There was a time when helping others was a way of life, when parents had an influence on all the children in the neighborhood, when multiple casserole dishes would appear at your door if you had a family event, when you felt good about receiving that help from others because you had an invested relationship with them. I am not sure when that changed, when we as a society started valuing our individual “strength” to survive.
My father is a salesman and one of his gifts is connecting with anyone. He was my guide as a child. I would watch him talk to the dry cleaner and learn about the man’s children. My father would comfortably engage in conversation with our neighbors, my friends’ parents, and the mailman and earn their trust. They shared information that today we may feel is private and too personal. But to my dad, he was just being friendly.
As a family therapist, I see many clients who turn to counseling believing they have no one else. Imagine the hardest time of your life, the pain, the sadness, the heartache, and feeling alone. Without others, the hardest time feels even worse. In counseling sessions, I hear many excuses for not sharing their pain with anyone. “I don’t want people to think I am weak.” “I can’t trust anyone.” “No one will understand me.” “I am unworthy.” These are complete lies from the devil. The devil wants us to struggle alone, disconnected from comfort, community, and love. When we are disconnected from others we are disconnected from God, His love and His Grace. Yet, God has called us to be friends. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do as I command.” John 15: 12-14
Easier said than done. How can we overcome our excuses and fears? Would it make it easier if you looked at it this way? When we stay disconnected from others, we are actually hurting them, not saving them from burden. Meaning, if we take away an opportunity for someone to connect with us, they cannot use the gifts that God gave them. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10 . God has specifically given gifts to others so that they can serve you in your time of need. Please, read this again, God has specifically given gifts to others so that they can serve YOU in your time of need. Amazing.
Now, how can you find these people and connect? I would suggest becoming creative. As a person who loves lists, I would make a list of people you know, organizations you belong to, hobbies you have, hobbies your kids or spouse have, churches near you (you can participate in activities at many different churches). Now, take that list and star at least 5 people or organizations with whom you would like to connect. If it is a person, invite them out for coffee, simply, coffee. If it is an organization, search their website for activities scheduled in the next 2 months and attend them. Connecting with people takes time, repeated time. In order to develop a relationship, you need shared time. God reminds us to keep trying. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another,” Hebrews 10:24-25 If you are fearful of this process, remember that God has called us to be friends. God’s plan is for you to be in relationship with others, to feel His love and comfort. He doesn’t want you to be alone.
Now before you give me the excuse that you don’t have time to build relationships, remember that it is your responsibility to make time to allow God’s will in your life and others. There are huge benefits from overcoming your fears and excuses so that you can make friends. Your friends will get to know you so well that they will sense your need. Friends reach out without you telling them you need help. Friends develop shared experiences over time of sadness and joy. Friends won’t let you avoid connection because they will learn your tricks and start to hold you accountable. Friends share their story and listen to yours. Friends have different gifts and resources that they will share with you. Just as God has commanded, friends will share your burdens. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:2. You may not know when someone will need you to carry their burden or when you will need them to carry yours. If you have spent the time building relationships, when a need happens, a friend is available.
As you go on this journey, pray, let God know your goals of friendship and let God guide you. If it does not feel safe or comfortable with someone, don’t continue the relationship. Your friends should help you focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –” Philippians 4:8
If you are struggling right now and feel alone, may this give you hope. God has called us to be friends. Because of God’s love for you, he has given others gifts that are meant to help you carry your burdens. Praise God!
Christy Girard is a licensed clinical social worker who has her own Christian counseling office and specializes in marriage and family therapy. She has helped families in therapy for over 15 years. Christy is married and has two young children.