“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“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.


In which Jezebel gives way to Deborah
In which I embody a story
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  • kelley nikondeha

    I’m with you, Sarah. Sans a sister, Claude is my lobster, my most intimate and enduring friend. And then I have a small circle, my tribe, then a larger community and the crowd beyond. But yes, circles of increased intimacy and smaller numbers.

  • julieg

    I needed this today…and I agree

  • See? I don’t even need to write my post. Glad you’re one of my people. xoxo

  • Just saw something like this on facebook the other day…and now can’t find it. It was a visual of what you’ve described – a circle that enlarges with each group. But the people closest to the center of the circle – you – are the ones who you are closest to. We shouldn’t feel compelled to share and devulge with those in the outer circles. That is as you said, “profanity to your soul.”

  • this post was for me. from top to bottom, middle to end, all of it.

  • Hayley James

    This is a fabulous post and something I yearn for so greatly in my life. But it’s something I struggle to cultivate if I’m honest. I struggle a lot with a lack of Christians my age too so it’s difficult to have a space to fully share that part of my life.

    Thank you for sharing


  • Such wisdom in this post. I am an introvert too…and although I do wish I had a few close friends I could hang out with regularly, and a ‘soulmate’/lobster, I do value smaller groups much more now. This has helped me get so healthy perspective on this topic too, so thanks.

    Great also finding out a bit more about you – great taste in TV, with Doctor Who & now Friends, some of the best shows around. Next thing you’ll be liking Sherlock… 🙂

  • Donna

    Beautiful. As an introvert, I agree with everything! My biggest struggle is the people who want to be included in one of my smaller circles….and who do everything they can to get into them. It’s hard to constantly have to lay down boundaries and state why you do what you do….but it is worth it.

  • Love everything about this. And you.

  • Thanks for this insight, Sarah. I have to wonder though, how do we make the distinction between who makes which circle when? Sometimes, often when I think I have gotten my circles just right, others are pressing in, making the effort to move from one group to the next, and I find myself pushing back, because I think my garden is full. But I’ve often found, especially when I hear myself saying, “Really, God, her?” that person is just who I need most of all and the Lord knew it best. And its through community that the we are presented with such people – people who we don’t think belong in our garden but God knew belonged there all along.

  • You know, I’m big time extrovert, and I still have circles. I imagine that my “my people” circle is probably larger than that of some of my introvert friends, but there are still circles. When I get really good or really bad news, there are 3 people who hear it first. Others hear it quickly, but never before those three. And they know stuff that no one else hears ever. I use “best friend” a little too loosely, but I mean “the best kind of friend.” And there aren’t many of them.

    • I like your definition of “best friend” a lot. I’m stealing it, is this okay?

  • Your words, your life, your friendship, have made my life more beautiful! ~Kristin

  • Lindsay

    This is lovely! And I love the Lobster reference =)

  • OHHHHHHHH . . . that’s where the lobster thing comes from?? I’ve heard a few people use it (notably, on Momastery) and I have had NO IDEA what they were talking about!! Thank-you for clearing that up!

    • Carmen

      Yeah, I thought it was Glennon’s! 🙂 I love this post.

  • Yesyesyes

  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    Oh, sigh…I love this post. And I just plain love you, too!

  • Anita_Mathias

    You’ve lived well to have a soulmate, lobster, “my people” and “my community.”
    Like your insight about Toxic People. I have never thought of consciously blowing them off in real life, though there is genius in that.
    On the internet, of course, it’s easy–and sheer sanity–to do so. Of course, for me, toxic people online don’t reveal their toxicity immediately. I go through a pattern in which they email me with praise, then faint criticism and suggestions, and then eventually such detailed suggestions that it seems they are trying to control me from afar. Wonder if I am sending out “lost girl wants a mummy” vibes!

  • another “yesyes”! I love the “Garden Friends” phrase!

  • So so so so good. And I adore the Lobster reference.

  • Yes, yes. I love this.

  • You’ve got it, girl. The circles, the whole thing. Takes the pressure off to think we’ve got to be all things to everyone who comes by our door. This is just plain GOOD!

  • Yep, totally agree!

  • Karen

    So what to do when it seems that you only have one circle (The Crowd)? And no one who has earned the right to hear your story, because no one seems to be interested in your story? What if sitting in a worship service with 400 other people is the loneliest place to be? I yearn for those other circles, but cannot seem to find anyone to fill them (other than my children).

    • Carley

      Karen, I know what you mean.

      Several years ago I moved away from my “inner circle.” For months before I moved, I prayed very specifically for people to fill that place in my life. Not to take the place of those I was leaving but to be a new circle. Then when I moved (from overseas to a new state in America), I looked for those people! I was in a large church setting also. What I did was volunteer in situations where I felt comfortable and could be myself (for me this was going to the “new members” class, joining a small group and kids ministry) and then I watched to see who God brought into my life.

      I would strongly suggest joining a ministry or group at your church which interests you. 400 people are way too many to try to get to know! I’ve found that faithfully serving in a specific ministry is one of the best ways to get to know people who have common interests and who might have inner circle potential – and it gives you people to sit with on Sunday mornings!

      • Karen

        Carley, believe me… I am trying. I wanted to get involved with our women’s ministry (have done that before at other congregations). Wound up in a job interview-like session that left me feeling so unwanted. I have been here for *3* years, and the only thing I do is sing on our worship team as needed, once every month or 2. I am “known” by many, just not outside the church building. Folks seem to already have their circles full and no room for anyone else.

  • I like this way of looking at community. And I especially love that you used the phrases “kindred spirits” and “bosom friends” to describe your people. I’ve always thought that was the best way to describe them (and I always get a little sentimental when I think of Anne and Diana). I’m at a place now where I’m missing a few of my kindred spirits who are far away. That spark that makes intimate friendship easy doesn’t come very often, and when it does, it’s something precious and special and remarkable. I’m hoping I’ll find another kindred spirit around these parts soon, but until then, I’m thankful for My Community.

  • I read a book a few years back that gave a similar perspective but with baskets. It has brought so much clarity to the whole “best friend” debacle for me. I love hearing more dimensions to a similar context. I crave “my people” to grow but I also believe that God has given me a season of solitude for a reason. It’s just Him, hubby and me. And for the introvert I’ve become, I’m ok with it. For now.

  • LoveFeast Table

    Yes – love… ~ CA

  • Laura Kilbrai

    This post was so validating for me! Your quote from Brené Brown was exactly what I needed to read to remember that I need to guard my heart. I can so relate to the path of not choosing to continue “old relationships broken due to betrayal or lack of trust”, and I feel so ‘heard’ to know that I’m not the only one with that philosophy rather trying to piece broken relationships back together. And reading through the rest of your post, I became so thankful again for my people and my lobster!

  • This rings true and deep. In “Quiet,” Susan Cain talks about how modern Western evangelicalism has made church into a pressured spectacle for introverts. The focus on community, on study groups, on events, on involvement, on being outgoing because obviously extroversion saves souls, on greeting strangers sitting around you on Sunday mornings… none of that is bad in itself, but it can be wearying for us less social people. No one can be all things to all people, and this post is a great reminder to be intentional about what relationships and groups to invest in.

    • I just started reading “Quiet.” I love it so far, but now I’m really anxious to get to that section because I’m one of those introverts that on occasion feels profoundly uncomfortable by the Church’s pressure for involvement. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Erin Wilson

    I tend to think that many churches misappropriate the word ‘community’ as a means to get bodies into programs. It’s an entirely different creature. What you’ve described is the only way to sustain actual relationships.

  • This…this is perfect. And helped to validate me at a time when I’ve been wrestling greatly with giving ‘legitimacy’ to my need for circles. I’m celebrating turning 40, but being a pastor, I felt enormous pressure to include *everyone*, or run the risk of someone being upset. I decided to do multiple celebrations, with varying groups of friends…which, you have given words to for me…they are my circles. I feel very much the truth and reality of this being actually a good and healthy thing…but it can be hard to allow myself to really believe that to the point of not feeling guilty over not having everyone in every circle. This post was perfectly timely encouragement for me. Thank you!!!

  • Mel Caldicott

    I related to so much of what you said here, Sarah. I too feel the pressure from the church of shunning my introvert ways and spending all my time with people – and to enjoy doing so! Yet, I too love being by myself and all of the ways I relax, recharge and reenergise are hobbies which I do by myself – reading, gardening, writing etc.

    However, the messages from the church regarding community, evangelism and loving others always seem to be pulling me towards networking, being gregarious and widening my social contacts wider and wider.

    Thanks for the wisdom of explaining about how to be true to ourselves and to value depth in our relationships more than spreading ourselves out too thinly.

  • This is so lovely. Also-the note about dying of embarrassment whenever someone you know brings up your blog…oh YES. It makes me want to go into a shell and wonder why I write in public. But then I remember how much it helps me stay emotionally and spiritually healthy to sort out my thoughts that way.

  • Sarah Caldwell

    This post is so good…as always. It really helped me define the levels of friendship in my life. I’m currently living in a city without my ‘normal network’ of friends, you might say. It’s been really hard. THis post reminded me to take a deep breath, and reminded this extrovert it won’t be like this forever–thanks!

  • Tracey

    Thank you for putting into words what I have trouble telling my pastors.

  • This is such a beautiful description. I’ve been writing a lot about community and doing life together. As an introvert myself, it’s been very weird and wonderful to have my community show up and build me an accessible home addition for my son who uses a wheelchair. There are people here all the time. I’m practicing gratitude in chaos. The biggest gift for me has been to honor what they share – which is often time, food, and money but sometimes story. People have shared some real heart issue stuff. “My people” are a different group and this community has a different purpose and I’m learning to appreciate each one for what it is. Thanks for sharing.

  • Taylor

    Thank you thank you! I often feel so alone on this! Being in the church world adds to the pressure… Being a Pastor’s Wife adds even more. Sometimes it’s just good to hear I’m not alone!

  • Jaime

    Love this! As an introvert growing up in different youth groups and churches, I have always struggled with that feeling of guilt for not enjoying the “community” of believers. Thank you so much for posting this. I love it! (:


  • I love your way of putting this. I am a very introverted person and finding the words for this is always hard.
    I have my two best friends, my non-biological sisters, my forever friends. And then I have my small group of friends. But then I always have trouble explaining what those people are that are more than an acquaintance but not really my friend. In my head and to a select few, I usually refer to them as my “kind of friends” but that sounds really rude so I don’t use that outside of those people… my extroverted best friend, who likely considers almost everyone she has met more than twice a friend, likes to tease me about this

  • First of all, yes. This is so true. And realizing the concept of circles is a big part of navigating relationships successfully.

    Second, I think there is something that underlies this concept is the cause of much friendship pain and turmoil: sometimes we identify someone in our circles differently than they identify us in theirs. Someone may be in our crowd, but they consider us in their people. Inevitably, in that circumstance, there are hurts and unmet expectations. We have to adjust, or we risk losing the friendship all together. I wrote about this awhile ago, using the concept of tiers instead of circles, using a lesson we learned from our wedding cake: http://www.everydayawe.com/which-tier/.

  • Yes I love this, just a ton and then some. I’m a supposed E but I feel ever so much more I lately. I think one of the reasons life has been a struggle for me lately is that I’m 1,000 miles removed from a lot of my inner circle. I picked up a few dear friends here in Oklahoma, but mostly a lot of crowd / community. I’m ready to be … Home, with my small bucket O’ Lobsters.

  • Marvia Davidson

    Sarah, I loved reading this. I’m an introvert to and everything you said made perfect sense. I want community too but I want to also be aware of how I’m sharing life. I love that phrase abt not being made for “friendship promiscuity.” Circles of friends they way you explained it is so relatable. There’s a but if wisdom too in knowing where and when and how to sow into relationships. You just helped me see the way I perceive social media differently. There’s no obligation to share everything with everyone. Good stuff. I’ll be sharing it. Thanks again.

  • I love these distinctions and this was a very well-timed read as I’m feeling somewhat rootless and it is terribly challenging to keep up with friendships from many levels when those friends are far away. Oddly enough, I passed through your area as I drove from a friend’s wedding in Penticton to a relative’s home in Bellingham last weekend and I thought of you and for a second wished I could stop and say hello. But…as much as your writing has meant to me, we’ll probably never be in each others’ inner circles and that’s okay. And I wouldn’t want to embarrass you by showing up like a crazed fan! As always, it’s a privilege to hear your thoughts.

  • michell

    And then all the introverts said : AMEN.

    “Community” as described in countless Christian Living books and in church sermons creeps me out. You managed to shed a lot of light on the WHY of it.

  • I love this… I have been mulling over this buzzword for a few days (well – years, actually) myself and I remember a teaching Danny Silk gave awhile back on boundaries – very similar to your hubbies’ teaching on circles. So vital for us to know this stuff! I can teeter between Extro and Intro… I am relational and that happens at it’s best in a smaller number. I find I am blessed with great Community – but I often wonder if the fact that most of that is outside of church would make it less considered ‘community’ from within the church? (and let’s not even go to the place where a lot of my Community is online… and my ‘in real life’ community just doesn’t get that! And “Garden friends” – I love that!

  • “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” …why does no one seem to understand this when I say this? SO relieved to know I am not alone. Sarah Bessey I am jolly glad to even be in your crowd! I find it hard because I feel bad for ‘rating’ my friends but truth is there are people who I share every single detail with and others who I am really not that bothered over. Maybe this is okay after all. Thank you for being public {you’ve blessed AND changed AND inspired me over the past year as I have followed you!} but thank you for having your own life too, you deserve it, we all need it for ourselves.

  • Jerusalem Greer

    I have always loved that metaphor of the circles. It seems to me to explain what naturally occurs in our lives. Instead of forcing our relationships into molds we think they should fit, the idea of the concentric circles instead explains what is already there. And to discover is always better than to force.

  • I read a study several years ago in which people were asked to list the people of whom they could ask a small favor. The number turned out to be, with some consistency, 150. The analysis was that 150 is a good number of people for a community: the size at which everybody can know and trust each other. But if I only had 150 fb friends, I might feel a little lame.

  • Jo

    Great post!
    Oh doesn’t it feel good to find ‘your people’…..

  • ChristieEsau

    Than you for affirming that a narrower understanding of “community” and relationships is not a bad thing (especially for us introverts). I’ve definitely struggled with feeling at least quasi-obligated to develop and foster too many relationships, which, really, doesn’t help anyone… especially when everyone ends up like butter spread too thin over toast. So this post gets some hearty, early morning fist pumping, all the way from Ontario. For certain.

    Also: I now picture you in a lobster costume. Best and funniest image of my Tuesday morning by far.

  • AMF

    I have enjoyed this post. It is a relief and again one of those moments when I feel validated…There are others like me. We are not all meant to connect with everyone. I think I have mostly come to peace with this. But, one of the things I struggle with is this, what if you have one of those toxic people in your life and you know that they are lonely and without any friends? It’s easy to say we don’t have time for people who stress us out. But, I have such a hard time coming to peace with the concept of someone being so alone in the world, even if they drive me completely crazy and add a whole HEAP of seemingly unnecessary stress! Anyone have any advice for this sort of situation?

  • Diane McElwain

    It seems that all the writers I know are introverts! I would be a hermit if my husband wasn’t the total opposite of me! I like the garden friends~sadly I don’t have any of those.

  • As an introvert who has been struggling for four years now to find her place in the church, this blog was so very encouraging to me. Thank you.

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  • As someone who’s struggling to define the purpose of “Home Group” within my church, I’m wondering if you can elaborate on what it means for you. I’m specifically interested in what level of intimacy you share with these folks? What does “doing life” mean in that context? I’m wondering how that differs from the intimacy you share with the group you call “My People”.

    It’s also so interesting to consider how these things differ between introverts and extroverts. I’m at a loss as to how to reconcile this with a faith that calls the church “the body” and says that we need eachother. As an extrovert, I really struggle when the introverts put up “boundaries” because I end up feeling like my needs go unmet.

  • i think this is my all time favorite post. emailed it to my BFF who is my lobster.

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