Losing and Finding Your Tribe

A lot has been written lately about “finding your tribe.” Every time I hear this phrase I am filled with excitement, hope, and also fear and disappointment. What if you have had phases in your life where you were so convinced that you had found your tribe—that you had found acceptance of who you really are—only to have that tribe broken apart for one reason or another? It hurts just as much as the break up of a romantic relationship. You feel the familiar pangs of rejection in your soul.

I suppose that I’ve always been familiar with rejection, from the very start of my life. I was born to teenaged parents, not exactly wanted or longed for, but I was the reason for their rushed wedding. 

Things fell apart for them within the first couple of years of my life, and then my mother was gone. My father, a college student who was granted full custody, left me in the care of his parents. Growing up, he was more like an older brother to me than a father. We went on movie dates, roller skating, and amusement park vacations. Don’t get me wrong, he was still my father and did the very best that he could as a single parent in his early 20s. In my adult years, my Dad has become a friend that I call to chat about life, or about who our favorites are on Dancing with the Stars. He is a wonderful grandpa to my kids. 

Even my mother, who was not in my life until I was an adult, has become a friend to me. Though we cannot start over with any conventional mother-daughter relationship, we have come to know and respect each other as women and friends.  

As I have grown older I have began to understand both of their journeys in a way I couldn’t before. Stepping outside my own rejection, I can see their hearts without judgment, and understand a little more about why they chose the paths they did. 

I won’t even go into my teen years, as rejection followed me around relentlessly, as it does so many of us in that stage of life. I will say that it left my already wounded heart with several more bruises. 

In my early 20’s, I found my tribe in an unconventional way—a Christian community in Uptown, Chicago. It was the first place I felt truly accepted for who I am, damaged heart and all. It was filled with people who shared the same damaged hearts, and those that found healing had the compassion to love these broken-hearted souls. This tribe was perfectly imperfect, and it was mine.

The first loss of my tribe, in my adult life, came with moving. All of the promises to keep in touch fizzled away, as our busy lives took over and we grew apart. The next seven years were filled with even more transition. That put a damper on the whole “finding my tribe” thing. I would start to build friendships and connections, only to have to say goodbye again. So I ended up with scattered bits of a tribe all over the country. 

One of the most painful losses of my tribe came with my divorce. Considering that we both shared a lot of the same friends, people were left feeling the need to choose which of us to keep and which of us to reject. I lost a lot of people who I thought were true friends to me. 

Upon seeing me again post-divorce one woman, who I considered one of my best friends, completely ignored me. I was in the same room, trying to talk to her, and it was as if I were a ghost. She wouldn’t even look at me. It felt like I was standing on stage during a play, and everyone was trying to keep on with the story while this stranger was invading the stage. It felt surreal, and it was painful. 

I later remarried, and we both became really involved in a church in our new town. We were a part of the worship team and had become involved in a smaller ministry as well. I found a new tribe again and settled into the comfort that comes with that connection. A couple years later we had a disagreement with one of the pastors about what he was teaching, and then the old familiar loss came. It turned into a much-talked-about disagreement within the church and I lost the majority of my friends there. 

The last several years have been like trying to rebuild your life after a bad relationship. That paralyzing fear of being hurt and rejected again takes over. It has left me in a “no commitment” mode when it comes to both friendships and the church. I’ll start to get to know someone, or get to know a church, then fear takes hold. I can imagine every way they might abandon me, and I run hard and fast in the other direction.

As I’m writing this, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe our tribe won’t always be right where we live.Maybe there will be seasons where we feel like we won’t ever have a tribe again. Maybe we lose those who were not really meant to be, and those that are still there throughout the years are the real tribe we’ve been searching for all the time. 

Maybe we’ll learn to step past fear someday and one of those almost-friends, one of those almost-churches that you’ve been so afraid to commit to, will prove themselves true and loving in the mess you’re working through. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find those compassionate, broken, and repaired souls who will hold your hand and say, “I understand and I’m here,” with no judgment in their hearts. Life is full of finding and losing those tribes but, take heart, there is a well of courage in us just waiting to be tapped. 

Jennifer Nerad
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3 thoughts on “Losing and Finding Your Tribe

  1. Yes-I resonate so much with this. We’ve had seasons with amazing tribes, which makes being in a new location and struggling to find one again even harder. I have to remind myself that deep community is a gift, not a right, and not to make it an idol I believe I can’t live without.

  2. Thank you for this powerful piece! I’m not a huge fan of “finding my tribe” for many reasons, but partly because you are absolutely right – tribes change and ebb and can be seasonal. I’m learning to hold my relationships loosely – not in a superficial sense, but in a cyclical way.

  3. I know the feeling, however, past the young parents and moving, many of the problem included my shortcomings. Change starts with ourselves and staying put to be a tribe with true love for others.

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