we enter human relationships without lists of expectations and neediness.
Christ followers enter human relationships full of hope and full of confidence to love others, regardless of the treatment they receive in return.
Oh, I am fully aware this is not our reputation. And I am genuinely sorry for the ways that Christians may have caused harm to you or to people you love. (Being Christian means we have been freed from the slavery of sin but not from the desire of it.)
Truly, no one has taught me more about friendship than Jesus, and I hope as we journey together you will see how brilliant and full of life-giving grace He is. Jesus is the best imaginable friend. And He helps us become the same.
As I’ve already mentioned, nearly every generation that has ever lived has experienced a village existence. Between Jesus’s days here on earth and the Reformation fifteen hundred years later, a custom practiced the world over was that for every twenty-five young people in a given place, a school would be established.
In Jesus’s world, for example, it was actually
for a family to live somewhere without a school close by, and so for every twenty-five boys, a teacher would be appointed.
Families whose children went to school together also worshipped together, meeting first in homes and then in appointed buildings as the community grew. Educational life and social life and religious life and vocational life and family life all bled together.
Bottom line, people were in each other’s business.
But that has all radically changed. Our priorities no longer center on “we” but on “me.”
Individualism as we know it has long, deep roots that date centuries back.
France saw individualism break forth in the massive anarchy called the French Revolution.
Closer to home, the Revolutionary War against Britain by the United States was all about
I mean, come on. One of our first acts as Americans was to draft a document called the Declaration of Independence.
“Independence!” was our battle cry.
became our core identity.
Hey, I am terribly grateful America exists, and I don’t for one minute take for granted the freedoms we enjoy. But that independent spirit has a dark side.
For the past 250 years, we have been declaring our independence with increasing pitch and volume, with greater and greater insistence that we can handle life on our own.
From settlers spreading out and building a life for their families in this vast country to the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s that forced small villages of farmers and their families to fence their properties and become factory workers in big cities,
we have been on a downward spiral, away from community.
Loneliness first began to show up in a significant way at the rise of the Industrial Revolution.
When factories automated everything, people’s lives became easier and more self-reliant. But efficiency came at a great cost; namely, we didn’t need each other all the time.
I should mention here that a full 80 percent of the world’s population still exists in the context of small, community-based groups—villages, you might call them—where what’s mine is always ours.
But for those of us here in the West, life doesn’t look like that.
Likely springing from the Enlightenment’s focus on individualism, the self-help movement of the late twentieth century set personal happiness as the ultimate prize.
And then came the birth of social media in 1997, which rewards with “likes,” personal-branding continuity, and snarky one-upmanship.
Independence has become the chief value in this country.
We are brainwashed that “being a self-made woman” (or man), “making our own way,” and striving for “personal achievement” are the goals of our brief, beautiful lives. For generations now, we have taken the bait, believing that siloed, individualistic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps living will somehow satisfy in the end.
And yet the book I base my life on, as well as the God who built us, starts the whole, big story with these two lines:
“Let us create man in our image.”
“It is not good for man to be alone.”
And deep down inside, we know this to be true.
We are meant to live in community, moment by moment, breath by breath.
Not once a week or once a month at a night out with friends or during lunch after emerging from an isolated cubical.
But every moment, every day, for the entirety of our lives.
So how the heck are we supposed to fight terrifying stats of loneliness, the devil and his plan to sabotage connection, and the fundamental way that society is set up, and instead build what God cares most about?
It’s going to take a village. You know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it takes a village to create a full and thriving life for us adults too.
But this village living will not happen by accident.
We’ll have to build a new life.