“I’m standing on the outside looking in
I’m standing on the outside looking in…”
– Cold Chisel, Standing on the Outside
Over on her blog Grit & Glory, Alece wrote a post today about friendship. I wanted to comment, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep it short – she challenged me to write it up, so here it is. The first line in her post was this “I moved to Nashville to chase down community.”
Although not a driving factor for us, I was hoping that I’d be able to chase down the same thing when we moved to Melbourne in 2005. The church we left when we moved here was a medium sized church in a relatively small town. It was a pentecostal church that felt like it was leaning towards fundamentalism. I was increasingly struggling with questions that challenged that theology and with the depression that I was suffering on and off, I wasn’t a very happy part of that church community. By the time we moved, I was attending church sporadically, at best.
Growing up, my family was pretty insular. Part of our “spiritual journey” as a family was attending churches for two or three years at most, then moving on. So between staying away from non-Christians and moving from church to church. It makes it hard to really connect with people when they’re gone from your life after a couple of years.
On top of that, there was my near-complete inability to understand how friendships actually work. I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I’m standing outside the window, peering in at people who seem to intuitively understand how to relate, like some shared unspoken language.
To me, the move to Melbourne presented a fresh start. I thought it was a chance to make new friends, in a large enough place where I could meet lots of new people and connect with some of them, and maybe become part of a community.
It hasn’t really worked out like I’d hoped. We started attending a church; it was fairly small, and… maybe a little bit too similar to our previous church. There were a few young families, and a many lovely older folks, and quite a few youth. Not long after, most of the youth left. Then several of the people we’d connected to and started building relationships with left the church or moved away; excepting a couple of people, I struggled to really connect to those who remained. The church itself was changing too; not in a “bad” way – but I was reacting badly. I now understand why I was reacting, but the upshot is this: I think it’s difficult, or maybe even impossible to be part of a community when you’re reacting to the very things that drive that community, and/or when you’re questioning beliefs that the community considers to be their core beliefs.
As I drifted away from that community, I started spending time with the CafeChurch community. They’re a fantastic group of people, and for the first time in a very long time I felt like I was in a place where I could safely ask questions and not feel threatened or like I’d be driven away with torches and pitchforks (or “prophecies” and “biblical” smackdowns).
I have a family, and we live in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. CafeChurch is in the inner suburbs on Tuesday nights. I’m grateful for the friendships I made there, but the way our life works as a family just didn’t mesh well, and I didn’t feel like on my own I could be an active part of their core community.
We’ve been at our current church for a bit over a year, but I still feel like I’m disconnected, and I don’t understand why. I find myself wondering “Is there something I’m not doing or saying? Is it because these people have established relationships over many years, and we’re newcomers? What is the piece of the puzzle that I’m missing here?” – and what effect will my struggle with faith have?
The ‘how’ of friendships still mystifies me; I’m not sure what to do to make deep, long-lasting friendships with the people around me. Over the years, I’ve developed a few good, long term friendships, but I have no idea how they came to be, and most of those friends are geographically distant. For the friends who are geographically closer, I don’t know what the practical things are to do with the friendship to keep building it. Maybe everyone feels just like this. I just don’t know.
The truth is, I really don’t understand how I came to be friends with these wonderful people – I’m just grateful for their friendship.
A few weeks ago, @LosWhit posted this photo to Twitter, and I recognised a few of the people I follow on Twitter. I had a visceral reaction to that photo; I long for friendships that feel like that photo looks – but how do I get from here to there?