I’d about take a bullet for this woman. And I can testify, because of how she’s personally fought for me and generations of women around the globe, there is no better faith fighter, Word warrior, and soul defender than Jennie Allen. In a world that’s both more connected and more isolating than ever before, we’re often tempted to do life alone, whether because we’re so busy or because relationships feel risky and hard. But science confirms that consistent, meaningful connection with others has a powerful impact on our well-being. We are meant to live known and loved. But so many are hiding behind emotional walls that we’re experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. This message of Jennie’s is absolute fire — because Jennie’s fought and won this battle and shares the secret to win the battle. It’s my utter joy to welcome the wonder who is Jennie Allen to the farm’s front porch today…
Guest post by Jennie Allen
I still remember the day when the thought occurred to me that I didn’t have any friends. I should clarify: I had plenty of friends, but those friends and I all had very full lives, which meant that our interactions were erratic—and rare.
“There are seasons when it feels like our relational cup is overflowing and seasons when we wonder if anyone even knows we are alive.”
Back then, I was neck deep in parenting young kids as well as traveling a lot, speaking, and doing events with IF:Gathering, the ministry organization I lead. And while being on the road provided plenty of life-giving interactions with other women, reentry at home often came with a sting. Did any of my “friends” even realize I’d been gone? Did they know that I’d returned?
This was not my friends’ fault, of course. They had obligations, commitments, relationships, and jobs of their own. In fact, they likely were asking the same questions about me: “Does Jennie know what’s going on in my life? Does she even care?”
Isn’t this familiar? We’re all just kind of waiting for connection to find us. We’re waiting for someone else to initiate. Someone else to be there for us. Someone else to make the plans or ask the perfectly crafted question that helps us bare our souls.
Here’s what we do:
We spend hours alone in our crowded, noisy, screen-lit worlds, we invest only sporadic time with acquaintances, and then we expect close friends to somehow appear in our busy lives. We think our acquaintances should just magically produce two to five BFFs. Then, we believe, our relational needs will be met.
We’ve replaced intrusive, real conversations with small talk, and we’ve substituted soul-baring, deep, connected living with texts and a night out together every once in a while, be- cause the superficial stuff seems more manageable and less risky. But let’s face it: whether we live lonely or deeply connected, life is messy.
There are seasons when it feels like our relational cup is overflowing and seasons when we wonder if anyone even knows we are alive.
“We live guarded because we fear someone will use our weakness against us.”
Maybe you’re a pastor’s wife who knows the whole church but never really feels known.
Or you’re single and just moved to a new town for a job and have to completely start over, alone.
Or you live alone and worry who would take care of your dog if you had to go to the hospital for some reason.
Or you have a lot of people who you consider friends, but you don’t feel a deep connection with anyone.
Or you’ve tried three small groups and still haven’t found the right fit.
Or you had the best of friends, but life happened and you drifted apart.
Or maybe you feel like you have absolutely no one and don’t even know where to begin.
Outside of Jesus, relationships are the greatest gifts we have on earth and simultaneously the most difficult part of being alive.
My friend Curt Thompson, a neurorelational expert, said it this way: “Every newborn comes into this world looking for someone looking for her.” And that never quits being true. You and I are both a little needy. In fact, God built us this way. And yet it’s hard to need people. No, it’s terrifying to need people, because sometimes when we acknowledge our need, we feel like there is no one who wants to take our call in the middle of the mess. Or at least that’s what I believe in the moment.
We don’t come together in our pain. We isolate.
And as a result, we are flat miserable.
We live guarded because we fear someone will use our weakness against us.
I’m far from perfect in this area.
And yet I’m going to keep working at it. Because the more I look into the why of our neediness and the problem of our loneliness, the more convinced I am that at our core we are made to be fully known and fully loved. Loved and known regularly and over time by family members, close friends, mentors, coworkers. God built us for deep connection to be part of our day-in, day-out lives, not just once in a while in the presence of a paid therapist.
A few years ago, Zac and I rented a cheap VRBO, hauled ourselves, our four kids, and a lot of luggage onto a giant plane to spend a week in a nontouristy little village in the middle of Nowhere, Italy, to meet some extended family for the first time.
One afternoon, my husband and I wandered into a corner grocery store to pick up ingredients for a dinner we’d make later that night. We couldn’t help but notice the four men engaged in deep conversation at the counter, the kind of conversation that looked like it might happen every day. One of them, we’d learn, was the owner, and he, together with the other three, seemed to be solving all the world’s problems. Our entrance interrupted their discussion, and reflexively one of the men swiveled his head toward us in a way that seemed almost angry.
“Who are you?!” he asked.
“The connection you and I both long to experience? I’ve seen for myself that it is possible. We are meant to live in community, moment by moment, breath by breath.“
He wasn’t impolite exactly, just surprised to see strangers in his corner of the world. The thing is, this was a tiny town. I’m not sure exactly how many residents lived there, but however many it was, they all knew each other. And they all knew that strangers had shown up. We wound up having a good conversation with several people at the market that day, and the who-are-you guy even pointed out some Italian cookies he thought my American kids would love.
That night I reflected on the vibe I’d picked up on in town.
“Can you imagine living in a place where everyone in your whole town knows you and you know them? And where you can walk to the grocery store? And where you have to go to the grocery store at least every other day because they carry mostly fresh food? And where that every-other-day grocery run will take you, oh, two hours or more, because you’ll inevitably run into one or two or twenty-five people asking you the kinds of meaningful questions people ask when they’re not strangers or even acquaintances but everyday friends?”
Cue the Cheers theme song now, if you are old enough to remember it.
The connection you and I both long to experience? I’ve seen for myself that it is possible. We are meant to live in community, moment by moment, breath by breath. Not once a week or once a month at a night out with friends or during lunch after emerging from an isolated cubical.
Time is our best asset when it comes to building deep community. I
want you to open your mind to something more than that handful of friends you’ve been picturing as your goal.
My dream for you, God’s plan for you, is to build a culture of community in every part of your life. Deep relationships and being fully known are possible, we just have to be willing to work and fight for them like our lives depend on it.
Because they do.
Jennie Allen is the founder and visionary behind IF:Gathering, an organization that equips women to know God more deeply and to disciple others in their own lives. She is the author of several books and Bible studies, including Nothing to Prove and Get Out of Your Head. Jennie has a masters degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.
In Jennie’s new book Find Your People, she draws on fascinating insights from science and history, timeless biblical truth, and vulnerable stories from her own life to help us learn to create true community, the kind that’s crucial to our mental and spiritual health.
(Humble thanks to Waterbrook Publishing for their partnership in this devotional)