"Finding Friends" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
OWN THIS PRINT!
When I left the ministry in 2010, I didn't plan on leaving the church. The plan was that I would return after a sabbatical and support the work and community there. The plan was that I would maintain the many friendships that I had and continue to enjoy fellowship and community in my life. That was the plan.
But almost immediately after my departure it became clear I was not to be welcomed back.
At first, my response was: I can't believe it! On the heels of that my response was: Figures!
I've kept a few of those friendships, but almost exclusively with those who had already left the church as well. My connection with the church family was broken and remains so to this day.
At midlife, having spent almost all my years in the church community‚ an amazing resource that provides immediate access to a network of relationships and the possibility of endless lifelong friendships‚ I was now unconditionally severed from.
I didn't know how to be a social being in the real world. I mean the world outside the church.
The first job I got was teaching English as a second language to international students at a local university. I met new people there and started practicing my chops at making friends. But the job didn't last two years and I was out on my own again.
Being self-employed and working from home definitely has its perks. But it also has its dangers, such as living the life of a hermit holed up in my cave without any real live humans to disturb my introspections. I love social interaction and it has broadened my world and wisdom, but sometimes I want and need people with skin on.
But, like most things in life, you have to work for what you get because it doesn't just come running to you with arms wide open. Sure, good things sometimes seem to arrive unannounced, but it's because we're prepared, positioned, and poised to receive it.
I was ready for friends.
So, I bought a dog. That worked for a while. She's a great companion but a lousy conversationalist. We get each other but there's no real depth. Hard truth struck: I need people.
It was said that we should be in the world but not of it. The problem for many of us is that we're not really in the world either. So, I started contacting people I knew out there to see if we could meet up for coffee. I reached out to people that I thought held out the possibility of friendship. This actually worked! I've gained a few friends and we're developing deeper relationships that get me out of my head and into the world.
Around this time I was invited to a group that focuses on speaking and leadership development. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, but my wife suggested that I needed to get out of the house. She said that even though my online world is expanding, my physical world is shrinking. Why, this could be a step to enlarge my real world! So I went. I enjoyed it. I continue to go and am enlarging my relationships with real people in the real world. Real friendships are developing.
Even though the cartoon accompanying this story says, ‚ÄúAnd good luck finding friends!‚Äù, this is a lie. It has nothing to do with luck. In fact, it takes a lot of effort. It requires a new skill that the church didn't teach me: that I can form relationships with secular people without an evangelistic or recruiting agenda; that I can just be with people without being anxious for their souls or being worried about being polluted by their influence; that I can be loved and appreciated for just being who I am without any of the spiritual complications and competitions that often comes with church relationships; that I can be a part of a group that minds its own business and doesn't presume concern or control over my personal life; that we can just be with others without invading each other's space.
It occurred to me that this isn't just the curse of those who leave the church, but of everyone. I do feel somewhat handicapped by my years of being handed community on a platter. But the reality is almost everyone I meet wrestles with loneliness and the need for friendship. It was a revelation to me that I'm no one special in regards to the need for fellowship. It's a basic and essential human need to love and be loved, and so we desire it.
Seek and you will find doesn't just apply to the spirituality of soul, but to the spirituality of friendship too.
I hope you find yours.
(Hey, if you'd like an online community to be a part of... and it's awesome... please join us at The Lasting Supper