I’m an extrovert. But not in the “never shy, always the first to jump into the spotlight” kind of way. I’m an extrovert in the very purist sense of the word- I derive my energy from being around people. (I've actually told you this before...but hang with me, I do plan on going somewhere with it...) I understand how constant crowds or companionship can be draining for some (the pressure to feel “on” is something I can certainly relate to…and it can exhaust me at times as well). But for me- I crave interaction with people. I’m the type of person who starts inviting people over to my house when I’m still driving home from a vacation- Piles of laundry? Empty ‘fridge? Who cares! I need my people! And I’m pumped when a sidewalk chalk session with the kiddos turns into an impromptu block party (lucky for me, that happens a lot in my new ‘hood).
Basically, I firmly believe that anything worth doing is double-worth doing alongside a friend (or two, or three). And anything that you don't want to do, is made at least slightly more palatable when you know you're not alone.
So for me to talk about the importance of building community is barely even fair- it’s such an innate need in my life, I’d have to try not to seek it out. But the mission of Thrive Moms isn’t just to build community. We’re about genuine community. Anyone can join a team, or start a club, or surround themselves with people in attempt to escape loneliness and feel a sense of belonging. But the idea of genuine community…That requires more. You have to listen. And share. And be vulnerable. And generally put forth a whole bunch of effort. Genuine communities have people who are committed- people who value the group, and make those relationships a priority in their lives. They celebrate each others’ victories, and are brave enough to tough love one another when the situation calls for it.
And though the need for community is innate in me (and all of us really), I need to continually work on the genuine part. I want to build deep, lasting circles and layers of relationships where God can be seen and be used. And I'm certainly not an expert, but I'm always learning more as I experience real, meaningful community in my life, and I've noticed some patterns and tactics that seem to spur it on.
Yep. Barge right into people's lives. This is probably terrifying advice, that could go all kinds of wrong, but I think there are times when it's worth the risk. It's so so easy to have surface relationships...and sometimes those manage to grow slowly, over time into deeper territory...But sometimes- they don't. And often that can be because no one was willing to go there. So make the first move. Tell the family with the new baby that you're bringing over dinner. They'll wave you off and say, "Oh, you don't have to do that." But insist. When you hear or see someone having a hard time, resist the urge to say "Let me know if you need anything." and don't respond to people at church with a vague "I'll be praying for you". Look for ways to bless them, and then do those things. Without invitation, without expectation, but with full anticipation that walking through these unlocked doors could be a better path to connection than waiting for the perfect wide-open entryway.
This is the flip side of the barge in coin. Open your door. Literally. Figuratively. Give people a view into your real life. (I mean, did you think I could go a whole post without talking about Show Your Real? I'm predictable...and passionate). Be the first one to open up about the imperfections behind your shiny exterior, and let them know that that's ok. It's a big step to be vulnerable, so if you're willing to let the guard down, they're much more likely to meet you there. (Did you see the Mom Confessions from the Thrive Mom's photobooth at the Influence Conference? That's some genuine community building right there.)
Listen..and prove it
If you're like me, listening is harder than talking, but if you're going to know and be known by people- you have to start with that first part. Get to know them by really listening. Trust that you'll have your chance to tell your story eventually and just focus on them.
Then- go the extra step to help show them they were truly heard. When they tell you about an important event coming up in their life, set a reminder to text them to check how it went. When they share about a friend/family/job/thing- the next time you talk, ask about it by name. How was Lucy's soccer game? Did you ever find the right shade of grey paint for your dining room? Are things getting any better with Susan at work? Write things down if you have to, but listen, and prove that what they told you was worth remembering. Yes, this is probably friendship 101, but that doesn't make it easy to do, and it's certainly not as commonplace as it should be. I've had thousands of small talk conversations about one thing or another, but when someone follows up showing me what I said mattered to them- that's a big deal.
Do what works, right now
Before kids- deep, genuine community might have looked like long chats over coffee, or elaborate girl's nights, or really....I have no idea I can barely remember last week let alone a life without kids....The point is- right now you're probably in it pretty deep. When you're outnumbered by little ones, or at least outnumbered by the number of their demands, you can feel tapped out, and volunteering to lead the women's retreat may not be high on your list of things to do. (You may not even be able to find your list of things to do...I hear you. I hear you, and I see you.) So do what you can. That might be an ongoing Facebook message thread with your three out of town besties. Or it could be a once a month book club where you promise not to judge each other for not reading the book. It doesn't have to be The Perfect Thing. But it does have to happen. In person, on the phone, through email...doesn't matter. Just find some way to be regularly, frequently in touch with your people, in a forum that allows you to barge in, listen and be messy with them.
What tips do you have for transitioning from "waving from across the fence" to "breaking bread" to "doing life together"? How do you move your relationships from coincidental to intentional?
And truly...I'd love to be in community with you. Barge into my life- if only online...I promise (to try really hard) to listen.
P.s. Hear more about "it's time to build" over on the Influence Network