Belonging and connection are embedded within a constellation of relationships

Written by Bonnie Pue

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I drove into town. Normally, I’d wait for a private place to let out that kind of sadness, but the pace of life lately has not often afforded those “ideal” scenarios. So, I cried and blinked to clear my vision as necessary. 

How could I be surrounded by so many people, including my husband and children, every day of my life and yet feel so in need of more connection? How could I have so many phone numbers in my contacts, and yet hesitate so long before sending a text asking for help? How could I have so many rich and joyful memories and yet feel so afraid of the future when it comes to relationships?

The last few years nearly eradicated the sense of community that my family had so intentionally and diligently built. There had been the Covid-related lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, there had been countless life changes in our lives and in our friends’ lives—marriages, moves, new babies, as well as unexpected church community changes. The spontaneous drive-by visits and the way-too-late-into-the-night laughter and conversations about faith and doubt are now few and far between.

Most of the time, life as it is now feels normal. Reduced rations, sure, but maybe our appetites have shrunk to match? But other times—at very inconvenient times—like on this particular weekend, the lonesomeness confronts me.

I prayed as I cried. Or maybe I cried as I prayed. “It’s too vulnerable to build new friendships. I’m scared to invest and risk the loss again.”

It wasn’t an audible response, but the Lord whispered to my soul what I always knew to be true:

“The life you dream of will need people in it.”

Not just people passing by, but people who linger and ask for a bit of your heart and give a bit of theirs in return. People who don’t hide from one another, but are honest, and who keep pointing to the narrow path of Jesus when life is disorienting. 

“Open your heart again.”

I’m not the only one facing similar emotions and fears. And I know we are up against a couple of paradigms.

One of them is that sometimes Jesus followers hide behind the shields of our personal relationships with God and neglect to lean into what a communal relationship with God would be like. Yes, singing and learning together in rows on a Sunday morning can play a crucial part in that, but how many people are driving home afterward just as isolated as when they arrived? 

This isn’t a rallying cry to “volunteer on another team,” but rather an encouragement to show up and let yourself be known, and invite others to show up authentically too. 

Secondly, in recent church history of the West, marriages and biological families have been emphasized as the primary, if not the only place, for relational fulfillment. It is not the answer to loneliness, exiling all those who aren’t married outside of that fullfillment.

We can affirm the joy, companionship, and purpose that marriage and parenthood bring without perpetuating the idea that single people are waiting for a ring so that they can be saved from a lonely life. We can recognize that for those who are single, their human longing for friendship and fellowship can able to be satisfied in union—first with the Lord Himself and also with His people. 

Marriage isn’t an inoculation against isolation and singleness isn’t a loneliness sentence.

Singleness and marriage each require intentionality to form deep connections. We must not put all the weight of our hearts onto the few closest to us, whether spouses, children, or friends. Some needs in our life only God can meet. And we must also open up again to what being a part of the body of Christ can be.

I suspect that the social deconstruction that we all lived through in these last few years is actually stirring Jesus followers across Canada to forge new trails and redefine faith communities. So, let’s be brave together. Send that message, plan that dinner party, share communion, and initiate prayer. Ask for help. Tell the truth about what you’re afraid of and ask for insight. Play a game. Celebrate a birthday. Step by step, with dogged determination, let’s build up and strengthen the ties in our communities.

Bonnie Pue is a mother of six and co-founder of the Union Movement living in Mission, B.C. Read more from the “Making love matter(s)” column.