I’m an introvert. Perhaps I’ve mentioned that a time or two. I’m learning more and more what that means, but for many years I thought that being an introvert meant I wanted–and needed–to go it alone. As a first-born child, I also have an independent streak, and though I haven’t always been confident about my abilities, I have often preferred to do something myself, without asking for help, even if I was already overwhelmed.
Introvert or not, maybe you can relate?
I don’t go out of my way to let other people into my life. There’s a variety of reasons, some involving insecurity and fear of rejections, but mostly I think, I’ve got this. I can handle it all on my own.
Except for the times when I can’t.
I’m learning about asking for help, though it still isn’t easy. But even asking for help isn’t always the same as letting people in.
With both of my kids in school this year, I’m spending a lot of days alone, a prospect that filled me with glee when the school year started, but as the weeks have gone on, I find myself occasionally lonely, though not necessarily in need of a full-blown party.
Sometimes I need to be alone to recharge. My introverted nature can only take so much of people before I need to withdrawn, but what happens when I’m fully charged on alone time and in need of companionship?
It’s a delicate balance for me, this needing to be with people and the not needing to be with people. Sometimes I overdo it one way or the other, and if I’m not careful, I can start to feel sorry for myself in the alone times.
Take the recent Thanksgiving holiday as an example. We live 800 miles from the rest of our family, and even though our kids get a significant break for Thanksgiving, we are unable to make a trip west to be with family on that day. We reserve our travel for Christmas most years. We used to get a little bit depressed thinking about spending Thanksgiving, just the four of us, but we can’t exactly invite ourselves to someone else’s family gathering now, can we? A couple of years, when my husband was in seminary, we did get an invitation to a family Thanksgiving, and even though it’s somewhat awkward to be part of another family’s celebration, it was nice to be among people. (The one time we did not go home for Christmas, we also were invited to spend the day with friends. These are cherished memories of holidays past.)
With work and school schedules, we have learned to embrace the holidays of “just the four of us” because it’s such a rare occurrence that we get to spend an entire day together as a family. My husband works most Saturdays, so unless the kids have a Monday off of school, our one family day of the week is Sunday.
This year’s Thanksgiving celebration was a just-the-four-of-us kind of day. Until I saw a friend’s Facebook status saying she had googled “how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for one.” I messaged her, inviting her to our house, because we know what that is like. Ultimately, it turned out differently than we had planned. She was sick and had to leave work early, but we still delivered her some food from our celebration. It has me thinking about how we can spend our holiday differently if we can’t spend it with family. For us, Thanksgiving is not about the food because we make food all the time, but it’s about being together and being with people. I suspect that is what most people would miss about the holiday.
And I’m wondering if that’s what people need as much or more than a gift of food or money. What if we could sit down and share a meal with someone who needs it rather than simply dropping off a meal? Or what if we sat and listened to a person’s journey after we handed them a few dollars?
The world can be a lonely place. What if we offered ourselves and our time as well as our resources?
I cannot keep track of the number of ways my friends have helped me in the past month or more. Countless rides to and from appointments or to pick up our van from my husband’s work place (we have one car for our family), the use of a fax machine and continued attempts to ensure the fax goes through, emotional support. I have told my kids more than once, “I have some really great friends.”
When I needed to have a test in the nuclear medicine department of the hospital earlier this week, I asked around to find a ride home from the test, and even though some friends could not help with my request, they asked about the test and my health. One friend who works at the hospital even made an effort to see me before I went in. I missed her by minutes, but when I was done, her face was on my phone with an encouraging message.
My husband couldn’t be with me for the test because of work, and I had no one to stay with me through it, but I was not alone. From the friends who responded to my prayer request on Facebook, to the friends who dropped me off and picked me up or showed up outside the door, I was surrounded by people who cared.
The church often calls this kind of thing community, a buzzword that is sort of losing its meaning. Sometimes it’s an elusive-sounding concept, the kind of thing we want but aren’t sure how to achieve. I’m guilty of tossing the word around and wanting it but not really knowing it until I see it.
Maybe you call it a tribe or a team or family or a “framily” (friends+family). All I know is there’s something magical that happens when people choose to be together and support each other and care for one another in any and all circumstances, whether bound by blood relation or not.
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that “two are better than one” and highlights the benefits of companionship. Though it’s often used in weddings to illustrate the bond of marriage, I think we can say the same of deep friendships and authentic relationships. We, humans, are better together, whether that means with one friend, a few friends, a tribe of people, or as part of a larger community.
I should also add that I don’t think a friend or a tribe or a community has to be made solely of like-minded people. Maybe you have lots of things in common, maybe not, but we need each other, and we’re better off finding ways to participate in life together.
If friendships are hard for you, I get that. I am slow to make friends sometimes, and I have been hurt by community in the past. I often limit myself by assuming that such-and-such a person would not want to be friends with me because of whatever reason. If that’s you, too, then let me say this: Look around at the people you encounter regularly. Pay attention to their lives. Do not assume that everyone else has more friends than they need. Make an offer, even if you think they might say no or you might not enjoy it. Try not to wait for someone else to make the first move. You might wait a long time. Recognize that we’re better together, even if not everyone is the perfect fit for a friend. Everyone is in need of some kind of encouragement. Maybe you’re the one to offer it.
Are you a solo act or do you have a group of people you walk through life with? How is your life affected by friendships/community or the lack of it? What can you do to be a companion to someone? And if you have a good support network, have you thanked them recently?