I buried my toes deeper in the sand and watched as my son Leo, not quite three, splashed and waded in the lake. He walked up to another boy, probably a few years older, and they started playing together. They played for hours – two boys who had never even seen each other before that day.
“Mom,” Leo said to me, as I buckled him into his carseat and piled our beach gear into the back of our car, “When can I play with my friend again?”
I went home that day and I googled MOPS in Meadville. Ironically, I had been invited to MOPS two years before, by a stranger on the beach. I’d refused the invitation, because I was pretty sure I didn’t need a mom club AND if I’m really honest, I wasn’t sure about making new mom friends. Making friends is hard.
But the day I googled MOPS in Meadville, I had watched my three-year-old basically become best friends with a stranger and I let myself actually feel the underlying feelings I kept stuffing down inside.
The loneliness. I wasn’t sure I was worthy of community.
I had friends, but they mostly lived far away. Born and raised in New England, I had moved 800 plus miles after I married Ryan. In the last year, we had left the church we had been attending since we got married and the youth ministry we had started and led for five years. We were no longer a part of the only community we belonged to, where we lived. To top it off, in one of the most vulnerable and hardest seasons of my life, one of my closest friends betrayed me.
I still wasn’t sure friendship and community was worth it, but the day I googled MOPS in Meadville, I had watched my three-year-old basically become best friends with a stranger. In letting myself actually feel my feelings, sitting on the beach and watching my toddler play, I knew I needed community. Friends in close proximity. People to share life with.
Going to MOPS, a few weeks later, was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done socially. If I polled the room right now, I have a feeling that most of you – if not all – would say you came some level of scared or nervous. We all came looking for some degree of friendship or connection.
With the moms at your table, we’re going to take a few minutes to talk about friendship. You’ve got five minutes – try to make sure each person gets a chance to share:
- What makes a good friend, a good friend?
- What gives you a sense of belonging in a community?
In 2020, it was reported that 3 out of 5 Americans said they were lonely. That’s well over half of the American population – 61% pre-pandemic. In the last two years, 47% of Americans have additionally reported losing touch with a few friends.
Statistics aside, we know the pandemic has only made friendships and connections and community harder – not impossible, but harder. We experienced this in our MOPS group – going virtual, then trying to meet as discussion groups, before being able to meet as a whole group again. There were times we wondered if we would ever be able to have MOPS like we did before. I don’t think we need to hear those statistics to know we are living in one of the loneliest cultures and one of the loneliest times… even when we are surrounded by people.
In fact, sometimes we can feel the most alone when we are surrounded by people.
We aren’t sure where we belong.
Are we wanted here?
Do people see us or are we just another person in the room?
People know my name, but do they know who I am?
Merriam Webster defines community as:
a unified body of individuals – such as:
- people with common interests living in a particular area
- a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society
- an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location
I want you to look around the room. You are part of this community. What part are you playing? We all have a part. We all have a purpose. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we desperately need each other. We are not made to be alone.
My favorite quote on community is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and anti-Nazi theologian. Bonhoeffer says:
“The person who is in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.”
We can quickly overcomplicate what it looks like to create community and nurture friendships with others.
We don’t need programs and resources, as much as we just need to love those around us.
Who is around you? Who keeps showing up in your life? Do you know your neighbors? Do your neighbors know you? Your people don’t have to be the same age, stage and season as you. In fact, it’s valuable if they are not. Who is the mom here at MOPS you keep ending up in the same discussion group or at the same table with? Maybe you keep randomly running into her in town? Or maybe your kids end up on the same sports team?
One of the biggest pitfalls to experiencing community is spending so much time gazing at someone else’s community, you don’t even see your own. Social media does us no favors here. Another person’s community – even if it sometimes overlaps with yours – isn’t your community.
Don’t miss what’s in front of you. My closest circle of friends is made up of people I least expected to be friends with. A friend I now talk to every single day, in some capacity, saw me post about sourdough and asked me for some starter. I gave her sourdough starter, she gave me a cleaning product, we started talking and now we are the best of friends.
Don’t miss what’s in front of you. You are worthy of friendship. You are here. You are worthy of community.
But community isn’t going to come and find you. You have to go be it.
It’s going to take time – research shows it takes 200 hours spent together to forge a close friendship. I can promise you – it’s going to be trial and error, it’s not going to happen instantly, it’s going to be messy, it will likely come unexpectedly, and if you’re up for the journey and discovery of being a friend – you’re also going to have fun.
Notice I didn’t say, “if you’re up for the journey and discovery of finding a friend”. I said being a friend. Community is created from the forging of friendships and friendships aren’t found, they’re made. If my friend and I hadn’t kept talking past trading sourdough and cleaners and then decided to meet for coffee and then meet for coffee again and again and again – we likely wouldn’t be the friends we are today.
From the beginning of time and humanity, God said it was not good to be alone. (Genesis 2) We were made to live in the context of relationships with others. If you’re living and breathing, you’re worthy of friendship.
I know it’s scary. Living in deep friendship and true community will always be risky, because it requires honesty and transparency to know and be known.
There will always be the risk of being hurt or misunderstood, rejected or betrayed. My own deepest wounds have been betrayal and misunderstanding in friendship, but so have been some of my greatest blessings.
The only thing that kept me from reaching towards community, when I was first invited to MOPS, was fear. The only thing that keeps me from reaching towards deeper community today, is fear. I can tell you, from personal experience,
living according to your fears is never worth it.
Whether you’re sitting here wondering if you’ll ever feel like you belong somewhere or whether you’re sitting here thinking you have a pretty good community of friendships, there is always room to keep growing stronger together, because as long as we have life we will have need of each other.
Are there invitations you’re refusing, that you could accept? I know we’re all busy and that’s another subject for another day, but –
friendship isn’t supposed to be solely cultivated by structured coffee or playdates on the calendar – although intentional times together are crucial. Deep intimacy in friendship often grows and flourishes most in the context of doing life together.
It might be easier to do your Costco run by yourself, but it would be more fun to bring a friend and buy groceries together. Maybe making a meal for someone in need feels overwhelming, but what if you invited someone over to make that meal with you? What if you asked a friend to join you in teaching a children’s class or working in the nursery at church so you could spend time serving together? I just had a friend reach out and ask me if I wanted to go with her on an errand to get honey. It will literally probably take an hour on a Saturday morning. Friendship doesn’t have to be complicated or always take a half day.
Why not go together?
Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed Apr. 2022.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. Harper Collins. 2009. Reprinted.
“Friend Strategy”.YOUTUBE. 25 February 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60GOGGVGsfk
Got Questions.www.gotquestions.org. Accessed Apr. 2022.
Hedges, Brian. “8 Principles of Biblical Friendship.” Crosswalk.28 April 2015. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/8-principles-of-biblical-friendship.html
Marcus, Mary Brophy. “Feeling Lonely”. CBS News. 12 October 2016. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/many-americans-are-lonely-survey-finds/
Merriam Webster. www.merriam-webster.com. Accessed March 2022
“Power of Friendship”. FACEBOOK. 3 April 2022. https://www.facebook.com/GoodMorningAmerica/videos/465712091752626/
- What makes you feel lonely? When do you feel the most lonely?
- Are there invitations you’re refusing in your life – that you could accept?
- How can you be a better friend to the people in your life?
- What keeps you from reaching towards deeper friendship and community?
- Are there boundaries you need to tear down, to let people into your life more? What are they?
- What are some everyday activities you could invite people into? How about this week?
All pictures belong to Renee Shafer.