Ever since Ike and I moved to the Chicago area 3 years ago, things have mostly been great. We love school, we’ve had a blast exploring the city and going on adventures, and then the crowning moment of it all: we had our son. In so many ways, the last 3 years have been a season of great joy.
However, the last 3 years have also been hard and weird. Mostly in the friendship department. In North Carolina I had a solid group of girl friends, but I have struggled to find the same community here. A lot the problem can be chalked up to circumstances. During the first year we lived here, I formed a small group with some Trinity students until half the group moved away. The second year, we moved to a new home which was 45 minutes away from our church. This year, we began attending a new church that is right across the street, but that was only a few months ago.
In an effort to meet new people, I attended a women’s tea at my new church last weekend. The senior pastor’s wife was the speaker, and as a part of her message she emphasized the value of community and “connecting” with friends. As she spoke, I looked around the room at the tables of women who clearly knew and loved one another. Suddenly, the full weight of the last 3 years descended upon my shoulders. I felt envious of the women around me, and I missed that closeness acutely. I bit my lip and tried to hold back the tears. I felt so alone.
It’s hard to believe that nearly 3 years have now passed without a close group of girl friends with whom I can “do life.” I have good friends back home, and I talk to my parents throughout the week, but the only person who really knows what is going on with me on a daily basis is my husband. Of course, I am incredibly grateful for Ike. If our marriage wasn’t healthy and strong, this season would be much harder. But he cannot be a female friend to me, and my soul feels the absence. There really is nothing quite like a deep, loyal, fun, and challenging girl friend.
A day or two after the women’s tea, my friend Enuma directed me to a fascinating article on New Republic about the science of loneliness, and it helped me to understand why the lack of female community feels like such an open wound. The article draws a distinction between loneliness and being alone, since plenty of people experience loneliness in spite of having many friends. Instead, loneliness springs from the lack of close friends. Simply put, it is “the want of intimacy.”
This makes sense to me. Up here in Illinois I do have a lot of friends, but few of those friendships go very deep. The situation is nobody’s fault but I sorely miss female intimacy, women who know me well, who can say hard things in love, and who can keep a pulse on my life.
The article goes on to explain that loneliness is not just painful, but can be hazardous to your health. The author writes,
“Long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.”
This research tells me two things. First, I’m not pathetic or weak when I feel lonely. That is my soul communicating a need. And I should listen to it.
Second, it tells me that God created us to be in community. In the past I have written about the physiological benefits of female fellowship, and this research further enforces the value of close, intimate friends. It takes time and energy to achieve that level of friendship, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.
So that’s where I am right now–putting myself out there, again, to try and build a community of intimate friends, again. As an introvert it can be really hard some days, but it’s an investment I am willing to make. It’s also what I was created for.
As a final thought, I can’t help but notice how many of us experience disappointment in our relationships, whether it is with parents, family, marriage, or friends. I am blessed to have incredible parents and a wonderful spouse, so it’s strange that those relationships aren’t enough. They still don’t satisfy my soul, and I find myself yearning for more.
At some point or another, all of us grapple with pain and disappointment about our parents, spouses, children, role models, or friends. No one experiences perfect wholeness in all their relationships. Even in the Bible there are few examples of healthy families (which I had never even noticed until my pastor pointed it out on Sunday). If Scripture is any indication, our relationships on earth will always be marked by the Fall. They will always come up short.
Strangely, this truth has encouraged me. It helped me to have realistic expectations about my relationships. It helped me to feel a little less alone. And it helped point me to the only relationship that will ever satisfy the yearning of my soul.
In John 15:13 Jesus said to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Not long after, Jesus did just that. From then on, to call yourself a “friend of God” makes a statement about what Christ did for you on the cross.
It’s no coincidence that Scripture draws on the language of different relationships to capture God’s relationship with us. He is described as a Father, Son, mother, spouse, and friend. In other words, for every broken relationship we experience on earth, we find the perfect counterpart in God. All human relationships are only imperfect sign posts pointing us to the one true relationship for which we were created. That is not to say that intimate Christian community isn’t important–it is essential!–but it is also only a shadow of the community we have with God..
It can be a greater challenge to cultivate and deepen friendships in the midst of the kinds of life transitions that demand so much of our soul’s attention. You’ve listed some of the biggies in your post: relocation, parenthood, changing churches. The pool of potential friendships tends to be smaller in our 30’s than it is during college years; people’s availability to invest the kind of time needed to build a friendship is drastically reduced by their own work and family responsibilities.
I am with you as I’ve experienced some of the same realities at my own life stage and transient zip code in recent years, too. I hear in your words is a prayer – one that God hears and honors. I also hear in your expression of desire for meaningful community that this community may take the shape of one or two really solid and committed friends with whom you can share life. Praying with you for that today.
Thanks, Michelle! Love you!
I’ve been experiencing the same thing since I moved to Hawaii. Found a great church, but it’s an hour’s drive away from where I live and it’s really difficult to connect with people. They only have home groups for 6 weeks at a time and it’s usually when I’m out of town on a mission. However, I have recently come into a group of folks via one close friend who all go to a church much closer. I’m going to visit and see what it’s like and possibly switch. It’d make a difference, I think, going somewhere where people already know me and where we all live in the same area.
Thanks for posting this.
I hear you clearly Sharon and have been in that valley myself – that valley of starting over in a new place, and in my case, without my wonderful husband. Widows frequently express thoughts similar to yours. Relationship are what we are on this earth for, and women especially need other women for love, for encouragement, and for the nurturing of life. We need other women to give to as much as to receive from. I hear you! Thanks
I totally agree with Michelle that stage in life has a lot of impact on friendships. I miss college days where everyone lived within walking distance and most people were free to hang out on a regular basis (partially because midnight was an acceptable time of day to hang!). Nowadays, it takes considerable effort and much time to cultivate friendships. Thank goodness for email and texting because those are opportunities to connect, even for a brief moment.
And like you said, loneliness rears its head even when you know a lot of people. Definitely. I’ve wished before that I could gather all my friends to live in a commune (dorm style) – but I guess even at that, there would be times of loneliness since human relationships are not perfect… It sure would be fun though! Thanks for sharing Sharon! Glad to know you and if this commune ever gets off the ground, would love for you to join! 🙂
Can’t believe this only got four comments. Definitely more of a common experience than that, I guarantee. Especially for those of us who are single/childless and left all those friends behind to move to a new city. It’s hard because it’s true that young adulthood = fewer friends than college but the memories are still fresh. Plus, we know Jesus is our only perfect friend, but somehow, like you say about your family and husband, it’s not enough. We’re not asking for perfect friends, or many friends, just a few messy deep loyal ones. Sure, it’s rare, but it also hurts that God would create us with this need and not allow us to fill it even when 2, 3, 4 years go by…
Thanks for writing boldly, Sharon.
Hi Sharon, I am friends with Kim Campbell, we met during the time we were both at Southern Seminary in Louisville. I found your blog thru Kim sharing todays post on fb. We are currently living in Illinois as well, in the Quad Cities area. QC is three hours due west from Chicago, right on Iowa line. i am originally from Alabama, born and raised and lived in the same town for 38 years, then we lived in Kentucky for almost five years, and am a southern girl thru and thru. The Lord in his sovereignty moved us to Illinois where my husband pastors a small church here. I have and still do experience most of what you wrote about in this post. This has been the hardest season of my life as far as lonliness goes. Thank you for your transparency, it was an encouragement. I am only a few hours from chicago, and we travel to the city several times during the year. Maybe sometime soon our paths will cross. I will be praying for you! Blessings! Donna Irvin
Donna, thank you for sharing, and the Lord be with you during this season. I’ll be praying for you too!!
Great article, Sharon.
I felt this through all of our moves, and it was especially hard after college and having a wonderful group of deep girl relationships. I think this is one of the reasons I loved camp so much. I had more shallow relationships in school and camp is where I felt people knew me better. This article really resonates with me and my need for those relationships.Thanks.
I love your willingness to be vulnerable with all of us. To be honest, one of the reasons I don’t want to ever move again is a fear of having to make new friends. It is SO hard after college to form intimate community. I really like your conclusions…I just wish I knew how to daily come to Christ as my counterpart. Sometimes a physical friends seems so much easier even though I know His love and guidance is deeper.
Thanks for this post Sharon! I just returned from a weekend with my college roommates, and had the strange sense of waking up and remembering who I really am. They get me, and they know me, and love me, and challenge me to be myself at my best. When I’m lonely, or too busy, or separated from my good friends, I tend to lose track of myself and forget who God has made me to be.
It is so weird how God is still using you in my life to help me through life. You know how close family is to me, and I have been struggling with have more “girl time” here in Wilmington, which is 5 hours from my entire family. I feel the same way you spoke about. Marc is the only one who knows everything that is going on. The insight you showed really helped me put everything in perceptive, and to remember God does have it under control, even on those days I feel all alone. You truly are a blessing.
I relate to this post a lot. I am also an introvert, and I really envy women I see in my life who can jump right into a new community and connect with people. It takes a significant amount of energy and boldness for me to truly connect with people in a new environment. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Sharon, So thankful you put this into words and you shared it.. not hiding it, stuffing it or what ever we all usually want to do with negative emotions (especially loneliness). Thankful! We just moved to NYC I totally get it and am in the middle of it.
Kimberly, I saw that you had moved. NYC is a MAJOR change, but I hope you’re having some fun adventures along the way! And I’ll pray you find some good, heart friends too!
Sharon, I was just thinking this morning about how I not only don’t spend time with people (outside of work, that is) but that I often purposefully avoid being with people. Is it my introversion? Yes, in part. But I think too it is a lack of desire. Those may be related, but not necessarily coextensive.
There are people I like to be with, sure. Still, I have to make special effort just to reach out to even them. I know God desires his people to be in fellowship with one another; community, communion, company, whatever you want to label it. I can’t say that this is a desire I find in my heart, though.
Wow do I feel out of step.
What a wonderful reminder that we can find the perfect counterpart in God. Yet, when you find that sweet group of soul sisters who you can be open and raw with every time and you know they will never turn their backs on you, it is a gift.
There may be friends who are only friends when they are lonely or needing a man, for example, but then you need to ask yourself, were they really a friend? A “friend loves at all times.” There are those that no matter the distance or years, they are truly a forever friend. You only need a few close friends like that – ones who will seek the Lord for you and with you to have just a taste of the feast to come in a perfect communion with God. Thank you for the reminder of the sign posts in my life!
Sharon, your posts are always so refreshing. There is also another angle to take on your point which is friends that want to stay shallow. Among my single friends here, so many women are just waiting for a husband to share a deep/messy friendship with. They truly believe that only a husband is worth of intimacy in frienship. So they stay isolated as they await a man to meet all these needs. As soon as a friendship gets hard or messy they isolate themselves and back away. I think of the friendship of Jonathan and David, scripture says the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David and that Jonathan made a covenant with David. (1 Sam 18) Thanks for your continued challenging and insight.
This was so encouraging for me. As a single in my later 20’s, I know loneliness. So, to hear you say it’s ok and that I’m not pathetic is really encouraging. It’s hard, because I feel like there aren’t many ppl to talk to about it, and I feel clueless in how to help my situation. You can seek out deeper friendships, but I can’t really seek out a husband… I don’t think. Sorry about the vent. Your article just spoke to me.
As the wife of a Pastor for 20 years, I want to say, “Thank you.” Not only for writing something that I can forward to “my girls” at church, but also for focusing on His truth which in-turn encouraged my heart in the process.
God’s timing is perfect – I have been talking with several women recently about the difference between being “alone” and feeling “lonely.” My prayer is that your article will offer the words they need to hear in this season of their lives.
Thanks for writing this. I completely relate. My husband and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin a few years ago and I still feel alone, but trying hard to put myself out there. If you ever make it up to Madison, lets have coffee 🙂