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..