Fighting for Community (or Fading Away)

I know what it must feel like to be a ghost. I am haunting the life I used to live but haven’t moved on yet, hanging out on the fringes of what I once called mine. I watch everyone around me go about their days as they always have but I am on the outside looking in. I ache to be seen but I also know my presence brings up all kinds of hurt, so I remain in the wings. Yes, I know what it must feel like to be but a shadow, haunting your own life. This is life in transition.

Have you ever felt it before? Maybe you moved from the place you long called home or left your church, had an illness that separated you from others, or lost your job while others went on with life as usual?

We are moving to South Asia in less than two months. Our house is sold and our belongings are stored. I watched someone take over my job of six years as I stepped aside, getting the kids ready for uprooting their lives. Their little hearts are unfazed, it seems, as they adjust well while I feel more invisible every day. Next week we sell our car, the last big thing that links us to life in the United States. We will drive in a borrowed car as we live in a borrowed house, feeling like we are borrowing a life that isn’t ours anymore.

I am glad I have this “in-between” time in our move to prepare me for the loneliness I know is coming living 8500 miles from what has been home for most of my life. I feel like I am building up callouses now for the big hurt that is to come. But I also am wounded in another way, the conviction in my heart that is God saying “who else have you made to feel this way in the past? Who are you shutting out even now?”

Faces float to the surface of my memory as I try to push them back under. There’s the friend who encouraged me when my whole life was changing with a move, a new job, a second baby. I sat daily on her couch and we laughed and cried together. We had a fellowship I was sure would withstand the miles when she moved away. We haven’t talked in years. There’s the church small group I was a part of when all this transition happened and we were so busy we couldn’t make it to group but a couple times in a year and we just drifted away from budding relationships. I miss them and wonder how they are doing but it feels like it’s been too long to reach out now.

Relationships ebb and flow. Few last forever, I know that. Out of high school, I have one friendship that has stood the test of time and from college two real friends remain. I read the findings of a psychological study recently that concluded most friendships last no longer than seven years as people change and move on with their lives. But there are those moments when it feels like every relationship you have is changing or all have fallen away. Only loneliness remains and it gets you thinking about how we were designed for real fellowship and how empty we are without it.

From the beginning of time, God knew it wasn’t good for us to be alone. He walked with us in the garden, in the wilderness, through the sea. He created us for each other. He created us all as a Body to be united and learn to work together.

The church is the one place you’d expect relationships to be sustaining, to last, and to withstand distance. But people in the church are just people after all. Busy and hurting, messed up and trying. I have been at the same church, besides my time away at school and living abroad, since I was fourteen. I have been on staff there for six years. Yet, a few months after leaving that job and being away a lot of weekends as we travel, I already feel like I am living thousands of miles away. Except for the few small group members I see most weeks and who stay in touch more regularly, I am not in the presence of the people I have known for decades. Our connection may now be a social media comment every now and again, a text if I’m lucky.

Yet I know that being in transition like I am isn’t the only cause for feeling disconnected. I listen to a friend who lives in community, literally surrounded by those in her church. Yet she is lonely and feels disengaged like no one sees her. I watch my best friend struggle with an illness that keeps her isolated, bound to her home and unable to keep commitments because she never knows how she is going to feel from one day to the next.

It feels like in a world that pretends connection is easier than ever that real relationships are hard to build, even more difficult to maintain. The steps I make are small. Are they enough? I text that friend I promised to stay in touch with and ask her to lunch. I put pen to stationary and write thank you notes to the neighbors who helped us move out of our house and promise to deliver them tomorrow. They feel like tiny moves towards connection but I know if someone made one of those moves right now it would mean the world to me. I send out an email to another friend like a whisper in the dark, hoping it finds its way through the distance between us. Often there is only static on the line. Sometimes I get a response, the tiniest glimmer of staying in community across the miles, a reminder that this—love, connection, community—is what we were created for. And it is worth fighting for.

Some days I feel like my light is flickering, like I am slowly fading out of existence. But every now and then another tiny flame, refusing to be snuffed out, echoes in response. Every now and then I feel like I am coming back to life.

 

 

Nicole T. Walters

Nicole T. Walters

Nicole T. Walters loves to experience and to write about this messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not her own. Though her family’s roots run deep in the soil of the Southern United States, Nicole and her husband and two little ones are learning to love hot milk tea instead of sweet iced tea as they make their home in South Asia. She hopes to help others create space to hear God’s voice in all the noise of life as she writes about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise (Nicoletwalters.com). She has authored essays in several books and her writing has appeared in places live CT Women, Relevant, and Ruminate. She is a regular contributor here at The Mudroom, SheLoves Magazine, and READY Publication and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Nicole T. Walters

Latest posts by Nicole T. Walters (see all)

  • We do live in a world that “pretends connection”, don’t we? Connection isn’t relationship and I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost, or are losing, our way. Yes, small steps are enough. I need to take more small steps too. Thanks Nicole.

  • Wow, life in the in-between is a reality for you, Nicole. Thanks for such a vivid picture of what it looks like to embrace the Great Commission vocationally in the 21st century. I want to find a way to share this with my church family in our upcoming missions emphasis month.

    • xoxo. I know we all feel this, that it is so easy to think you’re all alone out there. People are praying, I know but it’s hard to remember that. Encouragement goes such a long way. Sending some texts and thank you notes to encourage some church staff today!

  • esther parks

    Thanks for this piece. I can relate to being in community (good community, too) and yet feeling completely invisible–unnoticed and unneeded. Loneliness has been so much of where I’ve been the last several months, and it can become debilitating if we let it. Trusting the LORD is with us and knowing His presence brings comfort and peace in the dark of loneliness. I appreciate your thoughts on taking small steps towards another person reaching out to build community…and find that when these small steps are taken to pursue community (even when it is not reciprocated) the loneliness begins to diminish bringing with it a flicker of hope.

    • Thank you for this! Yes, it is so easy to sit back (woe is me) and wait for it to come to you. I too often do this. I had lunch with a friend yesterday and made two more lunch dates next week. Small steps.

  • Yes! I know this will happen. I feel more convicted than anything, knowing that I’ve let people slip away in the busyness of life, too. I want people to know they aren’t alone and I’m making efforts to step out and be that initiator of the hand of fellowship. Thank you!