Maybe Everyone's Not Meant For Your Table: The Value of Deeper Friendships
Last month I spoke during our church’s annual Christmas Dinner and Lottie Moon Silent Auction. Many people asked for my notes on the topic of loneliness. Last week I shared part of those about the friendship between Mary and Elizabeth, but here’s the rest.
I’ve been burdened for years by the state of loneliness we all face. I love the idea around memes on making room for everyone at the table or making your own table when no one makes room for you or finding your tribe. We want to be inclusive of everyone and foster strong friendships to show the love of Christ.
At the same time, these memes set us up for failure.
In my late teens and early twenties, I spent every Thursday night watching Friends. I had this expectation that my early adulthood would look like that. A group of friends hanging out at a coffee shop or our homes together, doing life. But it never materialized.
I married early. And instead of a swanky New York apartment, we lived in my grandmother’s house in a very small town. My husband and I spent long days at work, and he also attended college. By Saturday night, I often found myself alone, again. I missed my college friends. I missed going out. I missed people.
Not long after, God brought some old high school friends back to town and blessed our group with new friends too. We really bonded when five of us had babies in 2006. We called them the fivesies and took their pictures together every year for that first decade.
During the first photo session, we had two babies crawling away and at least one crying. We joked that it would be easier when they were older and how we planned to make them take pictures together as teens, enough though they would hate it.
We just took their first teenage picture together before they turn 18 and the oldest three graduate from high school. (Cue this mama’s tears.) They didn’t hate it. We all had the best time remembering past photo sessions and talking about our kids’ future plans.
Sometime not long after that first picture, one of the women suggested that we needed focused time together at least once a month. We settled on playing bunco, not because we loved the dice game, but because it gave us a reason to gather.
We prioritized the third Thursday night of the month, although not everyone could make it every month. For well over a decade, we laughed together and shared our lives. They still meet together monthly although I live too far away to attend.
I never thought of myself as having a tribe, until we moved away from these women nearly four years ago.
When we moved on March 13, 2020, our address wasn’t the only thing that changed. The pandemic shut down the world that weekend. During the first months we lived in our new town, when we should have been making new friends and learning our way around, we were all shut inside.
And I missed those women more than I ever imagined.
It was in those moments, that I began to understand just how important friendships are to our mental health and our physical health. As I watched the effect of isolation on our kids and myself, I read so much about relationships and friendships.
Covid isn’t the only pandemic we’ve been battling. An article in the Salon in May 2023, says the loneliness pandemic started before Covid in 2019.
According to a 2018 survey, more than half of respondents in the U.S., or 54%, said they always or sometimes "feel as though no one knows them well." Another 47% reported feeling "left out," 46% are "sometimes or always feeling alone," 43% "say they lack companionship" and "are isolated from others" and 39% are "no longer close to anyone" at all.
This rise in loneliness started before the pandemic, so we can’t blame the covid lockdowns for all of it.
The article pinpoints the rise in loneliness as early as the 19th century when Darwin introduced his theory of evolution and Friedrich Nietzsche declared that God was dead. As Christianity declined, so loneliness rose.
The writer believes that’s in part credited to our belief as Christians that God is with us. After all, if God is always with us, we’re never really alone.
I believe it goes deeper than that. As Christians, we’re called to be a body of believers and to live in community. We’re created for connection. With the decline of Christianity, we’ve also experienced a gap in that connection.
Outside of the decline of Christianity, the article points out other factors that have influenced loneliness including our focus on individualism. We see ourselves in constant competition with other people. We move away from family to pursue better jobs and spend a lot of our waking hours away from our spouses and children.
In addition, suburban sprawl has taken away from the town center and our sense of community.
It requires more work to connect now than it once did.
But being near each other matters. In-person relationships matter.
We live in a time when we’ve become a society of transactional relationships. We look at potential friendships and weigh the benefits versus the costs.
Not my monkey, not my circus.
But isn’t it in those moments of crisis, when we cost our friends a lot and provide very little benefit to them, that we need them the most?
I’m not encouraging anyone to continue unhealthy relationships but to examine those relationships before we walk away just because they require a lot of work.
The last four years have been hard for everyone, whether you moved mid-pandemic or not.
I’m so thankful that God has brought family closer to us over the last year, and that a new friend invited me to a monthly book club. Creating and sustaining these new relationships has been exhausting at times. I’ve collapsed into bed some nights longing for time to be with the women who know me, with whom I had a decade and a half of shared history.
But more often than not, I’m finding energy and life in the new relationships in my life.
If you are one of the 54% who feel as if no one knows you well, make room in 2024 to nurture a new relationship. Start slow with coffee or a side conversation at one of your kid’s many events. Slip in a nugget of truth about a small struggle you have and see how the other woman responds. If she reciprocates with her own story, you might just have a budding friendship. If not, may that’s not your person.
But keep trying and keep praying.
Realistically, we can’t fit everyone at our table, and we have to be okay with that. It’s not about exclusivity, but about pouring into a few deep friendships. Jesus did that with the disciples even while He loved all the people around Him.
Let 2024 be the year of friendship.