When You’re Outside the Club, Looking In

Sharon Church, Community, Friendships 12 Comments

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I never thought I would say this, but I actually miss being pregnant. There are a lot of things that I don’t miss–like the inability to sleep on my stomach and back, the unladylike groaning that accompanied my standing up and sitting down, or my need to pee every 5 minutes–but there are also a lot of beautiful aspects to pregnancy that I already find myself longing to experience again.

One of those aspects, which came as a bit of a surprise to me, was the way pregnancy impacted my relationship with other women. It was as if pregnancy signified my initiation into a sisterhood–the sisterhood of motherhood. Not only did pregnancy strengthen my relationships with friends who are moms, but it served as a point of connection with complete strangers. Countless random women were ecstatic over my coming bundle of joy, and many overflowed with their own happy stories of becoming mothers. Both a sales person at a clothing store and a neighbor I had never met burst into tears as they recounted the births of their sons.

If motherhood is a club, I had found my ticket in.

On the one hand, that instant connection between women is incredible. In a culture of individuals that are increasingly isolated from one another, pregnancy is one means to bond with friends and strangers alike. It’s almost as though we all fought in the same war: even if we weren’t in the same battalion, soldiers understand one another in a way that ordinary civilians do not. I loved experiencing that kind of connection with other women.

On the other hand, as I have enjoyed the benefits of my newly inducted status, I still remember being on “the other side.” I remember being single and desperately trying to converse with married friends, but always feeling slightly alienated from the discussion. Likewise, childless women experience a similar feeling of outsidedness, watching the natural connection between mothers and yearning for that same kind of bond. I sometimes felt that way.

As a new mother, that feeling is fresh in my memory and it is something I have struggled with in choosing topics for this blog. While I want to write about God’s movement amidst my own life experience, and that life experience includes marriage and motherhood, I realize many of my readers do not share in those experiences. I don’t want to alienate women who are unmarried or don’t have children by turning this space into an in-group conversation.

It is a tough line to walk, and one that I have surely walked imperfectly. But suffice it to say that I am keenly aware of the “club” dynamic that often permeates female relationships, and it is one that I want to be sensitive to. Although it is not wrong from women to bond over marriage and parenting–Titus 2 encourages this kind of relationship!–it is important to be aware of the temptation to become cliquish. It does take more work to connect with women who have different life experience, but the failure to make that effort can further alienate members of the church who already feel excluded.

As a final thought, my experience of feeling “outside the club” has not ended with having a child. There are many other clubs that I would love to belong to but have not been invited to join. That is one of the things I really dislike about Twitter. You can observe the Twitter interactions of the individuals you follow, but you are not guaranteed a seat at their conversational table. I can chime in my own thoughts, only to be met with Twitter silence. Nearly fifteen years out of high school, I instantly feel like an awkward and dorky teen desperately trying to get the attention of the cool kids. I am Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed.

This experience not only softens my heart toward others in the church who feel excluded, but it serves as a heart check as well. As much as I would love to be included by everyone, and as easy as it would be to begrudge Christians who exclude me, my identity and my worth do not come from them. Yes, the church is to be a community of believers that supports and edifies its members, and sometimes we fail in this regard. However, the church is composed of imperfect people who are ALL in need of forgiveness, love, and healing.

Every member of the church–even the powerful, the popular, and the included–has felt excluded or alienated by another Christian. And that is why we need Jesus. He is the only answer to my imperfect sense of self and my imperfect experience of community. While it is important to labor toward a vision of God’s people in which all are connected, I can also rest in the fact that true and perfect belonging is to be had in the person of Christ.

Comments 12

  1. from two to one

    What a great reflection, Sharon. I actually recently wrote on disappointment at feeling overlooked and excluded from a writing community I really respect and long for, and I agree with you — that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus — but we also need to figure out a way as Christians to collectively deal with these disappointments. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, though. Maybe blogging like this?

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    Sharon

    Great point! One thing I was thinking about while I wrote this post (but didn’t include) was how I often overlook the community that God has given me because I am longing for another one. At no time in my life have I been completely without a community. Even when I moved to Illinois with my husband and we didn’t know anyone, I still had friends and family who were invested in my life and supporting me, even if from a distance. As a single person I had community, and as a married person without children I also had community. Granted, these communities were not always as diverse as they might have been, but they were members of the Body of Christ nonetheless. That said, I sometimes wonder if I overlook God’s provision, or I am simply dissatisfied with it. Of course, there are times when it would be a great encouragement to have the support of Christians with specific commonalities (such as other writers, in your case) but I also don’t want to miss out on the ways God might be providing for me in the community I already have.

    What do you think?

  3. Tim

    “… my own life experience, and that life experience includes marriage and motherhood, I realize many of my readers do not share in those experiences.” Who, me? At least I’m halfway there, the married part.

    Don’t worry, Sharon, you write in such an inclusive way that it would take a ton of willfulness for someone to think you are excluding them from the discussion.

    Tim

  4. Emily

    I have not commented before, but wanted to chime in.. As someone who is on the “opposite” side – I have been drawn to your blog because of your honesty, and transparency.. We all have cross over points, and as soon as we cross them – it’s so easy to move on to the next & forget the path we just walked. i really have loved reading your thoughts because you don’t seem to do that – life will change, and we all change with it – but my observation here is that you’re gifted with a sensitivity that will adapt as you go along. as a single, 20 something, your last 2 posts and the insight your glean from motherhood – blessed me, even though I am not in that same phase.. write what’s on your heart – even when it’s “topical”,it’s still you.

  5. MsP

    “I remember being single and desperately trying to converse with married friends, but always feeling slightly alienated from the discussion.” — Thank you for remembering us! I’m in my late twenties and the lack of community can be crushing — it seems that everyone’s solution is “marriage” instead of “do you want to go out for coffee?” I appreciate your thoughts — and the way you talk about your life isn’t alienating AT ALL! I praised God and CRIED my eyes out when I read your birth story! 🙂

  6. Lesley

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post, Sharon. I can understand your concerns about the motherhood “clique” and the Twitter cliques too. I appreciate you voicing what you’ve noticed, and being careful to converse in a way that includes others while also embracing your new role as a mother.

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  8. Ani

    I think it’s only natural to write from your perspective, because that’s how God communicates with us. I think that you do a great job using your life circumstances and finding and sharing objective truths about God through them. Maybe another way to bring in more people with other circumstances into the conversation would be to have guest bloggers who are going through different things (like singleness, infertility, divorce, etc). Just a suggestion. But I love your blog!

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  10. trisha

    Thank you. I will never EVER forget what infertility felt like. Unfortunately some women use their mommmy status to exclude, to feel superior, etc even though many do not realize they are doing so. Of course churches do not help with their exaltation of motherhood to the point that God has a very special place for mothers in heaven-but if you do not have a child-you are definitely excluded from that special place in heaven. I also do not support huge Mother’s Day programs-do we ever celebrate the accomplishments of woman who have not had children but dedicated their lives to ministry? No, we don’t.
    I will never forget a “friendship” I had-supporting another woman who was going through infertility only to walk into church one Sunday where everyone else knew she was pregnant but me. She couldn’t face me now that she “had crossed” over and was back in the club with all her friends. She dropped our friendship immediately-no need for me now. Another friend who had chosen not to have children shared her pain at no one bringing her meals or support when she was sick-and she was right.

    I will always look for that excluded person(s)-in conversations, in blessings, in support.

  11. Allison

    Thank you for this post, Sharon. God’s timing is perfect, and I know He specifically had me read this today. My singles’ small group met last night to continue going through Tommy Nelson’s “Maximum Marriage” series. Yes, you read this correctly, we are all singles, doing a study on marriage. We want to prepare beforehand rather than afterwards.

    Last night, we went through “God and the Fairer Sex,” which, while filled with biblical truths, sometimes made it seem like a woman’s sole purpose in life is to be a wife and a mother. And when you’re a 30- or 40-something single with no prospects whatsoever but who desperately wants both of those things, it can be a discouraging truth.

    All this to say, I will absolutely be sharing this particular post, as well as your blog in general, with all the single ladies in my small group. And I want to thank you, as always, for your very sensitive reflection and simultaneous sincere consideration of women in all stages of life.

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