This summer I got to move in with four amazing friends. Three were around for the summer, and the fourth, my sister, arrived permanently a little later. I had high hopes for this group and for the house we found in a corner of Nashville new to all of us, and so far God has far exceeded my expectations of what this community can be. I’m really grateful in this season to have such caring and present sisters around me that accept and celebrate my strengths and weaknesses. Just having people around us to see us try to learn and adjust is a major gift in life. Because we are all imperfect, broken, and stumbling through trying to find what’s right for us and the world, and having nonjudgmental, loving people to surround us is so valuable. I love that my group of roommates can share advice and failures, acknowledge brave attempts and give comfort on rough days. We can let silence fall after recounting a sucky day or reassure one another when we can tell those words are needed. Either way, I’m finding this house to be a safe place for being my genuine self, even as I learn who that person is. We call our house The Burrow, like the Weasleys’ house in Harry Potter, because it’s old and made up of a lot of different rooms patched together and balancing in a stack, and you know it will always be a safe place to land. And this week I’m humbled by the fact that I have a burrow to call home right now. Whether we sneak into the house and go to our rooms to re-charge, or burst in the door ready with a funny story or outrageous interaction to debrief, there is always acceptance and welcoming, and that’s something I don’t want to take for granted. Because this can be a really isolating world, where we all try to put on a front that everything’s fine and we’re confident with the plan. And I’m becoming more and more convicted that we all need a place, whether that’s your home or a community gathering, or hopefully multiple options, a place where we can enter in our totally broken states as well as our totally filled to the brim with joy states and be embraced just as enthusiastically either way. Otherwise, there’s less room to learn the hard things.
One thing this new household has been stretching and growing in me is my willingness to jump into conversation with people even when I had plans to go full-on turtle-in-shell mode in the safety and quiet of my own room. My first year of working and living in Nashville I just had one roommate, and between different schedules and exhaustion from work, I spent all my free time just doing what I felt like, hiding in my room a decent amount and wandering in and out with social activities. But now, with a handful of roommates, there’s a good chance that at any given time someone is home at the same time as me. And the great thing about this particular group, all of whom I’ve known at varying levels of familiarity for at least 5 years, is that there’s always the potential for a nice conversation that goes deeper than surface level.
It’s really special to share space with people who genuinely care how your day went, know generally what’s going on in your life, and are a safe listener when things aren’t going as well. We say it’s like having our own little family, complete with meals together sometimes, division of household duties, and sharing awkward/embarrassing stories of the week. Living with this group is also a huge encouragement to me since we are all in similar life phases- working and supporting ourselves, single, balancing commitments, figuring out adulthood. In a world where we’re surrounded constantly by comparison traps on social media and just walking through that season of life where it can feel like everyone else has a skyrocketing career, and/or is getting married and starting to have babies, or traveling the world or in some other way just living a seemingly more exciting life, it has helped me so much to have this built in home life where I am reminded that each of our paths are special. And those paths aren’t defined by whether we have gotten into our dream career yet, or whether we’ve found the perfect man yet, they’re defined by us being special individuals who were created for a purpose.
I’m not trying to say I don’t still have anxious thoughts that I’m ‘behind’ on the ideal life trajectory, or that being single in a world obsessed with couples and families is easy every day, but having friends I can talk to who understand exactly where I’m at is invaluable. God definitely knew better than me what I needed in this chapter of life. I wanted to live in a house instead of an apartment, have space to make cozy and settle into for awhile, and to live with fun people that I can grow in community with. But He provided the comfort, safety, and challenges of living with strong, smart, and independent friends who truly accept and look after one another in ways I didn’t expect. In an amazing way, these friends can help me ‘interrupt’ my internally planned and tightly held schedule for the day by asking me what’s up or telling me a funny story, and this is breaking down a wall I didn’t know I had up.
Being a good listener and a caring friend is really important to me. I take pride in being that type of person, but am realizing I’ve been missing out on part of what it means to be a caring friend. To really be a good friend, you have to put aside your plans sometimes. You might have to shift your focus from what’s most convenient or efficient or emotionally light for you to what would serve someone else well in the moment. So often I am tempted to say ‘I would love to catch up with you, at such and such time,’ (after I’ve had my introvert recovery time, finished my planned chores, etc.) instead of just sitting down in the moment and making the time to connect. This has been a struggle for me with keeping in touch with friends and family who live far away, too. I can easily come up with an excuse not to call someone, largely because I don’t love talking on the phone. Not because I don’t like talking to my people, but more just the awkwardness of not being able to see each other, and not knowing if it’s a convenient time for them to talk, stuff like that. But I do love hearing about my loved ones’ lives, and I am grateful that I even have the tools to do that at any time of day, from anywhere. I’m sure I’m not the only one who puts these calls off until later- we are all busy and have that piece of us that assumes others might be too busy to chat as well.
I think part of the reason God put me in this house this year is for me to learn to open my mind and heart to more often say, ‘Yes, this is a good time for me to chat with you.’ I didn’t realize how selfish I can be with my time, as if the book I’m reading, or an extra 3 minutes of sleep, or scrolling through my phone for 10 extra minutes, is more important or valuable than connecting with someone in the moment. That being said, sometimes some other activity is more important, as I’m sure we all know there are times when we really need to do our own thing for our health and energy. It’s challenging to walk the line of looking out for your relationships but also looking out for yourself. Even as I try stretching and learning to open my schedule up to be interrupted by valuable interactions, my need for individual recharging time and, consequently, the need to say ‘no’ to people sometimes, remains valid. After all, it’s challenging to love and support others well when you either don’t know where you are emotionally yourself, or you are aware there are struggles going on that require some attention. You definitely can’t sustain being there for others indefinitely if you’re not there for yourself. A lot of us can fake it for quite some time, and even trick ourselves into thinking we’re fine, we don’t need to worry about our own needs when others’ seem more pressing or more challenging than our own at the moment. But in my experience, you eventually reach a limit. And even though saying ‘no’ might not necessarily get easier as you practice listening to your own needs, I find it’s best to follow my gut when it’s telling me to hit the brakes. And saying ‘no’ will have consequences, but not always the ones you expect. I’ve probably failed at least 4 people this week, that I know of, and it was a week where God taught me a lot. People surprised me by the grace and understanding they extended to me when I admitted I just couldn’t handle something more that day. I wasn’t surprised because I didn’t think they were great people, I was more surprised because the guilt and shame that I let drive my decisions and my hesitation to say ‘no’ a lot of the time have convinced me that I’m a failure, I’m letting people down, I’m not dependable, etc. Those are all lies. Just because we can’t keep going 24/7 forever does not mean we are not strong and caring individuals. And this week I was reminded that admitting when we can’t rise up to the occasion gives God room to step in and carry us through. It’s a humility check sometimes.
Navigating this stage of life of learning to balance work and play, friendships, family connections, rest, and seeking growth can definitely be challenging but is also so life-giving. And as I read that sentence back, I realize that this isn’t really a ‘stage’ of life so much, since I can’t really think of a time when I won’t need to practice all of this. There may be more players in the mix, more responsibilities on the schedule that will make it even harder to stop and take a breath to listen to what’s needed in the moment, but these same needs won’t stop being part of me even as life continues to grow in complexity. Making choices to value work more or relationships more or serving more all require sacrifices, and the point of sacrifices isn’t that they’re easy to make. But they’re usually worth it when we make them mindfully. And obviously learning to value and build on these different aspects will look different for each of us, since we all come from different habits and hangups, different values and backgrounds. Saying ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to people are both hard for me depending on the day and situation, just as being spontaneous or planning a schedule can be challenging in different ways. As I turn to this next week I’m hoping to have my eyes opened more each day to how I can loosen my grip of control over my ideal schedule and be open to the connections God puts right in front of me, trusting He will provide the energy, wisdom, and patience I need for all of it, just as He has always done before.