If I’m honest, I have to confess an unfortunate truth: for the vast majority of my life, I haven’t been very good at making friends. Ever since my family’s move to “the country” before my 8th grade year, I’ve had a hard time opening myself up and letting people in. I say “the country” for those of you who aren’t familiar with the massive growth explosion that occurred in the county where we moved—it is now anything but country.
The pain of going from a small, private school with classmates who were tantamount to brothers & sisters, to a large, taciturn public school left its indelible mark on my soul for far too many years. I had no skill set for making friends, as I’d never needed to before—I made my friends in those early preschool years, long before self-consciousness takes over a young person’s being. My youthful mind assumed I’d show up at this new school and voila! I’d instantly have a group of friends, just like my former school.
No such luck.
Where I thought I’d be met with open arms, I met only blank stares of disinterest and rejection. I’d lost my place as the “it” girl, and the enemy used it to plant all kinds of lies about my identity and worth—lies that only began losing their hold well into my adult years.
The Great Wall of Self-Preservation
As a result of that move, I felt crippled in my ability to form deep, lasting friendships. The pain and fear of rejection led me to build up a Great Wall around my heart. I became a master of the understanding head bob, a sensei of listening to others … but to very, very few (if any!) did I open up my true heart. That was reserved for family only (and for this I’m incredibly grateful, for those deep relationships I formed with my family still stand strong today and will until we leave this earth).
High school felt like a constantly rocking ship, lost at sea in a mix of the emotions that inevitably accompany coming of age (even under the best circumstances). College was better, but an emptiness still plagued me as I tried desperately to fit in with the “cool crowd,” trying to be the extraverted sorority girl I thought I needed to be.
I thought that by changing locations and leaving high school behind, I could also leave behind the lies that had hijacked my ability to make friends … but naturally, those lies jumped in with all of my perfectly-coordinated dorm décor and made the trip with me.
Perhaps one can survive high school and college while tucked safely behind an imposing wall of self-preservation—I certainly did. But what happens when you reach a point where life is too hard, too real to continue shutting people out? It’s one thing when the most tragic life occurrence is not getting the lead in the musical you’d so hoped to play … it’s quite another when the cancer has spread or your house is foreclosed on or you aren’t sure your marriage is going to make it.
Recently, I experienced one such trial—one beyond my capacity to cope alone. I needed support and love, the encouragement of a compassionate, listening ear. I needed the beauty of the body of Christ coming together and working out real faith in real love. I needed something deeper than the surface level relationships for which we so often settle.
God has been in the process of healing me from those old wounds and ridding me of the insidious lies I believed about myself … but I had yet to actually take the plunge into deep, authentic community—where you’re opening up every space of your heart and mind and letting others into the hardest places. Where you admit your need for support and lay down your false bravado that claims I don’t need anyone, I’ve got it covered.
In that moment, I found myself facing a choice—I could continue in my old pattern of crouching behind my protective wall … or I could take a deep breath, reach out, and whisper hi, friend, I could really use a listening ear.
The truth is, it was just as scary to make that admission as I imagined it would be—but it was also far greater and more encouraging than I ever expected!
I found myself ensconced by a depth of community I haven’t experienced in so very long; the relief of allowing others in and sharing my burdens felt like a breath of cool, fall air. I finally understood what I’d been hearing for so long—all the sermons and Bible studies and articles about authentic community. And I didn’t even realize how desperately I craved it until that first taste.
This is how the early church operated, and it’s how our current churches should operate. The earliest churches were rich in community, springing up in the intimate settings of people’s homes. There was no dressing up in our prettiest clothes and best hair for an hour, then heading home with a heart still heavy from carrying cumbersome, painful burdens.
As believers, we need to let each other in—we need to be a part of both supporting and receiving support from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Galatians 6:2 says, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (NIV). I’ve felt the power and wholeness of that verse lately, and it’s thrilling!
Important lessons have emerged from this experience, one of the chief ones being isolation is Satan’s playground. If our enemy can isolate us so that we think we’re the only one experiencing a certain trial, then he’s won. He’s separated us from the pack, ready to take us down. Freedom is found in embracing the truth (see John 8:32), and we’ll be hard pressed to reach that truth when we’re suffering silently in our solitude.
We fear opening up, we fear the risk of “losing face” … but where we may lose face, we gain genuine fellowship. And what a sweet blessing that fellowship is—balm to the soul!
I’ve also seen that my closed-off heart was actually a manifestation of pride. We tend to think of pride as the puffed up person telling you how perfect her life is, and that indeed is a form of pride. But an unwillingness to share one’s life and heart with others is simply the other side of that hubris coin. Rather than risk potential embarrassment, rejection, or humiliation, I closed myself off—and whether intended to or not, this type of attitude gives off an air of “I don’t have any problems to share.”
It’s another one of those sneaky lies the enemy uses to catch us—pride wrapped in the seemingly justifiable cloak of timidity or fear of rejection. But pride, in any form, is a cancer. It has to go.
Y’all know how much I like ending with a challenge, so let me extend one to you today: are you holding back in all your relationships? Maybe you find yourself not nearly as broken in this area as I was, but perhaps you do find yourself with plenty of surface connections, yet no deep, intimate friendships.
If so, I’d like to encourage you to just go for it. Don’t allow fear to keep you locked up behind your own wall of self-preservation anymore. Yes, we should use wisdom when deciding with whom we’ll share our truest hearts. But for that person or persons in your life who have proven trustworthy and safe, take the plunge and allow yourself to experience the strengthening, restoring work of community. What a perfect picture of the body of Christ working as it was meant to work, encouraging one another and building one another up as Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
Take it from this former skeptic, who once scoffed at mushy rhetoric praising the beauty of community and connectedness—it really is a beautiful thing. And it really is worth it.
But don’t just take my word for it … inhale a deep breath, and jump in with both feet.
You’ll be glad you did.