Recently a close friend was helping with a retreat at his parish. He told me about two old friends of thirty years who have been in the same parish and who have even been members of the Knights of Columbus for longer than I’ve been alive. On this retreat, he witnessed these two friends discover things about each other’s past that deeply affect who both of these men have become. Neither one had ever known these things before. Good job, Parish Retreat! But what ever happened to real life?! Deep friendships and relationships are difficult to find and maintain in a world that settles for such quick modes of communication. Like the ones that involve fleeting forms of affirmation via a “like” button or “thumbs up” emoji. I know it is definitely true for me, and I think most people can relate. We have friends, but those deep, authentic friends that really make a difference in our lives and the lives of others are scarce today.
Imagine a world, a community, a Church where people know each other a different plane, maybe even one we have yet to envision. Imagine knowing someone’s important life events, aspirations, and abilities so well that you can begin to predict their choices, successes, and failures. Imagine someone who will open up to you in an instant and lean on your listening, love, and insight because they know you and they know you care deeply. Imagine always having people that you can also lean on in all kinds of ways for every circumstance. Imagine living a life of adventure and significance, a life that matters in this life and even into eternity alongside people you’re this close to. Imagine a Church with communities of deep friendship that reach out to more people and draw them into this deep community of authentic love.
Granted human realities are messier than what has been described above. Still we cannot neglect the fact that our nature, described all the way back in the philosophy of Aristotle, is imprinted and inclined to have this kind of friendship and community. We settle, not just in packs like wolves, but in great big cities, and even small towns, alongside people totally unrelated by blood and depend on each other for our physical needs, emotional cares and concerns, for laughter, entertainment, and love. In the end, even if we don’t create perfect communities and friendships, having 3 to 5 deep, meaningful—though imperfect—friendships will be much more fulfilling, and hopefully adventurous, than having a hundred shallow friendships. The point of this article is not to present anything new, but rather to demonstrate that authentic community is very much possible if we apply ourselves to some basic principles that are really natural to everyone. So, with that, here are four steps to getting the ball rolling on community that matters:
1) Have conversations that matter
I made the mistake the other night of coming up to someone and asking them, “Hey, what’s new?” Even before this conversation, I’ve catalogued in my brain that this is not a good question to initiate worthwhile conversations. The problem is that it is too generic and broad of a question. A better, more simplified starter question is the more specific: “How is your day going?” or “How has your week been?” These questions are more important because they are specific and they get people thinking about the present; they open the door to the here and now for you and that person. As they are answering, listen for either what the person is passionate about or for what challenges or struggles they may be encountering recently. Talk about what really matters to that person and be vulnerable. One reason people feel alone today is because there are so few people in the world that actually know who they really are. It’s not that you have to open your heart to everyone you meet, but being willing to share things that can be disagreed with or things you are feeling is necessary to having relationships that matter. That is truly the starting point to creating community: genuine people having genuine conversation. The point of this step isn’t so much how to have these conversations, but it’s more about being open and ready to have conversations that matter with people more often. Granted there will be times when we are not capable of these conversations because we are exhausted or emotionally compromised for whatever reason. In the end the reality still remains that we won’t have community that matters until we begin to have more conversations that matter.
2) Establish relationships that matter
Having a conversation that matters should lead to more conversations that matter. Multiple significant conversations lead to the beginning of significant relationships. These can be with coworkers, parishioners, friends of friends, anyone we encounter regularly either naturally or intentionally. At some point, to be a friendship or relationship that truly matters intentional encounters will take place between you and the other: grabbing coffee, lunch, dinner, a beer, taking a road trip, getting together for some good opportunities for conversation on purpose. This is the natural next step from having some good conversations. If you make a habit of having conversations about what you’re passionate about, what a life of adventure looks like, and what failures and struggles you’ve encountered along the way, you are on your way to becoming friends.
3) Do something that matters together
A word people sometimes find “cute” or kind of “fun” is the word adventure. Like, “OoooOOOOooh! We’re going on an adventure!” It is a word I’ve used a number of times in this post already. A lot of times when we hear that word we think of doing something adventurous like hiking through the mountains, skydiving, cliff diving, bungee jumping, swimming with sharks, spelunking, or parkour. But when I use the word adventure I mean the adventure of your life in its entirety. All of the things in the above list are just small possibilities of the macrocosm that is your real adventure. Your life is meant to be amazing. You are the only you to ever exist and who will ever exist in the history of the universe. You were made to be something that matters. You were meant to have authentic friendships that matter to others, and even change their lives. You were made to be a part of a community that matters. “Doing something” that matters doesn’t necessarily mean a certain activity. It could just mean being that real good friend, talking in depth about reality, and perhaps inviting others into those relationships. These kinds of relationships bring authentic joy and that kind of joy is contagious. People will see how you joke and laugh but also how you deeply care and appreciate each other. This step could also mean literally “doing something” that directly makes a difference in people’s lives, both for this world and the next. In the end, true community will be solidified when we choose to live the adventure of our lives alongside others.
4) Always being open to new people and new relationships
Once we have friendships that really matter to us, sometimes it’s easy to want to cling on to them as firmly as possible. One thing that will always make for an adventure is realizing that your friendships will change. Even if you stay in the same city your whole life, the people around you will change. We should be always open to starting at step 1, having conversations that matter, whenever it is possible. You never know whose life you change or who will change your life. Your life is an adventure. I know we can’t always be open to others, but being open to others as much as possible will increase the experience of our life’s adventure. We live in a world that is so quick in its modes of communication (and trust me I’m the #1 user of my phone for these modes of communication), but sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder that building relationships and community can be simple. We just have to put in the work of having real conversations and being intentional about pursuing friendships instead of just waiting for them to happen to us. We can become the kind of people that make friendships happen. We can offer the gift of friendship to others around us. We can live lives of adventure for others. Simply invest in real conversations, be willing to be vulnerable, and let who you are be a gift to others in the world around you.