“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
– A.A. Milne
As an introvert, I have often felt bad or less-spiritual because I just don’t enjoy crowds or parties or large groups. Ice-breakers and games and church-teas are pretty much the third circle of hell for me. Get-to-know-you chit-chat is a necessary evil so I’ve practiced, I’ve gotten much better at it now. But add in the aspect of being a blogger and writer who writes about All The Thoughts and Feeeeeeeeeeeelings publicly, and it gets a bit more complicated. I often write to figure out what I think, and I think I live a pretty seamless life between online and real-life, but some part of me still wants to die of embarrassment when someone in my real life actually brings up my blog or my book. (In fact, I’m rather private and I keep a lot of my life and the lives of my loved ones secret and sacred – which surprises people because, well, 2,000+ posts here on ye olde blog seem to indicate differently.) I have pretty small circles of trusted friends, and a very strong Holy-Spirit-led instinct which I’ve learned to honour.
Sometimes all the talk about “community” in the Church lately can freak me out. Not just because the expectation of CONSTANT TOGETHERNESS, or the pressure to feel guilty for my beloved solitary pursuits like walking or reading or writing and quiet weekends. It’s also the way that it can make us feel like everyone should have full and unrestricted access to our time, energy, spirit, and soul.
Years ago, when my husband was a youth and college & career pastor, he used to preach a few times a week. Today, he would tell you that he would preach and teach and lead much differently now than he did ten years ago, but the content of many of his sermons stay with me still. (He’s a good teacher.) In those days, I used to sit up in the sound booth, running the PowerPoint slides. Or I would hang out at the back of the Warehouse, alternately keeping trouble-makers in line and having little abandoned worship-moments by myself as the youth band jammed. One of Brian’s sermons was about “circles of friendship.” I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve often referred to it in my quest for understanding and practicing community.
A few friends and I were chatting about that buzzword – “community” – recently and trying to figure out why it felt weird sometimes. While we talked about our own best and worst experiences, Amber casually mentioned that we just aren’t meant for community with 500 people. This rang true for me because it articulated how I manage my own quest for community and friendship, expectations and intimacy.
Some folks think we need to be vulnerable and transparent and deeply connected with everyone and their dog and Facebook. But that’s just not so. Brené Brown says we should only share with people who have earned the right to hear our story. We’re not made for friendship promiscuity – that’s not community, that’s pearls-before-swine and it’s probably a profanity to your soul.
Community isn’t an exercise in consumerism and gluttony. Community is not more+more+more = better.
Based on Brian’s old sermon, I picture my relationships like concentric circles, progressively getting smaller.
On the biggest outside circle, there is The Crowd. These are the people in my life without any real intimacy – people you know by name or sight through church or the neighbourhood, perhaps through blogging or social media or school pick ups. You run in the same circles but you’re not really much more than acquaintances. I don’t give much energy to these relationships.
(Notice that I don’t have a circle for Toxic People. It’s not because I hate them or think God hates them. Not at all. I just don’t have room in my circles for people who make me crazy. Life is too short for me to give energy to people who poison my life or spirit or mind. This includes old relationships broken due to betrayal or lack of trust and it even includes people in public life. I know there are people who feel very strongly about “keeping an eye” on the enemy or being a watch-dog but I don’t think of people as enemies, and outrage wears me out, so I just ignore them. I know my calling in life and it’s not that. For instance, I’ve got enough going on here without losing sleep every time someone is wrong on the Internet.)
The next smallest circle is My Community. These are the people with whom I have a measure of real reciprocal friendship. We hang out, do the playdate thing, occasionally open up, maybe go to church together, we have fun together. Yet these are the people who require a commitment from me. I enjoy our time together, absolutely, but it’s the “Love is a Decision” crowd for an introvert who prefers time alone. I’ve decided to love them and decided to do life with them, and so now I act like it by showing up, by being committed to our friendship. I might rather have another Thursday night to myself, but once my Home Group shows up, I love it because I love them and I like doing life with them. They make my life better. I used to dread going to a book club every week, contemplated cancelling weekly, and yet every week I came home and told my husband that I was so glad I went because it was wonderful and life-giving.
Then there are My People. These are the people with whom I feel a connection of the kindred-spirit and bosom-friend type, this doesn’t require much commitment because there is magic and pixie dust here. This is my tribe. I am open with this small gathering of diverse people because they have earned my trust. I feel I can be my real self with them – both the silly ridiculous and the deep contemplative. They know me, truly know me, and speak into my life often. They challenge me, call me out on my sin or struggles, pray for me, and have my back. I hope I do the same for them. I have them in my real day-to-day life but a handful are scattered around the country and we only see each other in real life once in a long while even if we talk daily. We have our fingers on each other’s pulse and notice changes. These people act as mentors and fellow-journeyers and they are, quite simply, My People.
(The circles are now very tiny, indeed.)
This second-to-last circle is quite small, only enough room for my sister here really. She is My Lobster (which makes absolutely no sense if you didn’t watch a lot of Friends). We have mated for life, we will walk around the tank holding our little claws together forever. I have no secrets from her. (I hope that when the tinies grow up, they will be My Lobsters, too.)
And the last circle for me is my husband, My Soulmate. I don’t think we believe in soulmates, not really, but we act like it. We are One, no secrets, full intimacy, he’s the one I’m sure of.
Kristin – who is on of My People – references these circles far more spiritually than me. She says that Jesus had the Crowd, then he had his large group of Followers, then his Disciples, then the Twelve, then just the Three – John, Peter, and James – went into the Garden with him while he prayed before his crucifixion.
So she calls her most intimate circle “Garden Friends” – the people she would want with her in the garden before death, standing watch with her. I like her way of looking at it.
Of course, I want to be transparent. I want to live without a mask. I want to be vulnerable and courageous and bold. I want to live a seamless life. And yet I believe we can’t have real, true community or real, true friendship with 500 people. I believe we were made to belong, made to love and be loved. And I also believe we’re really truly blessed if we have a very small handful people in those inner three “circles.” Most of us don’t need much more than that, not really. We can get by without the Toxic People, without The Crowd. The Community is nice, but it’s the inner three circles that make life beautiful.