How many “best friends” can you actually juggle before things start to get complicated?
How many groups can you join before your schedule is filled up and you’re completely stressed out?
How many times can you tell the same story, hoping you didn’t already tell it to the person you’re talking to…because you honestly can’t keep track of who you told what??
Maybe the threshold is different for different people based on personality.
I realize I’m a bit more socially inclined than some, and I need a growing community around me in order to thrive.
But at a certain point, I’m learning, we all have a threshold.
Last year I got the impression that the kingdom of God isn’t about growing larger and larger, but becoming smaller and smaller.
Well this year I’m realizing that the concept doesn’t just apply to the Church at large, but in my own personal relationships as well.
It’s the same rule as in all minimalism, essentialism, or whatever you call it:
More isn’t always better.
The less you have, the more you can focus on what truly matters.
I truly believe relationships are one of the most precious things on the planet.
But less is more.
You can only spread yourself so thin before all the relationships start to suffer.
I think that’s why my generation is so unfulfilled with social media, and moving away from Facebook in masses.
It’s partly because we realize that we don’t need more “surface” friends.
The last thing we all need is more shallow friendships, in a world of online presence rather than face to face interaction.
Many of us crave to go deeper, not wider.
But maybe we don’t know how. Maybe we don’t actually know what this looks like.
I don’t have all the answers. But I’ve realized this problem in my own life and I’ve made the personal decision to attempt to go deeper, not wider.
Set Healthy Boundaries
For me, this starts with setting a cap on things.
It’s a painful realization, but I’m hopeful it will be worthwhile in the end.
My social life felt like it was spiraling out of control…wider and wider.
Sometimes in an attempt to feel deeply connected, we join a lot of different clubs and groups. We over commit our limited time and resources.
At first it’s great, because any real life interaction is better than an interaction on social media. Step up! But then we maybe get overwhelmed because we said yes to too much too quickly.
Suddenly, even our “best” friends feel pushed aside because we’re too busy. We’ve successfully put ourselves out there but in the process we’ve cluttered up our schedule and pushed the very thing we’re seeking out.
Sound familiar, or is it just me?
That’s where boundaries can be helpful.
I recently just joined a group, and I’m telling myself: this is it.
Even though it’s painful to draw a line, I realize my own human limitations. I cannot say yes to anything else unless I say no to something.
I tend to see the potential in everyone and everything. It hurts to think about all the potential friendships that may not happen because of this boundary.
However, if I’m unable to dig deeper with anyone, all I’ve gained at the end of the day is the illusion of depth. I’ve fooled myself into thinking I have more close friends than I really do. Really, I’m just swimming in a sea of shallowness and unending “potential.”
Ouch, I know.
But I find it less painful to focus on the fact that it’s not my job to be everything to all people.
All I can do is be that person for a few people, and that’s okay.
I can also work as a networker. I can introduce people to other people who could end up hitting it off and being that person for each other.
There’s really no limit to the web of community that I’m a part of. And that’s encouraging to dwell on.
It doesn’t all rest on my shoulders. I’m part of something larger and greater, and we are all connected.
Realize It’s Not About You
Another encouraging thought is that it isn’t actually my job to fix the world’s problems (or, more specifically, every problem my friends are going through.)
Let me pause here just a second and say that sometimes this isn’t the case. Sometimes we are called to fix our friends’ problems.
Sometimes we are the solution for one another. Maybe you can watch my kid, and I can rent out a spare room. Maybe I can bring you a meal, and you can help me pay for my groceries when I forget my wallet.
I believe that a big part of bringing the kingdom of God on earth is through practical love and grace for one another. But that’s another topic….
There’s no way I can meet the needs of everyone in the whole world. Yes, I should be obedient to every nudging of the Spirit when he asks me to help someone.
But other times the best thing I can do is just to listen.
Just to cry with you.
Not to offer unsolicited opinions, help, advice.
Just to say “that sucks and I’m here.”
And, I’ll be honest – when I’m walking through something hard, that’s often all I want. A listening ear. A shoulder to cry on.
I don’t want your ideas, I just want you to sit with me in my sorrow.
I just want to be heard and seen.
So the good news is that in relationships, it’s not actually my job to fix things.
It’s just my job to be Jesus to them.
To be obedient.
And hopefully it isn’t me in those divine moments, but Jesus working through me.
It may sound crazy, but it takes a bit of the pressure off. Trusting that he will step in and use me if I let him…and that it has nothing to do with me.
I know God has used people this way in my life. I hope I can do the same, and simply be the vessel of his goodness in the world.
Don’t Be Afraid of Deep
Another reason some of us struggle with deep relationships is that we freak out the moment the ice breaks.
We start to second-guess ourselves.
We start to wonder if we said the right thing.
We’re afraid of being vulnerable.
We’re afraid to share too much too soon and scare the other person. So sometimes we share nothing, and build an impenetrable shell around ourselves.
Can I just say, I don’t think this is from God?
I know the Holy Spirit convicts, but I don’t think God will ever shame us, especially about trying to build meaningful relationships.
Again, I’m speaking to myself here!
I don’t believe shame is from God. Shame is either ourselves or the devil.
Adam and Eve were ashamed after they sinned, but it wasn’t the same as God’s gentle correction. It was ugly, deep-seeded shame. And it ultimately drove them away from God and from each other. (Genesis 3)
And it makes sense that Satan would try to shame us – to make us second-guess those we’re trying to build relationships with, and second-guess ourselves.
If we’re comfortable with who we are in Christ, and building strong relationships with one another as we go through life, we’re ultimately going to end up closer to God and closer to one another. Of course he would want to get in the way of that.
So it’s a spiritual battle, in my opinion, to fight the shame and fear that keeps us isolated from others.
Go Deeper This Year
Does this resonate with anyone else?
My goal this year is to set healthy boundaries, let go of shame and fear, and go deeper rather than just wider.
Unfortunately I can’t go deep with everyone. But that’s okay. It’s not my job, and when I pretend it is, we all suffer.
What are some practical ways you go deeper?
Do you ever feel shame about things you said, or “over sharing?”
How many people do you consider your “safe” friends that you can tell anything? Do these people know that you think of them this way? Maybe you should tell them!
Photography by Sam Manns