“Community”

Here’s the thing.  I have had a lifelong yearning for connection.

I think Henri Nouwen had the same thing going on. Nouwen’s understanding of the nature of life involved cultivating one’s self — inwardly, outwardly, and upwardly.

But if I am very honest with myself the very things I long for with people I resist!  It is much easier to be alone.

I avoid — the telephone, Christian small groups or even just “Mom” groups, making new friends, more than a wave to my neighbors, calling my family, and even at times real conversation with Tom or my shrink or my friends!

No, not all the time.  Not every time the phone rings, but often.  Not every email or someone asking to get together.  Not my best friends, usually.  But — I— just— avoid.  I recoil at church when I have to talk to strangers and duck and hide when I see a acquaintances in the grocery store.

Am I shy? Yes.  Am I as arrogant as I come off?  No way.  I do have a social anxiety, badly.  I can “talk” at length on-line or via email, but I sweat bullets to talk to the same person face-to-face.  I go to a church of 6,000 so the chances of seeing someone I know at church is slim to none.  But on the occasion that I do see someone I know I don’t scoot over to say hi and catch up.  I am persistently filled with dread to see people!  I stammer and stutter and end the conversation as quickly as possible.  I shut down.  Getting away is all I can think about.  And then on the long drive home I think to myself “how lonely church is and how I don’t know anyone.  Does anyone even care?  Poor me….”

It’s— quite —pathetic.

For almost fifteen years now, Tom and I have had one conversation more than any other.

Me: “Why are we so disconnected?”  Or, around the holidays “We rarely talk to your parents.”  It’s infrequent at best that we see my sister and her husband and we see Tom’s siblings once or twice a year and all live in the same town. I can go a month without seeing my mother and weeks without talking.

And we always come back around to the same place.

Tom:  “Tons of people love you Melody Love you and are always conveying that to me!” Or,  “We just have to make some effort.  People are busy.” Or “If you really wanted closer relationships you’d [fill in the blank.]”

If you really wanted deeper relationships you would …

That is what I want.  I have a hole in my heart you could drive a semi through in the shape of people.  I need people and I don’t know how to be with them.  So I’m shy.  And I have social anxiety in most settings.  And I am terrible, I mean terrible and I don’t even want to try to be good at small talk.  It makes my skin crawl!  And the hole comes from (trust me my shrink and I have been through this many times) my low self-esteem thanks to my crummy upbringing.

So what can a person do to change all that?

In the past my best approach has been to have incredible vivacious outgoing friends.  They sought me out.  They made plans.  They were a party in and of themselves.  But, I am now a forty-three year old mom and I don’t work outside the home and my church is mega- and I just don’t have it ‘happening’ any more.  I’m frumpy and middle-aged, and I don’t drink.  How droll!

So who is this strange person that I don’t even recognize (me) that needs her friends more than ever

and seeks people

and connection

and community

more

than e v e r!

Nouwen describes this longing I have, saying: “The spiritual life is a reaching out to our innermost self, to our fellow human beings and to our God.  In the midst of a turbulent, often chaotic, life we are called to reach out, with courageous honesty to our innermost self, with relentless care to our fellow human beings, and with increasing prayer to our God.  To do that, however, we have to face and explore directly our inner restlessness, our mixed feelings toward others and our deep-seated suspicions about the absence of God.”   From Reaching Out— The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen.

How and where do you find community?  What do you do to develop and keep it in your life?  What is important for you?  Yes, this is a response question posed even for the lurker (you know who you are and you don’t even have to tell me who you are.)  I hope to glean from your wisdom.

Yes, I quit Facebook (for the time being) because I’ve been lulled into the sense that I am — “so connected” — with people all over the globe and it’s crock.  It really is.  I need and want some face-to-face time no matter how scared that makes me.

What does community look like, feel like, smell like?   What does it require of a person?  Where do you find it?  This is what I’m thinking about.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. holly says:

    1) I want to be your friend. :)

    2) I am really working at community. It is starting with reaching out to one family we both like.

    3) I am going to talk to two families about having dinner together once a month. It is a beginning. Ongoing times together where you talk about what is up in your life. That is a beginning of a definition.

    I love you. I will miss you on facebook because in someways that was my ongoing “connection” to you.

    Like

  2. Meg E says:

    So many things about this post push my buttons or make a connection to me that I’m going to just “stream of consciousness” in response.

    Ironically, I’m the “vivacious friend” to the woman I think of as my best friend–who recently confessed that she is made tired by me or at least doesn’t always want to be the one “receiving.” But we worked through the yuck of that one to a real-er place just recently. That said, she’s 2000 miles away and we haven’t lived in the same town since we shared an apartment in 1992! So, while it’s relationship, it’s not really community in the way you are asking about.

    I too go to a church of several thousand. (after going to churches of 70, 70 and 200, this was quite a shock when it grew from 700 to 6000ish) My way to connect and have community at church has been to serve. I taught Sunday school for 5 years and know best all the people I taught with in that time. Now I cook for some of that same group on a Saturday night every 6 weeks, and sit down and have a meal with them.

    Still, I sometimes come and go from church without the connections I long for.

    I had a really great women’s Bible study when I first came, but the church was worried about groups being “too clique-y” and broke us up. I’ve never found another group so “right” for me. And I feel really cheated by that.

    Oddly, my closest community, my “homies” are a group of moms from a playgroup my kids were in when they were little. We make truffles together every Christmas, have “martini Mondays” about 6 times a year (we try and fail for once a month), and a few of us have family game nights on the occasional weekend night. I know I can call any of them to pull me out of a funk, to go out for coffee, to take a 5 mile walk when I’m training for something, etc. And none of them are evangelical. And we rarely talk about Jesus. So there is something lacking, and yet it’s the most “real” I ever get. Odd, huh? After a college and after life where I was immersed in Christian community, I have found the sisters of my heart through other paths.

    (Completely changing gears!) You are so open online (one of the “what does it require” things, I think), it’s hard to imagine this social paralysis of which you speak. And I don’t know if you seemed arrogant when I “knew” you, but you were definitely more aloof! It’s interesting and a little sad to hear the “why”.

    You can say, “It’s a crock” about internet friendships–particularly Facebook, but I have had a LiveJournal blog for 5 years and some of my best friends really do live inside my computer. And we’ve even started getting together occasionally in real life. I hosted 2 for Thanksgiving one year. I’m flying up to see a show at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with another group in October. I feel like it’s a friendship based on correspondence, like the pen pals of old. You can’t be writing that much for that long without revealing the real you, I don’t think, and so real relationships do happen.

    And unless you have been faking your own blog, I DO feel like we have a deeper connection than we ever did in person. Do I wish I lived closer? Do I this minute wish I had turned down this job for next week so I could fly out to Madison and give you a hug–of course! But I also think you can’t totally discount this kind of connection just because it’s not face to face.

    But I might be deluding myself.

    Time, I guess, will tell.

    I hope you do find it within yourself to dialogue with me re: the things I sent by Facebook PM. I am, yes indeed, really struggling with that issue and respect your opinion (and would like to know how you got there, not so I can rip it apart, but so I can understand).

    I feel like you are a U2 song right now…”I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.

    I hope you do.

    Like

  3. Catherine says:

    Tons of people do love you, Melody. People are busy. I agree that service is a good way to begin. It can be difficult because of the small talk, but join a group….Bible study….work team. Volunteer. Face to face contact is great, but the Cyber contacts are just as important….to “fit” into busy lives.

    Like

  4. Becca says:

    Hey Mel,
    I know what you mean about social anxiety, being in a room full of peeps yet being alone. That’s on us, it’s up to us to be inerested in others so I’ve just shoved that anxiety back and acted interested. Us Southerners, we know how to act interested. But with you, I’m always interested because you have always been so cool. I don’t remember so much because of all the trauma going on in my own life, but yes, you were cool. Go easy on yourself or I’ll have to come up to that colder than hell place where you live and bring you something to chill you out!

    Like

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