Dear Lonely One,
Something that has been on my heart lately is community. When I say community, I do not mean the annual curling tournament or the volunteer group in your school. I am not talking about lunch chat in the breakroom or the never-ending stream of memes in a group chat.
I am talking about your tribe.
Your support system.
I am talking about the people you cry to and pray with.
I am talking about the people you do life with, flaws and all, and are still loved and accepted for who you are.
This topic comes from the deepest part of my heart. I personally have known deep and unsettling loneliness through many years of my life. And now as a mother and a more insightful and wiser adult, I know that there are others who feel the same pain of loneliness.
I was always sociable, and I never struggled around people. I would be the first to volunteer and I have always been generally fearless. I was never shy. However, when it came to relationships and friendships, I really struggled. I was always quick to say “hi” and include others, but I fell flat every time when it came to meaningful friendships.
Friend to anyone, best friend to no one.
It has taken me years of intentional digging, struggling (including praying and many tears), and growing to realize that I had some big flaws in my life that were preventing me from meaningful connections with others. I want to share these. If my journey can offer insight and help you from feeling this deep loneliness, then I want to share it with you.
A bit about me: I grew up in rural Manitoba. I was raised in the country near a small town. I am a middle child and would say that I am true to all the ‘middle child’ stigma. I was raised to believe in Christ, and even after some big, tumultuous years of abandoning God and searching in my early adult years, my faith anchored me and pulled me back to belief in Christ. I bounced around so to say, from a small town to a small city to a big city for my nursing education and back to a small city where I currently live and work.
It was never modeled to me what a healthy friendship looks like. I had no boundaries. When a friend would offend me, I simply cut them out of my life and moved on as I did not know better. Being a middle child, I learned to please others and earn acceptance. This also meant not complaining and almost never vocalizing my own needs. This led me to always feel the need to ‘be there’ for everyone. It was utterly exhausting always giving and never receiving.
I hit a metaphorical wall when I was twenty. Everyone I was there for, was not there for me. I was done. Done with trying to measure up and earn love and never actually receiving any. I told God that if this was what Christianity was like, I was done. And I walked away from my faith. Looking back now as a much wiser me, I see that it was me the whole time that was living with a dysfunctional view of friendship and relationship. My lack of boundaries and my misguided ideation of friendship was what had to go. I had no idea how to get there, but I knew my current system had failed.
I am now thirty-five and I have an incredible group of women in my life; like fantastic! I have my tribe, my people that I can call at 2 am and who will answer and be there for me. With these women, I cry, I vent, I laugh, and I allow myself to be loved and cared for as well. We do life together, our children play together and our spouses are friends. We pray for each other.
Believe it or not, allowing myself to be loved was one of the hardest things I have had to learn. I carved an identity for myself by being the strong one to always be there to give love and show love. I had to accept that it was not a failure to let others love me, but completely necessary to a healthy relationship.
So, I want to share what I did and what worked for me.
1) Self-reflection is an absolute must.
You must be ready and willing to see areas in your life that need work. Take the time to be honest with yourself and ask, “What areas of my life do I struggle in when it comes to relationships?” and “What areas of my character do I feel are a challenge?” When you are willing to be honest with yourself, that is when you are ready to change.
Now let me be crystal clear here, I am not asking you to change who you are to gain friends. I am not asking you to become someone you are not. I am asking the very opposite. I am asking you to dig deep and be honest with your flaws. We all have them. Facing them head-on is the best way to gain insight. I had to face that the way I dealt with conflict was destructive. Cutting people out of my life when there were disagreements was not healthy. I had to learn that I needed to face conflict head-on no matter how uncomfortable it was. I had to learn to be brave and go physically into an old friend’s house and say with my words (no text or email) that “I am sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” That was humbling. And scary. I did not know what the outcome would be, but I knew it was time to own up to my own actions.
In life, we only control ourselves. So, make your actions intentional and wise.
Continuing with self-reflection, I had to learn that not everyone wanted to be my best friend. Ha, I can really laugh at that now. But there was a time when I would genuinely get so sad when someone I thought had the potential to be a great friend, fizzled out and the friendship eventually faded. This is where the art of ‘letting it go’ was particularly important. There will be friendships that do not work out, and that is okay! Sometimes, people come alongside our journeys for a reason, but they do become a part of our lives. This too is okay. Reflecting now, I have learned so much from women who have come alongside my journey. I have learned more about myself, and God and motherhood though these women and I am now so grateful for them. Learn to let go. Bless and release is now a saying that I use with honest intention. Because holding on to a grudge or an issue takes my times and my energy. Blessing and releasing is freeing. It often makes space for something new which has the potential to be unbelievably beautiful and life-giving.
2) Be brave and vulnerable.
This is the point where people find out how serious they are about making lasting relationships. We are the best at putting brick walls up around us that show only what we want to be seen. We hide our hurt and our scars. We have learned to show ourselves the way we think we need to be seen. Well, I am telling you that those walls need to come down. It is the loneliest place on earth. Maybe you took a chance once and it failed and now you do not want to try again. You need to quit hiding from things that hurt you. This is where vulnerability comes in.
I was an expert at the fortress I hid behind. To look at my life, all looked well. I had beautiful, healthy, young children and I had a dedicated and loving husband. We always smiled in our family pictures and life looked great. But I would cry myself to sleep over the fact that I had no real friends in my life. I so desperately wanted a group of girlfriends. I wanted to be a part of a group. I so desperately wanted to be included and invited. I longed for more. Surely life had to be more than this never-ending loneliness that followed me around since I was a young girl. This is when I started to pray with fervor.
There had to be more to life. I longed for a community I never had.
3) Pray to become the friend you want to have.
I changed the way I prayed. I asked God to change me. Change me into the friend I wanted to have. I prayed the God would show me where I needed to change and show me how to be the friend I wanted. I told God that I was so tired of being lonely. I needed more, I needed women who would be like sisters to me. I started praying this every single day. I was serious about changing. I was serious about facing my flaws and working on good, constructive, positive change. And when it did not seem to be happening, I surrendered this need and longing to God and kept on praying.
4) Make your tribe.
I read a book that changed my life. It is titled, “Desperate” by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson. In this book, Sally who is a wise and seasoned mother talks about how every group of friends she has ever been a part of, she started the group. I thought to myself, “I can do that!” So, decided to start “Girls night.” I would invite women who I wanted to be friends with, or who I had the chance of meeting and wanted to get to know them better, or who also seemed to be looking for a group. I decided that if I wanted a group of friends, I would make one.
It sounds easy. It was not.
Sometimes everyone would cancel last minute. Sometimes everyone would show up and the group would be quite large. But I kept on. I was determined. So, I created a space that I felt would be an inviting and inclusive atmosphere. I wanted women to feel welcomed and a part of something beautiful because that is what I wanted as well. There were trials and error, and learning. But you know what happened? This developed an incredible of women whom I am so proud to call my group. They are sisters in Christ for sure. We talk about the hard stuff, sometimes we cry, there is tons of laughter. We share our parenting and career challenges, and we pray for each other. We go to different churches, drink wine, and sometimes burst into dance late in the evening. We are not perfect, and love each other in spite of our flaws.
I want this for you too. We were created for community. It takes time, but you will find your group!