If you know me at all, you know how easy natural it is for me to “make friends” with people. I can strike up conversations in grocery store lines or weddings or parties where the only thing you recognize is the cupcake recipe. But the truth is, just because it is natural, doesn’t mean it is easy. It takes risk and intention – both of which can be daunting for some…even me at times. The risk of being ignored or judged or denied is often times an inhibiting factor in why we sometimes find it absolutely exhausting to build community or ignite relationships in seasons where we seem to need it the most.
Occasionally, I’ve had folks approach me and ask what they need to do to be a part of a community of people or make friends more easily or simply do a better job of being connected. And while I certainly don’t believe the answer is the same for everyone in every season and every situation, I DO believe there are common habits to develop and risks to take that will make the potential for community a more realistic outcome for anyone.
From my experience, here are a few traits (let’s call them adventures) to adopt that could help you build community when you need it most…
- Spontaneity – I believe Hollywood has made the idea of spontaneity look more irresponsible than it really is. And it’s unfortunate because I obviously do not believe you should be non-committal in your relationships. What I DO mean, though, is that you should be occasionally spontaneous in moments of rest or solitude. Instead of sitting at home alone on a Friday night, call up someone you haven’t talked to in awhile and grab a bite to eat or a drink at that bar you’ve been waiting to visit with a willing companion. Or better yet, dress up, crank the tunes to get yourself psyched up, and hit the town alone. Maybe you won’t make a best friend, but you’ll likely have a good story to tell from all the people-watching you can get out of your system. Either way, giving yourself the freedom to be spontaneous and potentially come back without making a friend will give you the courage you need to break out of your shell in other situations.
- Vulnerability – I’ll be honest – this one is pretty easy for me…HOWEVER, I recognize that many many people struggle with opening up and allowing others to see you for who you really are and know things about you. I understand why you feel this way and I want you to know you are not selfish…you are a human. BUT – while authentic community is established through simple moments of laughter and connectedness and fun; it is strengthened through moments of courage and hope and authenticity. Challenge yourself to truly open up to that friend you’re getting coffee with. Pair the vulnerability with the spontaneity and invite a friend into your home, get to know them, and share things you are dealing with or working on and give them the chance to do the same with you. These moments only come when we begin to break down walls of comfortability and allow other humans to see the depths of our struggles and fears and hopes and dreams. When we do this, we share in the opportunity of truth and freedom and authentic community.
- Inclusivity – While exclusivity works when it comes to creating a movement or building the hype of a club everyone will want to get into, it doesn’t work when you want to build authentic community and meaningful friendships. Some of the best friends I have stepped into my life because a mutual friend recognized where I was and knew he/she had a friend in a similar situation. That immediate connection, paired with trust in other people, can build bigger and stronger communities of individuals looking to impact their circles of influence. Learn to recognize the acquaintances at your office or in your school that may be looking for a friend to open up to. Authentic community is even better when it is shared with those who need it most, not just with those who need it now. There should always be room for a person who has a need so why not be to them what you needed when you were where they are now?
I know what some of you are thinking, “community” has seemed to become a bit of a buzzword. But when community is lived out with spontaneity, vulnerability, and inclusivity, it can be transformational. And the key to experiencing it for yourself begins with the belief that the rest of the world is not out to get you and that every single person you work with, talk to, and walk beside has a story worth knowing about and learning from.
Authentic community requires something from you while it simultaneously restores something within you.