In a world that often has us running around from one activity or event to another, we sometimes become overwhelmed trying to be in the right place at the right time. When it comes to finding solid relationships and a community that really gives us a sense of belonging, we can get exhausted by simply the thought of where, when, and how often to invest. When we’re feeling drained and don’t know what to do, it is always important to remember that we are creatures built for relationships, but they need to be the right kind and not haphazard. They are vital not only to our physical, emotional, and mental health, but also our spiritual health. With that, I’d like to propose places we can aim to build community as a reminder to keep things simple so that we don’t find ourselves simultaneously overwhelmed and lonely.
#1: Our Families
The family is the first and most foundational community anyone will ever experience. One of the many benefits of the family you were born into is that they “get you” on a different level than any of the relationships you develop later in life. They’ve seen you grow up, they’ve seen you struggle and thrive, your failures and successes, they are similar to you genetically, and you have a vast array of shared memories that begin to tell the story about who you really are. Whether we are on the same page with our families on everything isn’t the most important thing for community. It is a place where, if you continue to invest, you will find a community that understands you and relates to you in a way that is authentic to you at your core and foundation and that you can find nowhere else in the world.
When feeling wiped out by the busyness of life, it will be important to slow down, and simplify at times so that we don’t put our families second to career goals or hobbies or other relationships. Our families are so integral to who we are that we should stay connected with them through every stage of life, starting with ordinary ways. Just by simply having dinner, watching a movie, or playing a game with family, we create opportunities for conversations about things that are important. In these things, we will be reconnected with our foundation with the people who have been with us from the beginning. This point becomes all the more important when we have families of our own. If you are a mother or a father, your family is your vocation. It is your way to heaven. You don’t get to make anything more important than that. Family time shouldn’t have to be elaborate. In fact, the strongest families are the ones that relate in simple, stable ways. You should find routines and recreation with your family that builds everyone up and puts the focus back on them. Everything else—your job, your hobbies, your friendships—comes after you find ways to consistently and healthfully relate with your spouse and children. You get to experience to beautiful struggle of family life that will bring up a new, healthy, and hopefully faithful generation!
#2: Our Workplaces
Hopefully your job isn’t everything to you. Hopefully your identity isn’t defined by what you do for a career. That being said, we all need jobs and most of us have a long time left before we can even dream about retirement. But, these are still important relationships. In a certain sense, they have built in strength because you are on some sort of mission together (and hopefully it’s meaningful). Because you have to go there every day and most likely over the course of many years, the way you invest in relationships with your fellow workers is really important. Some of your coworkers may become your natural and eventually intentional friends, but that doesn’t make your relationships with the rest of your co-workers unimportant.
In Romans, Paul says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:17-18). In your relationships at work, do the right thing and relate in ways that lead to peace and not conflict, neither external nor internal. As I said, we have to go to work every day for years. If work becomes a place of distress and resentment, it will seep into all areas of our life and become a poison on all of our relationships. So here some thoughts to help with our relationships at work: First, bring joy into work with you and, if possible, laugh with your co-workers, especially your “non-friend” co-workers. Next, communicate things you feel are unjust with those who can change it, especially the person you believe is being unjust. Learn to forgive; holding resentment will be a poison beyond the walls of the workplace. Get to know more about your co-workers. Perspective on their lives will help you understand their idiosyncrasies and may help you be more empathetic. Lastly, as in all places, aim to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. I’m not saying we should all be superheroes for others and bring them to salvation in one emotionally charged encounter or something like that, but we can do little things that make a difference for each other. Sometimes, because we’re human, our perspective is only focused on ourselves. Everyone should want to work in place where we are mutually concerned for each other. When we notice someone is overworked or has a lot going on in life, even though we might not be natural friends, we can step in and be merciful.
#3 Our Friendships
For many of us, this is the sweet spot. This is easy, simple, and routine. But then again, maybe not?! There are people that you get along with for recreational sorts of things like conversations, laughter, wine and painting, beer club, playing sports, or maybe you share mutual hobbies like fishing, woodworking, parkour, martial arts, or noodling. That’s awesome. Most people don’t have a hard time building friendships like that. When it comes to these kinds of friendships, the problem generally lies in answering this question: how many of such friendships can I handle? When is the last time you hung out with all the people you consider to be your good friends? We only have the capacity to share ourselves with so many people. We live in a time where friendships are easy to come by and maintain, on a surface level, at least. But at some point, our natural, light-hearted friendships will need to deepen. Life will happen. They will need someone; we will need someone. We will all need people who mean more than beers and laughter (although, it’s a fine place to start!).
Friends you can have conversations about the things in life that really make a difference keep us grounded in reality and not just jumping from one event or activity to another. If you find yourself with frequent #FOMO, you’re probably lacking these kinds of friendships or not thinking about them in the right way (this is definitely true about me at times). You don’t always need to be out at the party. In fact, there are more important depths of community and relationships than the party allows. Language is a gift from God designed to help us externalize what is in our hearts. God gave us this ability because He knows we need to do just that at times. Find friends to discuss life with. I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about talking about your life. People you can go on the adventure with. For example, instead of talking about poverty or evangelizing or being a holier person, get into conversations with people that lead you to actions in those areas and the areas of your life that make your life the adventure that it is. Our friendships are the community we’ve chosen. There’s a special power there because, unlike our family which is often a place of great similarity, our friendships are a place of abundant variety. And when we invest deeply in a few people, we will find that their perspective will be of great assistance to us as we traverse through life. Generally speaking, our families are our foundation, and our deep friendships help us become uniquely who God created us to be.
In the end, this article is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the places to find community. Our parishes, community groups, and even our prayer life are also important areas for maintaining sensible relationships. The key I wanted to point out in this post is that by making these three areas consistent and routine we do not have to wait until life blows up. Just by being present to these people, we can build regular and healthy community. Keep it simple all year round, each month, each week, every day. Maintain happy relationships with your family (the ones who truly get you), your co-workers (the ones who don’t always know us, but who we spend a lot of time with), and your friends (the ones with which you’ve chosen to live the adventure of life). Building authentic community will keep us at peace with ourselves, others, and with the individual call God has put in our lives. This may not be major news, but I hope that next time life gets a little chaotic or you’re feeling busy yet lonely, you will be reminded to think about how wisely you’re investing in your family, friends, and coworkers.