Recently, I spent a couple of hours with a dear friend. At the end of our time, she asked, "Sally, do you ever feel lonely? I mean lonely for a friend who really has your heart and love and passion for life. I have so many friends, but I don't really have friends who seem to have quiet times and who share with me what they are learning from the Lord. No one really initiates praying together. Very few of my friends have ideals for their lives. I long for deep, spiritual friendships and companions."
Have you ever felt that way? I have. As a matter of fact, I used to feel like I was too much for people and still in many groups I feel like I have to hold back and not really expose myself. God made me a passionate person and I must live life with gusto--it is who I am. Yet, I have a very few friends who I know, when I am with them, that will share deeply, talk about ideas and scripture and what they are learning or care deeply about. I have, for so many years, felt lonely and longed for fellowship personally and for our family. We have loved the depth of life and fun and spirituality we have shared as a community of family, but it has been difficult to find like-minded matches for our family, and often for the individuals of our family. I think this is a more common problem than many think, because I hear it a lot.
Yet, I do have several friends with whom I can totally be myself. But even more, I know that when I am with them, my emotional and spiritual cup will be filled. Every time I am with these three or four friends, I know I will leave wanting to be a better person, cultivating deeper faith in my life, living more boldly for the Lord, enduring in my work for His kingdom and we usually share lots of giggles and opinions that we are free to share with each other because of our bond. My special friends who are this way are spread out all over the country and I don't often get to see them, but I cherish them in my heart. I meet others along the way in which I share this kind of relationship and am always grateful, though, I meet them along the way and they are not a part of my "regular" circle, in which I have had lots of time to log together. But I appreciate this kind of friendship because the effect on me is that it thrusts me in the direction that I long for in my soul, and always makes me want to love God more and to be more worthing of such love. It feels good to know that I can be myself and to have personal encouragement and validation. Friends can make friends feel good!
I think that longing for eternal things is a gift from the Lord. As a deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you, Oh, Lord. I didn't always see it this way, because many of the years of my life and moves, I have felt deeply lonely and longing for a friend to recipricate. Yet, I see now that I can turn this longing to the Lord and it is where He meets me. These longings are sometimes shadows of what we can glimpse in this world, but will not fully experience until heaven. Longings speak to us of what we can expect in heaven. But it is these very longings that have taken me to Him. He is there, giving me perspective, teaching and talking into my heart.
Sometimes just being caught up in the "busy-ness" of life, can leave my soul empty and my feelings dry. However, we cannot pass on to our children deep, sincere love and pleasure of God, if we haven't drunk deeply from His well ourselves. Again, I am not talking about you or me becoming more religious--but truly more relaxed, honest time with the one who made me and knows me. God is like us or perhaps, more truthfully, we are like Him. He is a God of relationship. He longs for our companionship and trust and deepest thoughts and cares. Hard to imagine, but He, in the midst of running the universe, was walking the the cool of the garden in the middle of the day, looking for fellowship with Adam and Eve. I am in the process of studying David's life and see that David had inner eyes in His heart, that saw God, and thought His thoughts and valued His ways. He loved and revered Him. God was a reality in the moments of His celebrations, the tears he shed on his bed during times of despair, the one who gave His warrior soul strenght through His battles. He was a man after God's heart, because He was a man who lived in the present moment with God.
With David, this did not mean spiritual piety in the sense that he "acted religiously" and spoke with stilted words in an affected voice. No, he was a man of bear and lion killing, warrior-ing, dancing, feasting and blessing, singing and eating--a friend beloved by his many fellow soldiers. A real, live, man of many dimensions.
God does not want you to carve out a few insipid moments to say words to Him. He wants your fullness of personality and life. God made me, as I am. I make lots of mistakes. I am visionary and passionate and love people, but still get tripped up over simple issues like messes. Martha is lurking at the door of my heart many moments when I just need everyone to "Get work done!" But there is a Mary side that really longs for the reality of God and sometimes she is reigning. I have great insights and great failures. My kids and husband know me in all of my glory and lack thereof! However, there is a life inside of me, that keeps me going. It is indeed a well of living water springing up in the moments of my despair when I feel the darkness lurking again in my soul's emotions.
However, I do not see this side of many friends. Frankly, I think that it is because many of the precious moms I know are busy with their own children and lives and you have to have time with people in order to be able to get into a good conversation. I, also, have been lonely for those who know the spiritual hunger that drives me. I love to hear the depths of people's hearts and fellowship with them there, in the places where life really matters. But this kind of life only happens for those who seek Him--those who make the seeking of Him their life's goal--the pleasing of Him their fondest wish. There is a dimension of living that only comes from being there in His presence, daily, weekly, monthly, for years and years. The more years that I have spent reading His word, the more often His word comes to my mind throughout the moments of my days. Seems to me, though, that when I am with someone who is pretty deeply spiritually connected, I can almost spot it right away--not so much because they say spiritual things, but usually this kind of person is involved in reaching out to others, encouraging and self-sacrificing a fun and outreaching friend. It is obvious to me that they are not the center of their own lives. They have had to make some decisions along the way that they will not have hurt feelings, though they could; they have decided that they have a stewardship from the love of God to help and reach out to others---a giving spirit, one who is generous in life, is a sign of one who is connected to God--because that is what He is like. It is in just being with them, that I can tell they "get" God.
I am teaching 2 middle school age speech classes. My main goal for these kids is to help them to learn to be communicators--to realize that all speech--whether to a friend, a co-worker or to a group--has the power to give life, to encourage, to instruct, to inspire or to tear down, poison, discourage. Yet, words are only powerful if they are spoken or written. So many that I know, don't take the time to verbally encourage or to write a note to someone they appreciate or to open up to a friend the very deepest things that are on their heart. Probably the thing I most value most in a person is one who takes initiative or calls or invites me over or in some way reaches out---because it is just a part of who they have decided to be as they have become a mature person.
There are so many times when all of us are weary and I have to say that many years in a row I have to battle being down. But, as I studies the Israelites, I saw how God disciplined them for complaining and for not having faith. When we are weary, we need rest and we need to look for fellowship. But eventually, we must let God strengthen us and decide to be joyful, because it is the only way to be able to cultivate faith and to endure the moments of our lives with grace---but we have to learn to hold on to hope for what is to come.
When we stay in the self-centered position, we ignore the needs of others and become even more depressed. Being ignored or feeling invisible is a very painful and difficult thing for a person to feel and I see that so often, and have felt it at times. However, if someone would just say a word, give a card or send an email, so many who long for love, would be encouraged. I see passivity and lack of outreach as comparable to the person who buried his talent in the ground. Eventually, even the little he had was taken from him. Don't be passive in relationships--either at home or within your own community. Everyone you know needs to know you care. I have never known of anyone who had too much encouragement.
One of my speech classes is very talkative and funny and engaged and loud. I can manage them because they have spunky spirits. However, the other class is extremely quiet. Self-consciousness and fear of failure makes this class more difficult to motivate. It is hard to motivate those who will not respond or perhaps are a little too self-absorbed. I have spent time in self-absorption but have come to realize that eventually it only leads to my own alienation from others.
I have learned over the years, that if I want fellowship with women, I most often have to make it happen myself. I have to start a Bible study or a once a month fellowship group. I have to open our home. I have to invite friends to lunch or go to a mom's group. Sometimes I have come home from these meetings feeling lonelier than ever. But I have found that if I hang in there, a friend or a few friends will rise to the top and slowly, I will begin to enjoy fellowship. Yet, most often, I have had to initiate. I have just learned to accept this and not resent it. It has been the same for my kids and for our family our whole history. Yet, Jesus modeled initiation for us--while we were yet sinners, he died for us. While we were going our own way, he intervened into our world to provide love and grace and healing.
Some ideas we have initiated in the past is a once a month mom's tea group. I used to have just a couple of mom's over for a hot mug of tea, hot chocolate or coffee, while all the kids played outside. Once I was in a group that met at a local coffee shop once a month, which gave all of us a break. I have a once a month group in my home now and we are going through the Mission of Motherhood. There are about 80 on our roster, but usually 35-50 come each month and they come at 6:30 and often the last person is walking out the door around 10. We have snacks that different women bring and have a great time together. We always have Christmas teas for different moms and daughters. Christmas parties, fall festivals, book clubs, girl's group, harvest party. Our home is a center for life. We have few relatives, and those we have, are not near by or really have much to do with us on a regular basis, so we have had to keep reaching out just to keep finding fellowship.
The greatest value of all of these efforts, which do not always produce close friends, is that I have built my own, very deep friendship with Sarah, and Joy in the midst of it. They are so interesting and engaged in the things that I love to talk about. Joel and Nathan are soul-filling friends with whom I love to have time alone. They care about deep ideas and what matters in life. Though I had to wait for this kind of friendship for many years, (except for with Clay) it was through the dinner table discussions that Clay and I cultivated, the one on one tea times in my room, the traveling and working together as a family, that slowly built those heart connections that now give me the fellowship I always longed for. Nurturing my own family has ended up giving me the gift of friendship and depth of intimacy I wanted for so many years, but never managed to always have. It is so important, in this isolationist world, when everyone is at break-neck speed, to make the time to invest personally, to take initiative to encourage, and to really seek to be a friend, so that the community from which God meant for us to take strength and comfort, will be there to help carry us through all the seasons of our lives. In is in the keeping of friendships, in and out of our home, that the strength of Christianity will be felt in our world.