I don’t know how you’re feeling about this whole physical distancing thing, but by the end of Week Two, I could tell God was revealing my deep hunger for human relationships.
And it’s no wonder: we were designed to need each other. Scripture describes community as a necessary source of help (Genesis 2:18; Ecclesiastes 4:9-10), yet our country was experiencing an epidemic of loneliness even before the COVID-19 crisis hit us. Right now, 54% of Canadians feel lonely. If you feel alone, I guess you aren’t alone in that!
Although I crave community, I also recognize that, aside from the pandemic, there are other things that hold me back in relationships. There are valid (as well as less valid) reasons why I struggle with living in community!
Fortunately, over time, I have found two important ways of encouraging the formation of community and deeper relationships: cultivating trust and celebration.
I used to drive past an advertisement for the Knives Out movie every week. In an honest moment, I realized, “That sounds like my default strategy for navigating social situations!” I’ve learned from experience that you can’t trust everyone with your authentic self, and that a good short-term defense is to paint yourself “strong” by making others look ridiculous and weak. It feels safer to have your guard up and your cutting come-backs in hand. But let me tell you: in the long-term, the only thing this attitude has accomplished is to insulate me from possible new or deeper friendships as I became helpless, anxious, and easily offended. I can’t let bad experiences prevent me from trusting, because trust is the foundation of community, even if it’s costly. I need to practise trust, because it’s not my natural inclination.
What does this trust look like? It is inviting others to join you in your struggles. It’s getting vulnerable. As a student, I was too embarrassed to admit to a friend of mine that I felt uneasy about a dating relationship I was in. I wish I had been honest, because I probably could have avoided a lot of pain and heartbreak! So often, confessing sin to others would have been way more helpful and healing than pretending I had done no wrong. I also know this because, many other times, my choice to lean on others brought more closeness and joy than closeting myself in to deal with my troubles alone. It is a spiritual practice to invite people in, rather than pushing them away.
We may rightly hesitate to entrust ourselves to all people, but the good news is, it’s always safe to trust God. Because he is faithful, we know he will always love and always forgive. Consequently we can accept his invitation to draw near to him without fear. As in our struggle to draw near to others, this too is a hard-won privilege, requiring the life of God’s Son.
Jesus is a bridge between humanity and the divine; first, we know he can empathize with our deepest struggles because he is human. And second, because Jesus has risen from the dead we know his sacrifice was acceptable to the Father, and that he lives forever to invite sinful, mortal humanity into his perfect relationship with the Father. Once we are confident in our closeness with God, this transforms us so we can fearlessly invite others close to us; if they leave or hurt or disappoint us, we are not left alone or without help. What a gift, especially to those who have no one else, or who have deep needs!
It is a spiritual practice to invite people in, rather than pushing them away.Riana Loewen
Another way of connecting with people that I need to practise is partying. I’m serious! I shake my head remembering how I dragged my feet as I planned a particular Christmas party. I was fed up with all the preparations, and I could think of so many things I would rather have been doing. I couldn’t see the value of celebrating with others.
But I’ve come to believe we need to practise celebration today. It creates shared experiences upon which deep relationships are formed, and it helps us to enjoy the companions we’ve living or working with instead of taking them for granted. To refuse to celebrate others is to treat them as less than human beings who are precious to their Creator. Partying with and honouring others takes practice, because so often I want my community to revolve around me and my needs.
Celebrating milestones and enjoying God’s gifts is actually commanded in Scripture. The ancient Israelites were meant to celebrate yearly festivals, and a weekly day off–the Sabbath. Who says obeying God isn’t enjoyable? Jesus attended parties and likened the kingdom of God to an invitation to a feast; somehow celebration was as integral to his message as preaching sermons and healing the sick. I wonder if this is to help us remember that the “good news,” the gospel, has a foundation in God’s generosity. It’s not simply a set of rules, but a releasing to “life to the full. Part of our response to the gospel must be returning thanks to a good God for his gifts and actually enjoying those gifts. Sounds like a party to me!
Maybe you need to remember that we still have a good God, and we have much to celebrate, even at the height of a pandemic. Or maybe, like me, closeness makes you a little queasy. Is there a step you are being invited to take, to form or deepen community?
Trust may be hard, and celebrating well may be surprisingly challenging, but both are worth pursuing for our own good and the flourishing of those around us.
How can we trust others during a national lockdown? Here are some ideas.
- Ask for help when you need it. I went grocery shopping with my toddler last month and got chastised by a salesperson. I realize now that I didn’t NEED to bring him along and could have asked a friend for a hand, or gone while my husband watched him. Maybe you’re anxious about riding transit to the grocery store. Is there anyone who could pick up the milk for you? Allow them to serve you!
- Open up to a friend or two about the real feelings or struggles you’re having as you’re confined to your house. A true friend will pray for you, probably give you more grace than you’re giving yourself, hear you out and empathize with you, and remind you of what is true.
- Be generous with others. If you are able to be this friend, or you have skills and knowledge to share, share! My husband has been helping family and our small group troubleshoot video calls lately–calls that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Even those small things matter.
Celebration may look different in these times, but here are some ideas.
- Thank and encourage the significant people in your life. A thoughtful text, email, call, or letter can strengthen friendships when they otherwise might deteriorate.
- Praise God. Take time to list the good gifts you have received and thank God for them. Maybe plan a praise and worship night with your household, or with friends over video chat.
- Eat with your household. Sharing meals together can be really meaningful. Or, write encouraging notes or verses on the fridge for everyone to see.
About the Author
Riana has spent the last year learning how to parent a very sweet and energetic toddler. She first experienced the freedom of the gospel while in university, and has been serving in student ministry ever since.
Currently, she works part-time with P2C-Students at the University of Alberta with her husband Brett. She enjoys taking advantage of neighbourhood play groups and helping others see how God is at work in their lives.