Kinship is Resurrection

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“I remember our first small group,” Rachel said. “Heather said she didn’t really trust Christians.”

I almost choked on my margarita.

“I said what?”

“Right!” Ericka said, laughing. “You also said you might not stick around the group. That you had to wait and see if we were a good fit.”

We were on the patio of Fidel’s, a local Mexican place down the street from my church of thirty years. Most of my small group sat around a white wrought-iron table, munching chips dipped in oregano-flecked salsa. It had been three years since that first meeting, the precise details of which had apparently slipped my mind.

I definitely remembered thinking all of those things. I just didn’t remember saying them out loud to a group of women, some of whom I’d never met before.

I buried my face in my hands. “I can’t believe I said that.”

Rachel grinned at me. “Well, I felt something similar,” she said. “I was glad you did.”

I laughed, but also felt a twinge of grief, remembering how brittle I’d felt that night. I’d dropped my daughter off for youth group, walked down a flight of stairs, and braced myself for a mix of random women smiling too eagerly. I crossed my arms over my chest and decided I didn’t have to smile.

Is there anything more fraught then a group of earnest Christians determined to “do life together”? Given all the hype around small groups, the extra-special belonging Christians supposedly feel, and the promise that we’re the Body of Christ, there isn’t any pressure at all.

Especially if, like me, you have tried and failed to belong to small groups before, and had started to wonder if you were incompetent.

I dared those women to surprise me. I am still shocked how badly I lost the bet.

Of course, that shock was nothing to the discovery, in my twenties, that you can do everything “right” in church and still feel lonely. Over a period of five years, in the same church I’m in now, I invested everything I had in church and still lost community after community, friend after friend: to attrition, moves, life changes, lack of time, and painful disconnection.

Meeting my current small group for the first time, I was brittle for very good reason. When Ericka, one of the women who started the group, invited me, it had been about two years since I had given up. I’d accepted the loneliness, discovered some sources of my disconnection, and exorcised a lot of demons. I’d tried to make peace with being alone at church.

So when Erica nudged me, I decided I was ready to try again. It helped that the time slot asked so little of me. Our group met at the same time as my daughter’s youth group, turning an awkward couple of hours between drop-off and pickup into a possibility (however remote) of community.

Healing also helped me say yes. I had also stopped being so shocked at the difficulty of community. I had tried to stop taking it personally. I knew that however well meant, however optimistically designed, top-down church programs like small groups can only imperfectly connect us. However, in a rushed and fragmented society, sometimes imperfect is all we have.

I had so little to lose when I walked into that room that I did not bother filtering my cynicism. I’m just thankful the others were the kind of women who were ready to abandon their filters, too.

Even now, writing this, I don’t want to assume my problems with belonging are a thing of the past. Church communities shift, especially in a transitory suburb. Life circumstances change our availability, our interests, our time to connect. Groups change when people leave or arrive. Nothing is forever, not even the group of women I have come to love.

I used to think a plate of brownies, good intentions, and an icebreaker question were all you needed to belong to the body of Christ. But I know now that it’s never that simple.

Making peace with disconnection is part of how we belong for the long haul. Belonging isn’t magic, isn’t popularity, isn’t a given for anyone. Some people in our church have been in the same small group for decades, and others, like me, have had to reinvent their community many times over. Now that I know I can survive loneliness and find my people again, I think I would not take a new season of disconnection so personally. I think I would not feel so bitter. I think I would no longer blame myself so easily.

I hope, anyway. I do not know for sure.

The awkward truth is that Christians do not have a corner on friendship or community—but there is something lovely about the church’s earnestness to belong together on purpose. In a culture where many people struggle with loneliness, where men struggle to have vulnerable conversations, where adult friendships of any kind are few and far between, I cannot sit in judgement of any organized effort to help people do the difficult work of knowing each other.

Like all the fruit of the spirit, kinship is resurrection. It is most precious when, like the empty tomb, it catches us off guard.

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Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer and artist from San Diego who is happily content with being an awkward Christian. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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