Building Community by Sharing Life
by Margot Starbuck
While dueling over calendars with a friend, trying to find a date for lunch, I wondered: Is it supposed to be this hard? Like other mothers working in and out of the home, I was hungry to spend more time with other women. I missed the days of summer camps and college dormitories, when every friend knew my favorite color, shoe size and number one soda. I began to suspect the demands of marriage, parenting and work might preclude the kinds of satisfying friendships I’d enjoyed in the past.
What I was missing in my life was community. I longed to share the routine of my daily life with others. I shared plenty of life with my children and husband, of course. But I yearned for the richness and gifts of being in community with other women.
As a student and young adult, I’d taken these types of relationships for granted. I now realize that sharing bedrooms and shoes, meals, workouts and classes had satisfied a deep need I didn’t know I had. As a mother of three, I could live without pulling all-nighters before final exams. But I was itching to share the regular stuff of life – meals and snacks, stories and laughs, booboos and tears – both my children’s and my own. So I began to take steps to build community by sharing life where I was. Here’s what’s helped me form satisfying relationships:
- PROXIMITY – There’s no substitute for physical nearness. The folks who have become my community are the ones who walk past my porch each day, the ones who can care for my children in a pinch and the ones who borrow sugar and lend eggs. Genuine community depends upon being together.
- AVAILABILITY – The friends I cherish are those who intentionally make themselves available to me. One is a mother with a son at my children’s school. One is a woman from church who recently moved to my neighborhood. Another is a friend who took time off from work while she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I hadn’t expected any of these women to become such close friends. But their simple commitment – to walk with me one morning a week – made community possible.
- PRESENCE – I need to experience face-to-face contact with my friends – or shoulder-to-shoulder on the walking trails – a minimum of once a week. E-mail, Facebook or texting has been useful in choosing a time to meet. But these are no substitutes for real presence. Spending time in the company of my friends, even chatting at the park with an eye on our kids, feeds my soul.
- PURPOSE – Though I certainly enjoy the warm fuzzies of friendship – a compliment, a shared laugh, a hug – authentic community reaches outside of itself. I conspire with my like-minded friends to visit someone in the hospital or take a neighbor’s kids for the evening.
Sharing life together is what we’ve been made for, and I finally realized that parenting children doesn’t need to change that!
Margot Starbuck is the author of The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail (InterVarsity Press, 2009). Learn more at MargotStarbuck.com.