General

Hey Jealousy: a confession

I need to be honest, I have been struggling. And to be even more honest, I am angry and ashamed about the struggle. I didn’t think this was my particular struggle, but as it turns out, when God slowly strips away layer after layer of the polish I’ve attempted to put on myself, my true nature is revealed.

It snuck into my heart gradually. Or perhaps it was always there and I just gradually noticed it. I used to  feel like a confident and happy person, but lately my heart has been filled with envy. Not to say that I’m never happy these days, but I have noticed that my reactions to others hasn’t been so gracious lately. My heart sees what others have and then, instead of increasing the joy by being happy for them, my heart slyly whispers up at me “You’ve worked so hard. You are so smart. You volunteer so much of your time! You DESERVE this, too” And I listen to it. I more than listen, I agree with enthusiasm.  

The difference was especially noticeable during my drives around town and time spent on social media. On my way home, I frequently pass this beautiful house. It is painted a lovely yellow color, has a wide, friendly-looking front porch, great landscaping and a double garage. It looks like it could be an extra-large farmhouse and should be filled with friends and pie. I have always admired it and appreciated its beauty. It used to make me smile, but lately, when I drive by it I instead feel a pang of desire and something like anger at not being able to have it.

It’s a very strange feeling: to have something that once brought you joy to now make you feel jealous and unsatisfied.

I used to claim that I didn’t have a problem with social media because it didn’t make me feel envious (I had a problem with social media for other reasons, but that can be discussed another time). And I really didn’t think it was affecting me at all. I was able to look at photos of people on vacations, getting jobs, going out for coffee, showing off new outfits, and what fun and educational thing they were doing with their kids and so on and so forth and think “That’s nice for them! Or how cute is that?” and move on. Maybe even be a little inspired.

However, lately, I’ve noticed a different reaction to others’ photos and stories on social media. (Certainly jealousy existed way before social media did, so I am not at all blaming my issues on social media. However, social media does act as a catalyst and speeds up any reaction I may have had naturally.) The Devil found the chip in my polish there and, true to form, it was in the DETAILS.

Mostly in the backgrounds of people’s photos on social media. The things I started to notice were the material their couch was made of, the fresh paint on their walls, how clean their house appeared, the kitchen gadgets they had or new lettering board they posted with. I noticed the type of clothing  they wore. Then I started mentally tallying up how much each item must have cost and then I started believing it was unfair that I didn’t also have all those things.

Jealousy had begun to rob me of not only my joy in observing beautiful things, but also robbing me of celebrating with friends and multiplying their joy. As jealousy grew, it was pushing out the joy.

How could I let this happen? How had I allowed envy to replace contentment in my life? I have some ideas, but I’m going to save that for a later post. Right now, I just want to confess that I am not immune to wanting. Jealousy is such a common thing that we can be fooled into thinking that we are above it or “too old for that.” But it’s also a sneaky thing and slips in when our guard is down (or our hubris is up…).

The first step is realizing you have a problem, right? So now to focus on remembering that my happiness is doesn’t come from things or degrees or jobs or even pretty yellow houses with wrap-around porches. It is found in appreciating what I do have and have been given. It is remembering that from which I have been saved and from what I have been forgiven. My joy is found in Christ alone. The God who left his throne above, came down to earth, and died to save me from the consequences of such things like the jealousy that has grown in my heart.

General

Loneliness Pt.3: What Can Ya Do? 10 Suggestions

Over the last few blog posts, I have written about loneliness. How it is a common problem for adults and made a small case that we NEED community. (I can just hear my teenage-self heavily sighing and slouching into a bean bag chair in the corner of my room. Yes, Teenage-Self, you TOO need to be around people and involved in other’s lives.)

Making new friends is so so hard. Getting past small talk in a conversation is hard. Finding “your people” is hard. And finding the right type of people: ones that are supportive without enabling. Ones that challenge you without making you feel inadequate or inauthentic. It is hard. But, in the words of Daniel Tiger, “Try a new food, it might taste good!” (Okay, so Daniel Tiger is trying to get toddlers to eat things they haven’t before, but you get the idea.) Making new friends is uncomfortable and not always super easy, but it is worth the try because you might just find your new favorite person.

Not everyone operates the same way, but if by posting this, I can help one person find community, it’s worth letting the dishes sit in the dishwasher for 30 more minutes. (Let’s be honest…most things are worth that…) It’s not an exhaustive list, but here are 10 things that have helped me get out of my shell and make connections with people.

  1. Recognize That It’s Not Just You

One of my biggest obstacles I have to overcome when I need to put myself out there and make new friends is the lie that I’m the only one feeling lonely. It is such a stupid little lie that really makes no sense when I say it out loud or type it, but it can be almost disabling when I let it creep in. That voice that says “Everyone already has a best friend. Everyone else is too busy to hang out with you. They all have plans and they don’t involve you. No one wants to hang out with you.”

Do me a favor the next time you start to feel this way and begin to think these thoughts. Stop what you’re doing and in your best drag queen voice, snap your fingers in the air and say “Not ta-dayyyy, Satan!” Because that is where those thoughts are coming from. They are lies and they are false.

We are all sitting at home wishing someone would text us and see if we wanted to hang out. So, instead of feeling lonely and thinking that you’re the only one not invited to the party: do what the cool kids do and INVITE SOMEONE. BE the inviter. People DO want to hang out with you, they are just waiting for you to ask. And what better way to hang out with people than to do it on your own turf? Amiright?

Reach out. You may find a hand to grab and you might be the hand someone else needs.

2. Recognize That it Might Not Be About You

Okay, so maybe this post should be titled:  “Lies Amanda consistently falls for.” Another classic lie that I like to tell myself whenever someone can’t hang out is “They don’t want to be your friend or hang out with you because you suck and there is something wrong with you.”

No. No. No. Say it with me: “NOT ta-daaayyyyy.”

I know it is so hard, but try not to take someone’s rejection personally and then stop inviting people out. It may not be about you. Sometimes it is about you and well, oh well. They weren’t meant to be your BFF. But most of the time it’s not. Either that person really is very busy and living a very full life and if you keep asking they will learn to make time for you (that’s a lesson they need to learn, friend, and not on you) OR maybe they aren’t emotionally ready to be a friend right now. Maybe they also are just trying to figure out this community thing and aren’t ready to engage. Either way, it’s not about you. Don’t let rejection discourage you.

3. Don’t Fear Quiet and Alone Time: Make It Work For You. 

Here’s another lie I’ve loved: whenever I feel alone or bored or the need to connect with someone (or tbh, the need to escape), I think I can find those connections in my phone. FALSE. Social media is great and wonderful: when used appropriately. But if you’re looking for real connections with real people, you’re going to have to text or (dare I say it?) CALL someone. I know it is much much harder to reach out to a real live person who may or may not reciprocate, but friend, that connection will be so much more real. It gets easier with time, I promise.

Additionally, I’ve been convicted lately of always trying to fill my spare moments with “efficiency” or “socialization” by grabbing my phone every time I am not otherwise actively engaged. What I have noticed is this actually keeps my brain constantly engaged and doesn’t give it any time to reflect or process.

Our days have naturally built in “brain breaks” if we took advantage of them. Every time we’re in line for something, waiting on an appointment, driving, at a stoplight, using the bathroom for goodness sakes, these are all times when we could just stop taking in information and give ourselves a chance to breathe, notice ourselves and our surroundings and just reflect and think.

There is a reason why people’s best ideas come in the shower: we have no other distractions. We are forced to THINK.

While taking the time to disengage electronically and from work is a good thing in general, socially I believe that it allows you to refresh yourself to actually purposefully engage in real in-person social situations. Giving yourself time to reflect and gather your thoughts makes for a more interesting and relaxed person later.

4. Be Open and Honest

When social opportunities do arise (whether they be online or in real life, keeping in mind, you’re shooting for real life), be open and honest. Again: it’s not easy. Especially if you’ve had social anxiety at some point in your life. But the more open and honest you are with people, the more they feel like they can be open and honest with you, which makes for deeper and more lasting friendships.

5. Smile at people. Wave.

Friends are every where, you just need to meet them! Go back up to bullets 1 and 2 and remind yourself not to believe lies and then when you are out and about SMILE and WAVE at people. Trust me, no one is going to be put off by a friendly smile and wave and a “how are you today?” (And if they are, they’ve got other issues…) Here’s the funny thing that happens when you simply smile at your neighbor when you walk around your street or the person in line with you at the coffee shop: you make a human connection, you open a door to relationship. It is something so simple and yet so effective. Don’t be yet another person that stands in line at Starbucks and pretends that they are the only person that exists in the room and ignore the people around you. This is why we all feel isolated: because we’re all acting like we are! Stop that. Smile at someone.

6. Put. Down. Your. Phone. O.M.G.

Recently, I had jury duty. Currently, my day job as Assistant Regional Manager of the Briscoe home leaves little room for adult interaction and conversation because all of my colleagues are under the age of 10. I was looking FORWARD to jury duty, you guys. I was going to talk to real adults about real things that didn’t involve someone’s bodily functions (I assumed). So I went into this purposefully leaving my phone in my purse.

As I sat with my fellow jury members on a bench outside of some office waiting to be told what to do next, I actually engaged with them. I smiled and I asked what their names where, what they did for a living and we started talking about what we usually do during the day and conversation moved on from there. It was great! Because I didn’t immediately pull out my cell phone and start staring at it, I was able to actually make some real human connections and it was awesome!

Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long because I stood up to go check on something and when I came back literally everyone had pulled out their phones and had directed their focus to their screens. It made me a little sad that we couldn’t continue our conversations because we’ve been so trained to pick up a device, but I was happy to discover that the ability to have a conversation, even with people you have almost nothing in common with outside of being in the same place at the same time, was still possible. It motivated me to do it more. I dare you to try it!

7.  Volunteer and Ask for Help

I was asked by one of my friends how I had made so many connections with older moms and knew so many teenagers that were able to help me out and my answer was simple: I volunteered.

It seems a little strange, but if you’re looking to make connections with people that might be one stage ahead of you, the best way to do that is to find a way to serve them: teach Sunday School, volunteer in your church nursery (but like, not if you have kids in the nursery, I mean sure if you want to do that, do that, but if you’re looking to get to know people outside of your age and stage, sign up for something you aren’t already going to be involved in), sign up to take meals to shut ins, coach a youth sport, tutor at a local school. You get to know people you otherwise might not interact with and begin to build relationships.

The key to achieving balance in this area is once you’re serving in some capacity, don’t be afraid to ask for help! We all need an extra set of hands every now and again. See if you can find a local teen to mow your grass (and then talk to them when they do), have a teenager come over and help watch your kids while you get some house work done, ask for help planning your menu from someone who seems to have that under control, ask for advice for how to budget from someone who does that really well, get a tutor for a class your taking! Reach out! Make connections. People love to feel needed and helpful.

8. Memorize a List of Conversation Starters Because Words Are Hard and Awkward is My Life

But seriously. I am SO awkward. Ask anyone who has ever known me. Queen of Awkward right here. I say things that as I say them, it feels like I am having an out of body experience. I am watching some other person say the most awkward and embarrassing thing possible and am cringing. It is rough. Soooo I’ve looked up conversation starters. I have looked up topics and prepared them in advance for when I am meeting new people to try to avoid these awkward moments and in an attempt to avoid small talk and weird pauses. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s almost guaranteed that I will STILL say something really weird, but hey, that’s just me being open and honest and real. 😉

9. Join a Church/Club/Gym

Seriously, do it. There are people there. People you have something in common with. People that WANT To know you and what you have to say. While you’re there, remember not to listen to lies in your head and to smile and wave!

10. Stay Open to New People: Never Forget What it Was Like to be Without

Inevitably, if you’re trying to be real and to reach out, you will make a group of friends. Perhaps you’ll even make a close group of a few friends that relate to one another, agree on most topics and by some miracle, have the same sleep/wake schedules.  Take the time to savor that, build on that, but please, don’t stop there.

Remember how it felt to be the “new kid” and how good it felt when someone invited you into their circle. Always try to make room for someone new. They might be there for a season, or they might just be the new best friend you didn’t realize you couldn’t live without.

Either way: please, I am begging you, keep your eyes open for the “new kids”, for the people that seem to be sitting alone, that have that searching look in their eye at the gym or school or in line at Starbucks. There is always always room for one more. Maybe you aren’t meant to be their BFF, but you know how to connect them with someone who could be.  Once you have conquered your mountain (spoiler: you’ll never reach the top, but just keep pushing and conquering one more crest at a time), look back and give someone a hand up every now and again.

Alright! That’s all I got for ya! Maybe it was too much, maybe it wasn’t enough, but it’s what I have! Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts: what are your tips for meeting and making new friends and building lasting relationships? What do you do? Anything I forgot? Something I need to clarify?

General

The Case for Community (Loneliness Pt2)

Have you ever had one of those days (…weeks…maybe months), where you just feel DONE with people?  One of those days where you feel like you’re hitting your head against a wall every time you try to have a conversation or build a friendship or hang out with someone or work on a project together?

No? Just me? 😉

I was the kid in school that when the teacher announced that there was going to be some sort of group project, I was the first one in line at her desk begging her to “Please, just let me do it by myself. I don’t care if it’s more work, I’d rather just work alone, please!”

My whole life, I have self-identified as an introvert. I need lots of quiet and alone time to cope with life. Lots of time for reflection and introspection. I have always been described by others as independent. I never felt like a social butterfly, never won homecoming queen, but I usually had a few closer friends and I felt like that was fine and good.

This is one of the reasons why I was so shocked when, after I had my first baby, feelings of loneliness and an almost literal ache to be around people set in. My story is a little complicated by other life factors, but from what I hear from others, my story is not that uncommon any more. I went to college away from home, went to graduate school somewhere else, got married, and moved to another, entirely new location. And although I was excited to begin all of these new adventures, I didn’t realize at the time how isolating each one of them can be. Or how much my independent self would long for community.

Maybe your story is a little different. Maybe you still live in your hometown. Maybe you are single. Maybe you don’t have children. Maybe you are some combination of any of the options of moved/not moved/move often, married/dating/single, parent or not. Even if your story is entirely different from mine, I would bet that at some point, you have felt the loneliness that I mentioned. That dull throbbing ache that makes you wish to be near someone, to be known.

For this post, I would like to briefly affirm any of you who have felt (or are feeling) these aches. I want affirm that there is nothing inherently wrong with you when you feel this way and that, in fact, you were made to feel this way. That for as much as we all joke about the idea of becoming a hermit in the woods somewhere and living “off the grid” in a log cabin ala Ron Swanson, humans were never made to function in isolation. I also want to make the case (mostly to my “I’ll just do the project/life on my own” self) that community is GOOD and NECESSARY.

Science has shown that humans function better within a community. We survive better when we work as a team, but beyond that, we are mentally and emotionally more healthy. But it’s more than just an emotional issue. In a recent NPR broadcast, the host of the show Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam, cited a study and stated that

“Again, the toll of social isolation isn’t just emotional. An analysis of nearly 150 studies has found that people with strong social relationships had about a 50 percent lower mortality risk than those with weaker ties. Julianne Holt-Lunstad and her co-authors concluded that those with weaker social relationships had a greater risk of death than people who were physically inactive or obese. Let me put that another way. Spending time building and nurturing your friendships might be just as important to your health as eating right and exercising.”

This quote is from a show titled “The Lonely American Male” . It is an interesting broadcast about how males in particular are feeling more and more isolated and depressed and are having a harder time forming friendships.

I would argue that the problem of loneliness is even older than America and social media and cultural norms, and that that ache for friendship lies deeper inside of us than somewhere that can be found on an MRI.  I would argue that the first “case” of loneliness occurred during the creation of the world.

Most people know the gist of the Genesis story: “God created …. and it was good….God created…and it was good” God made everything good and he made man in his own image and likeness, which was good. God makes this lavish and bountiful garden and gives man the good work of caring for all of this newly created world.  And there stands Adam, with everything he could possibly ever need, amidst beauty untainted and God makes an almost shocking proclamation: “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Everything is right and good…except this. Man was not meant to be alone.

Why not? Why not just allow Adam (and man) to exist in perfect communion with God and the created universe? Why specifically call out community in this way?

It is because we are image-bearers.  Our Creator and God is not just one person, but three in one. It is in the triune God that perfect community exists. Perfect intimate knowledge of the other, perfect sacrificial love, perfect service, perfect obedience, perfect leadership, all formed in one. As image-bearers of God we were made to reflect this communion and we cannot do it on our own. We can not be all that we were meant to be on our own. There is no “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” or DIYing your way through life. You exist in a community and more than that, you were MEANT to exist within a community.

Community serves many practical purposes that can be quite obvious (shelter, food, other survival needs, etc.), but it also serves the grand purposes of growing and shaping ourselves. Recently, in her podcast, JourneyWomen, host Hunter Beless interviewed author and teacher Tiffany Bluhm on the topic of loneliness (I HIGHLY recommend giving this a listen, they are way more wise than I am: JourneyWomen Ep. 56 Loneliness). Ms. Bluhm shares so many nuggets of wisdom, but one thing that really stuck out to me was her description of real community. Community is meant to be more than sharing drinks and jokes and going out for dinners. It’s more than finding a topic you can all agree on. Real community, she says, gets you “out of your own echo chamber.”  Real community builds relationships that are deep and honest and reveal the ugly parts of ourselves so that we are fully known. It is in this type of community that you actually combat against jealousy and comparison and feelings of exclusion. (In contrast to many social-media based platforms, which seem to feed those monsters.)  In real community, you have to expose yourself and in that, you’re giving others the opportunity to love you, to grow and learn and for you to return that unconditional love.

You may be thinking this sounds a little Pollyanna of me. That is all well and good, right? This image of perfect community where you both support and challenge one another. Where we serve each other and grow. And no one is selfish and no one gets jealous and we don’t reject each other or hurt each other.

In part 3 of this series on Loneliness, I do want address some of those questions of “but how do we even foster or find community?” and address the brokenness of the current (and perhaps since always?) society and ways that we can make changes that encourage more deep and ‘real’ relationships in our lives.

But that’s in part 3. 😉

For now, I want to end this case for community with a summary and a quote.

To summarize:

You are normal to want community. To want to be known. It is a necessity we were created with. Humans NEED one another. Not in just a biological “it sure is helpful to hunt in packs” way, but in a mental and emotional ache for friendship-type way that effects every aspects of ourselves. To be who we were meant to be, to truly live, we need other people in our lives and we need to be a part of other people’s lives. God does this perfectly in the Trinity, for which we are image-bearers. We do community messily. But it is a necessary and beautiful mess.

All that being said, as necessary as community is, it will most likely never leave us filling fully satisfied. To quote Tiffany Bluhm once more, “Friendships cannot fulfill us, but are a vehicle to display God’s work and to receive God’s work. [They] cannot be our source.”

Ultimately, all of us all have a “God-sized hole” in our hearts that only He can fill and an ache that only He can satisfy. Community, real community, is just one of the ways in which that is worked out and demonstrated.

 

**Next week: How do we fight for real community? Some solutions that have worked for lonely old me.**

General

Loneliness Part 1: The Problem Exists

Loneliness has been on my mind a lot lately. My oldest son has just started school and as I watched him walk away from me and into a classroom of his peers, his back pack slightly too big for his little body, jaw set and head bowed down in a determined stance to be independent, my biggest fear for him wasn’t that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the academics or that he wasn’t safe without me. My biggest fear for him was that he would be lonely at school away from his family and in a room full of strangers.

My son’s teacher (after I pestered her with yet another e-mail, God bless her) has assured me that my son has dropped his “strong and silent” act and has started playing with kids on the playground and talking to the kids at his table. It took a few weeks, but he’s making new friends. Kids are resilient like that.

I remember being a kid and being so scared that I would be alone. That no one would like me. That they wouldn’t understand my strange sense of humor or wouldn’t be interested in the same things I was interested in. That I would somehow stick out as “other” and be rejected. I think we can all relate to those feelings on some level. I’m not sure if any of us are completely confident about being thrust into new situations without a frame of reference or a buddy.

After some reflection, what I am realizing that I STILL have those same feelings 20 years later. This is not to say that I still run and hide when asked to speak in front of a group of people. I also do not openly sob when someone says they do not want to hang out with me (…most of the time…at least not publicly… 😉 )  I also care a lot less about what people think about my hair or how I dress.

A surprising thing about becoming an adult is that the problem of loneliness, of feeling different and isolated from a group of friends and the desire to be known in a community doesn’t go away. Nor does it fix itself in a few weeks.

What I hear from a lot of other adults, (moms especially, but also dads and child-free adults) is that feelings of loneliness can prevail for months on end. That making friends in your late 20s and beyond is much more difficult than when we were all kids.

I can think of several reasons why making friends is actually harder as an adult: we have less structured, planned “play” time with people our own age; we often live far away from people we have things in common with (or far away from people in general if you’re in a rural area); we fill up our schedules with all of the “must” dos likes working, volunteering, grocery shopping, taking care of our homes and children and spouses and we don’t have the margin for spontaneous lunch dates or feel guilty for getting a babysitter or taking time off work to just meet with a friend. I’m sure we could all add to this list of why adulting makes being a friend hard. There seems to be so much more nuance to finding a friend and so much less time to figure it out all.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to elaborate on these thoughts on loneliness.

I want to talk about where I believe these feelings come from and how they are justified and even purposed (and one might argue “good”?) and I want to talk about some solutions and ways that we can prioritize community and specifically friendships (which are messy) in our lives.

For today, however, I just want you to know that if you feel lonely, if you feel like you’re the only person in the world without a close group of friends. If you feel unknown and that makes you feel uncentered and scared. If you yearn for a friendship where you can depend on people, ask for help, and give help in turn. If you just wish you had someone to eat dinner with, let alone Thanksgiving: you’re not alone. You are not weird. There is nothing “wrong” with you. Your desire for community is part of what makes you a human and it doesn’t have to always be this way.