Three years ago my husband and I joined a couples Bible study at a church we’d been courting. Yes, the conversations about our spirituality and Jesus were important to us, but mostly we joined for the friends.
After experiencing personal loss, job loss, and monstrous changes in family dynamics, I thought a solution all the upheaval could be to turn back to my Christian roots and seek new relationships.
If people were living out faith, surely we could do life with them too?
Every other week we tuned into the Bible and offered up our pray requests to the group of nine other young-married couples sitting across from us.
While I perched on the enormous black leather couch, few folks knew that what I was really praying for was genuine connection with the people sitting right next to me.
With repetition, awkward games, and vulnerable tears, these spiritual seekers eventually became our friends. We would grab dinner, plan movie nights, and venture to the softball field to watch the guys play as the sun dipped behind the mountains to the west. We had text threads, prayer chains, and endless Snapchats.
After two years, our group took a break for the summer.
When fall rolled around and we found ourselves sitting again on the big black leather couch, it was time to reacquaint ourselves and share introductions for the few newcomers who had joined.
Half the group I knew, while the other half of new participants, it now seemed, were in utero.
“I’m Brad and this is my wife Carrie,” said the leader, “and this …. is baby Johnson” the new dad boasted proudly as he touched his wife’s not yet showing stomach.
Of course we all ooo’d and aww’d and clapped with excitement.
Round the circle we continued and four more couples continued to say, “Oh us too!”
And right there, in all that excitement and anticipation, everything changed.
Half of us were expecting to have late night conversations, and drinks at dodgy bars with peanuts on the floor, or spend a Saturday summiting a mountain.
The rest of them were expecting. Small-sized human beings.
I bought baby gifts and attended showers. I prayed for these beautiful miracles and their beautiful hosts as the developing human, and our changes in relationship, grew from the size of lemons, to cantaloupes, to well, you know, babies.
The babies came and then slowly, the group began to fall apart.
There we were — the new parents and the ‘not yet — no thank you’ couples trying to negotiate how we could continue to support each other.
Very real situations of child care and exhaustion and schedules pulled us apart as priorities once so aligned began to split us in two.
“It’s ok,” I’d say to myself. “This happens. People have babies.”
Mostly, I was disappointed. People move on and it seemed they were taking my community with them. Where would that leave me?
Without a Bible study or spiritual anchor, I tried again this year to foster connection with other people our age.
Starting in April, I scrolled through my contacts and made a list. I sent out an email to over 40 people with a general ask and an invite.
We committed to open our home on a regular basis and would provide a main entree, a picnic table, and some booze in the hopes that people would gather, laugh, and connect.
Life gets busy. People are exhausted. Cooking feels taxing and travel to the next town feels tough.
Perhaps, I thought, if I could create a space where people could drop in, not have to cook, and could just be, we could create a little magic around the fire pit in our backyard. New friendships could grow.
I wouldn’t feel so lonely at work if I knew I could gather with friends on a regular basis.
We’ve had a few great gatherings with six or more folks. We’ve shared pasta salads and big bags of Doritos and the laughter lifted from our deck into the neighbors back yard. Small piles of beer cans left on the counter displayed our responsible choices to drink less as all would head into an office a short ten hours later.
I was excited by the momentum.
And now the momentum has stalled.
A few weeks in a row now I’ve gotten emails with polite no’s and very real reasons for dear friends to pass on our invitation.
“It’s ok,” I’d say to myself. “This happens. People have big jobs and busy lives and softball games.”
People are balancing priorities, juggling schedules, demands of their children, choosing self-care and rest and understandably, picking other things.
Mostly, I am disappointed. Where does that leave me?
I’m realizing community building can be lonely work.
There’s a popular joke going around on the internet that says, “Nobody talks about the real miracle of Jesus having 12 close friends in his 30's.”
Because the bible studies fall apart, and the babies start coming, and after demanding days at work we just want to stay home and binge watch Good Omens. I get it. Perhaps my expectations are too high.
And yet, the phenomenon of busy still leaves me wanting more.
I’ll keep opening my home this summer and hoping one or two friends trickle in. And I’ll continue to ask myself “Where can I find new people next? The ones who have similar interests, and think about the world in big deep ways? The ones who are willing to share dinner and conversation and engage with one another, face-to-face rather than sitting in our separate dens, jabbing hearts on phones with our thumbs.
If you’ve mastered the art of multiple friendships, tell me your secrets.
If like me, you’re struggling with after-work loneliness and commitment fatigue, what are you doing to connect with others?
Until then, I’ll be here, cooking kabobs for twenty, dreaming of community.