Letter #685: Initiating Community

img_2203Dear ‘community,’

I was in a wedding a couple weekends ago. It was one of those weddings you genuinely looked forward to and nearly knew every attendee. What a joy to be a part of!

As I chatted, and let’s be honest danced, my way through the reception, nearly every conversation came back to you. “Nobody prepares you for life after college.” “Making friends is hard.” “I’ve been in my city for a year and I’m just now starting to break through in some authentic relationships.” “I’ll never have community like I had in college.”

This got me thinking. You really can be challenging. I began assessing my own life in this area. I’m 29 and live in Branson, the “Mecca of the Elderly” as I endearingly call it, where three months of my year are spent at summer camp where 97% of the people I interact with are 12-14 or 19-23. Nearly three more months are spent traveling in a 15-passenger van recruiting college students to come work at camp, where I am typically in a city for less than 24 hours at a time. My life is inconsistent and my friends literally come from all walks of life: older, younger, engaged, married, single, with children and without, some who live near and other who live really stinking far. I’ve also grown immensely in knowing how to be alone and have learned to find contentment in solitude.

I give you my current life resume not to elicit sympathy, but rather to create credibility in what I have to say next. Community hasn’t been something that was handed to me. Rather, it’s been something I’ve learned about because it hasn’t been easy.

Reality check: college dorms, Greek houses and summer camps are not real life. Having hundreds, even thousands, of people at your fingertips in your same life stage to be friends with is a thing of the past. This will never happen again. Enjoy it while it lasts, create lifelong friendships with the people you get the privilege of doing these seasons with and work to keep up with them after, but don’t live in a dream world that this is normal. These relationships matter and can be ‘your people’ forever. But we can’t just have friends from the past or friends that live hours away. We must have you in the flesh and in our daily.

I’ve either been one or worked with college students for the last 11 years of my life, and I don’t think a single one I worked with was ready for what comes with graduation. Sure there is a learning curve concerning life skills, bills, retirement funds and insurance, but I’m simply talking relationships. Nobody prepares you for the dramatic shift that happens in forming you in a totally new way. Co-workers and neighbors come from every life stage. Intramurals, coke dates and socials/mixers are no longer handed to you. And if you’re brave enough to move to a new place entirely, there aren’t many mutual friends or connections to count on. Every coffee shop you enter, church service you attend, restaurant you dine in, or catch happy hour you catch is basically a cold call. You must initiate. Make the first move, there are no promises anybody else will.

You must be fought for. But what does that actually mean? I’ve decided it means three things:

  1. Change expectations: Friends are going to be different than you now. Stop thinking they can only be in your life stage. Single? You can have friends who are young and married, married with kids, single parents and even people who are decades older than you. Married? With kids? The same is true for you. You can, and I’ll even go as far as saying, you need to make friends outside of your life stage and comfort zone. People different than you make you better.
  2. Be an initiator: Nobody is coming to your front door with cookies, a dinner invite and an envelope with a letter inside asking to be their friend. This might happen, but chances aren’t good. Step up and invite someone you think has potential to be a friend to coffee or a meal. Everybody has to eat…and this is not strange. Everybody is looking for friends. Friendship has to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to take the lead.
  3. Get creative: You’ve gone from thousands of people at your fingertips to maybe 20-100 you see on a regular basis. The girl working out at the gym you see three times a week, engage with her. The barista you order from who is near your age, talk to him. Get involved in something to open up an opportunity to meet people. The day of walking downstairs in your sorority house where 100 potential friends live to find people to hang out with is over. Think outside the box and engage with people…I think you’ll be surprised by what happens!

I have great friends, but it’s only because I’ve worked for it. And these three things have played a significant role in the process. I’m incredibly thankful for friends I’ve had for years, but I also know that as people come and go I’m going to have to continue to fight for new ones who can do life with me in the flesh.

Community has become a buzzword in our culture especially in Christian circles. I think most would say they want it, but are we willing to step up and create it? I don’t just want people to hang out with, but it has to start here. I want people to do life with. People who will celebrate the highs and mourn the lows. People who will walk through the best and worst of times with me. People who are for my good no matter how hard the conversations have to be in order to communicate truth. This is true community.

But this doesn’t just happen. You have to work for it. You have to lead with vulnerability. And it starts with finding people you can just hang out with. Then that has to transition into conversation of significance. But it all starts with you making the ask, “Hey, would you like to grab breakfast?” Odds are, they’re looking for friends too. They just weren’t brave enough to ask.

Don’t be afraid to ask,

Lindsay