Our country, apparently, is lonely.
More than one-fifth of Americans report often or always feeling lonely or socially isolated. As a Christian, I see it this way: God made us to be in community. I believe our very souls long for this community, and I see this need all around me, particularly in the young moms I serve as a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) coordinator.
I vividly remember the loneliness I felt as a new mom, alone in my house in a new town with an unhappy newborn. Being a mom of young children is a firsthand lesson in how you can be lonely without actually being alone. (Ever.)
My life improved greatly when I finally made some friends with other moms through my local Stroller Strides group, in addition to Bible studies and MOPS. Over the years, I’ve relied heavily on those friendships. Nothing feels as validating as sharing your parenting struggle with someone else who has experienced the same thing and can commiserate. I’ve noticed that many of my closest friends have children the same age as my oldest or, in some cases, my oldest two children. This experience seems typical, at least from my limited observation. You automatically have a great deal of things in common with someone whose child is a close friend of your child. Some of my earliest friendships were similarly based on proximity or commonalities–most of my best friends from college lived on the same freshman dorm floor as I did, for example.
Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve had times in my life where multiple friendships sprang up easily and also barren times when friends felt few and far between. I have grieved when friendships ended or didn’t materialize as hoped. I have grown to understand that some friendships are short-lived, and that doesn’t mean they weren’t real or meaningful. (This is often true of mom friendships.) But it also makes me wonder what will happen to some of my current friendships when our kids grow up and move out. Are our connections based on more than our kids’ shared interests?
Frankly, I didn’t expect to still be uncertain about friendships at this point in my life. Isn’t that something I’m supposed to be instead helping my 7-year-old daughter through?
The truth is she doesn’t need any help right now. She’s at the age where she effortlessly becomes new best friends with anyone we encounter who is roughly her age, at the park, at the pool, at the airport. . . As someone who would rather stick flaming bamboo shoots under my fingernails than strike up a casual conversation with someone new in a social setting, I often marvel at her ease with it all.
And why isn’t it so easy with me? Beyond my garden-variety introversion, I often don’t really want to become friends with just anybody who looks like they’re about my age. I don’t want to be rejected; I don’t want to put in the work and effort of beginning and maintaining a friendship. I am too busy, too tired, too everything. And so I stick my head in my phone or stand by myself or otherwise pass up opportunities for connection. That particular tendency has worsened for me since Covid. I’m one of those weirdos who genuinely likes staying home, and Covid offered all kinds of permission to do so. And after all that mostly wonderful home time, venturing out into the cold, cruel, social world sounds even less appealing.
And yet…even I have a deep-seated longing for connection. So what do I do?
One way to answer this longing is investing in some of the friendships I already have. It doesn’t take long to send a text to someone and check in on them, to set up a lunch or a walk or invite someone over. For me, one-on-one is generally more fun than a large group, but even I enjoy the right large group at times. As my husband often reminds me, no matter how much I don’t want to go to whatever the thing is, when I do go, usually I have fun.
So keeping that in mind, I also try hard to say yes even when my first instinct is to say no. Not yes to everything, but not no to everything either.
I also must consider the deeper roots of my longing for connection. It doesn’t seem to me to be coincidence that people are reporting feeling more lonely at the same time church attendance is declining. For me, sitting in the pews of my church conveys a powerful feeling of belonging and being home. If I didn’t have that, I shudder to think what my life would be like.
Friendships, even meaningful ones, can come and go, but what’s not temporary or short-lived is the Church, although pastors, fellow parishioners, and even the particular place we call our home church may transition. In that key way, community differs from friendship. I believe we need both–meaningful friendships and a community that feels like home.
If my daughter reaches a time when friendship isn’t quite so effortless, and sadly, I suspect she will, I hope to be able to point her to the community of our church and hope that it is a place that feels like home for her. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll follow her lead and talk to that mom at the playground who looks about my age. I mean, I’m not promising anything.
Where do you and your family find community? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.