Not long ago, Jeff and I were presenting our latest research to the annual convention of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and grabbed the opportunity to have dinner with another author couple. After a delicious meal, we continued to sit there, talking, laughing, and sharing life. When we finally looked at our watches, we realized we had been sitting at that table for over four hours!
Have you ever been so starved for something, that when you finally get it, you feel like you’ve just consumed a luxurious feast? Well, that wonderful four-hour dinner showed me just how hungry I had been for community.
Any of us can find ourselves in a season where we just don’t have regular fellowship with others – whether because of a busy schedule or simply because we’ve gotten out of the habit. Sure, we may always be around people . . . but “being in proximity to others” isn’t the same thing as “meaningful fellowship.” For me, my travel schedule often keeps me from attending routine gatherings like weekly bible studies or school meetings where I see other moms. And since many of my speaking engagements happen on weekends, Jeff and I frequently find ourselves turning down Saturday night dinner invitations from friends. Bottom line? Unless I intentionally seek community, I miss out on it.
Your schedule may be different from mine, but do you ever find yourself in similar circumstances? Wanting people to “do life with,” but then rushing about your day? Perhaps you would love time with friends, but you realize it has been many weeks or months since that has happened? Pay attention to that realization, that longing; I think it is God’s prompting for us to do something about it! We were not made to do life alone. We were made live in community with others, and when we do, all the science shows that our mental, emotional, and spiritual health becomes better. This is important for us and is even more important for our kids!
But as my example illustrates, it is all too easy to go without time with friends – and not even realize we are deprived of something we truly need! It requires making a decision and a purposeful effort – especially at the outset when we are setting up a pattern and a schedule to be together. Whether we have moved to a new city, find ourselves in a different season of life than our friends, or simply are entrenched in an insanely busy project at work, at some point we will all have to decide whether we want community badly enough to work for it.
Thankfully, a little effort will go a long way. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started:
1. You don’t have to do it perfectly: just do it
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, famously said, “Done is better than perfect.” Are you worried about joining the neighborhood book club or church Bible Study because you’re worried you can’t make it every two weeks? Just join and then take it a month at a time. Maybe you will miss a few. But attending several gatherings is far better than nothing, and you may be surprised at the connections you make, even if you aren’t able to follow through perfectly.
2. Find people who share similar life stages, careers, or interests
While it is important to learn from others whose lives look nothing like our own, there is a special type of encouragement that comes from those who understand the unique set of challenges you face. I’ve come to realize that I need community with others who do what I do for a living. So, when I find myself at an event that includes other authors and speakers, I try to get together with a female author/speaker who understands what it’s like to be a working wife and mom in the public eye. Because they get it – the stress and emotions that come from trying to email teachers, get kids to volleyball games, hopping on an airplane, and racing to get to a mic check in time. There are unique struggles that come along with any job, any particular season of life, and sometimes we just need someone to tell us that they understand – that we are not alone.
3. Clear a space for community
Remember that four-hour dinner? It only happened because I made room for it. I was at the big AACC conference, and my itinerary was tight, but I knew how valuable it would be for Jeff and me to spend time with a couple whose lives and ministries were something like ours. So we made room for it, and four hours later, we were much better off because we had.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that we were not made for isolation. Disconnection from others – even when we don’t realize we are disconnected – can result in higher risk of anxiety and all sorts of other mental and physical health issues. It doesn’t need to be that way! Let’s protect ourselves – and our children – by reconnecting with others in intentional ways. It will take some effort, but the rewards will far outweigh the costs.
And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at email@example.com.
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More from Shaunti’s Blog:
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- What Husbands Need Most From Their Wives (Part 2)
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- What Forgiveness Can Teach Us About Creating a Thriving Life – part 2
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