Community can be so elusive, can’t it?
I didn’t fully understand the rareness of true, heart friends until I moved away from North Carolina 2 years ago. Starting over is much harder than I thought it would be, but cross-country re-locations are not the only obstacle to community.
Another barrier to community can be life stage. As a single person, I noticed married couples connecting quite easily and I thought, “Once I finally get married it will be easier to make friends.” Then I got married and I never struggled with friendship again.
NOT! On the contrary, post-marriage I noticed that my friends with kids had a lot in common and I couldn’t relate. So then I thought, “Once I have kids, THEN it will be easier to make friends.” You can probably see where this is going.
I now have a child, but he has not been the magic friend fertilizer that I thought he would be. Instead, I still feel disconnected from friends whose children are older. I feel like I don’t have anything to contribute to conversations with them, and sometimes I don’t even know what they’re talking about.
“Maybe,” I secretly think, “it will get easier when my son is a older. Or maybe when I have more children. That place where deep and meaningful friendships are easy to form is just around the corner,” I tell myself. It’s always just out of reach.
In reality, that place is imaginary. The truth is that it takes a long time to form a real connection with other people. Very often, relational barriers are the result of unfamiliarity, not differing life stages. Sure, life stages can create a relational wedge, but what is universally difficult regardless of life stage is building a friendship from scratch.
I’ve been thinking about that challenge a lot lately. In the last 2 years I have worked hard to build friendships, but having a baby threw a wrench in the process. Since Ike and I moved farther away from our church last year, we don’t live close to our community anymore. Oddly though, the remoteness wasn’t that big of a deal until Isaac was born. Once I became a mom, my loneliness and feelings of isolation gradually began to escalate.
The loneliness caught me by surprise because I am never alone. I mean, never ever ever. The closest I come to alone time is once a week when I tutor M.Div. students on their writing. If I don’t have any appointments, I just sit in that classroom all by myself, and it is nice and quite and peaceful.
But that’s it. That’s the only alone time I ever have all by myself, so what’s with the loneliness?
Some of you moms out there might have a better answer than I do, but I’ve wondered if the root of my loneliness is pinpointed in Genesis 2:18. God has just given Adam dominion over creation, but something isn’t quite right. Adam is alone with no one to help him, and God declares Adam’s aloneness to be “not good.”
Although Adam is never described as “lonely,” I can’t help but wonder if he was. It’s hard to work alone and pour yourself into something without a peer who can relate. You have all these thoughts and experiences and emotions with nowhere to put them. And as a result, you feel like an island.
That’s why it makes such a huge difference when my husband is home, or when I meet a young mother whose child is the same age as mine. Suddenly, I don’t feel alone anymore. I feel connected and more whole. I am no longer alone on an island of diaper changes and baby food.
This need for community is real, and it is accentuated by our challenging life circumstances. It’s no coincidence, for example, that Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Castaway created an imaginary friend named Wilson. We crave companionship, and we need it to face life’s daily struggles.
Knowing this about myself, and about my human nature, here is how I’ve responded to the loneliness of new motherhood:
Prayer. The Bible tells us we can bring ANYTHING to God in prayer (1 John 5:14), and I have lived by this promise. Every time I’ve faced any hardship in motherhood, I’ve thought, “Hey, I can ask God to help me with this!”
I know, it’s so simple. You’d think I’d have it down by now, but I don’t. For some reason I’m more likely to stress about my problems than ask God for help. But He’s there, He’s listening, and He is able.
Be pro-active. Because I live far from my church, I’ve had to seek out community elsewhere. There is a MOPS group that meets right across the street, and it has been a huge answer to prayer (see above!). However, making new friends and forming community takes work. It’s hard and it requires you to put yourself out there. You risk rejection and awkwardness. But it is necessary. Give it the time and the energy it deserves. In the long run, it’s worth it.
As a final word to you individuals without kids, I want you to know how much people like me need you. Many of my friends with kids don’t have time to hang out with me. Setting up a coffee date is like moving a mountain. But for those with slightly more flexible schedules, please know that your freedom can be a gift to others. I need adult conversation with other women, and sometimes my friends without kids are the best ones to provide it.
So that’s how I’m handling loneliness. How about you? Any words of encouragement for people like me?