Finding and Creating Your Community

Reader request from my friend Rachel: “Since you asked for potential future topics, may I request one on finding and creating your community? You seem to do this really well and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the topic.”

I’m glad Rachel asked about this, because I think about it a lot. I’m still processing a shift in my feelings about what community means. For much of my life I saw friendships and communities as covenantal, preferably permanent; one aspect of my overall life view that “rightness” equaled long-term loyalty and everything remaining the same. But in relationships as in life, I’ve learned to relax more and allow room for growth and change. Also, while I generally like people and wish I had the time and emotional capacity to be close with every great person I meet, I’ve stopped putting that pressure on myself. Not being best friends with someone doesn’t mean I like them any less. Although this new attitude is healthier, it’s also caused some internal tension, but I’ll get to that.

If I seem to be good at community, it’s largely because I moved to Memphis in fifth grade and never left. I’ve never had to start over from scratch socially. Having watched many transplants work to form a new local community as an adult, I know that’s no small thing. Also, my siblings and I have a theory that it’s not leaving your hometown that makes finding friends toughest – it’s leaving where you went to college. My college and immediately post-college friends are my foundational community, even though our lives have diverged and we don’t talk as much as we used to. I know they will always be there if I need them, and when we do get together, it’s like no time has passed. Through them, I met other core friends who I see more often.

For a while, a lot of my time has been spent with my situational community. This is the group that typically changes as your life does – when you and/or your foundational friends get married, have kids, move to a new city, all the big moves that are emotional for everyone involved. When I moved to Midtown almost three years ago, I was desperately in need of a new situational community. I still loved my existing friends, but most of them had moved on to other things. I needed new friends to go to events and have adventures with, and to help me feel positive and proactive about my single, childless state. Again, I was fortunate to make one well-connected friend who introduced me to a whole network of people looking for the same things. Without them, I would have had a rough, lonely time these last few years. However, eventually I started to feel the effects of living exclusively on relational chocolate chip cookies. I knew I needed some meat and vegetables too, so I started spending more intentional time with friends I could share and relate with about real, serious stuff. I’m still working on this.

Meanwhile, I have a small group of online friends I’ve known for the better part of a decade and talk to every day. They are my guaranteed meat and vegetables. We’re scattered across the world and are only all together once every couple of years, but they know more about my daily life and deep thoughts than most of my in-person friends. As annoyed as I often get with technology, I’m thankful it’s brought me this fellowship. I highly recommend finding some sort of online community if you don’t already have one. It will really enrich your life, and wherever you go, they’ll still be there! Personally, I think Twitter is underrated for making friends – I met several local friends and my boyfriend on Twitter. I’m also in a few running groups and blog page groups on Facebook that seem tight.

As the Christians in the house may have noticed, I have not yet mentioned The Church in this discussion of community. Until my mid-30s, I tried and failed to make the institutional church my foundational community, because that’s how they told us Christians should live. Again and again, I committed myself to Life Groups and Home Groups and Community Groups that got reshuffled every year like a deck of cards. I dutifully made new-baby meals and bought shower gifts for lots of people who probably don’t even remember my name. I tried to open up and be real in these groups, like they told us we should, and was mostly met with crickets. Maybe in another region of Christendom I would have had a different experience. Here in the South, I never fit to begin with… and as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with myself, the gulf has widened. Over the years, I picked up some real friends here and there. But for the most part, I wasted a lot of relational energy trying to force community with people with whom I had no real connection beyond a shared faith. And fake relationships are a double drain. You’re straining to make it work (or at least look like it’s working), and also hurting because you still don’t have what you need.

When I started actively looking for friends outside The Church, I was stunned by the sincere welcome and abundance I found. People genuinely wanted to know me. There was no pressure to be a certain way. Groups formed because they wanted to, not because some elders got together and made assignments. It was so different. After experiencing that, I no longer have much patience for structured church communities. I now attend a relaxed and welcoming church, and have actual friends there whom I am always happy to see, but our relationships ebb and flow naturally. Someday I might want to join a small group again for one reason or another. But right now, I’m much happier throwing a wide relational net out in the world and giving my energy to My People, instead of trying to make fetch happen in a huddle. Occasionally I feel bothered that people are probably judging me for this. Then again, for a scorecard Christian, small-group rebellion probably doesn’t even make my top five offenses.

In summary, here are my learnings: Community is flexible, and the more you can roll with that, the more peaceful you will be. It changes as your needs and lives change, and that’s okay. Change doesn’t negate your care for each other, the good times, or the important role you play in each other’s lives. Community is better when it happens organically, and even if it starts out as a structured group (which is necessary sometimes), the real community within will eventually emerge (or not). One community is probably not enough – you contain multitudes and need friends for your different facets and interests. Even if you’re an introvert, don’t be afraid to have a large situational community and keep meeting new people. You are not deeply emotionally obligated to them all, and if you’re single, it might take a lot of friends to fill the gap of a life partner (I’ve always been that way). If you’re having trouble finding community, don’t be afraid to look outside your normal parameters. You just haven’t found your people yet, but they’re out there. Don’t give up. There is a place for everyone.

 

[Photo via Unsplash: unsplash-logoKevin Curtis]

About Brenda W.

Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
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