I glanced across the room and my eyes could sense her tension. Laughing, smiling women filled the round tables scattered thoughtfully throughout the church room, but my new friend’s body stayed barricaded against the back wall, her feet cemented with uncertainty. While I rushed to see what was wrong, I knew it wasn’t soon enough. I could read her face as she wondered why she agreed to come to this gathering. Eyes moist with the onset of newly formed tears and alone in a supposedly safe space that promised connection and community, her perceived rejection felt palpable.
There’s nothing more lonely than walking into a room of women (make it doubly lonely if they’re Christians), scanning the whole place, and then realizing that no one has saved you a seat. She was living her worst friendship nightmare. I’d invited her to be part of my planned event, and I felt responsible. I cautiously put my arm around her, not quite certain on how to proceed.
There we stood — two, fifty-something-year-old women thrown back into the same realities we battled back in high school of being the new girl, the uncool girl, the stranger, the uninvited guest who stood on the outskirts waiting to be welcomed in.
“Jen, I really don’t want to be here right now,” she whispered.
“I understand, but let’s go find a seat together.”
As a gatherer of people, as well as a lonely woman who’s currently struggling through this threatening territory, I’ll never forget that moment. Even now, I can feel the heaviness we bore — the same load of loneliness and isolation that thousands of women carry. In fact, my eyes well up with tears as I type this because while I know we are not meant to do life alone, to carry burdens in silence nor celebrate solo, what happens when you desire friendships, but it seems like everyone has them but you?
I’ve always been the cheerleader of all things hospitality, and I passionately believe in the life-giving power and gift of a simple invitation, but I’ve been a stranger in my own skin these days and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. I want to understand this lonely season I’m camped in, so as my soul is parched, I reach for the only source of Living Water.
I find part of my answer in Leviticus19:33-34. There’s a reason God impresses the importance of showing love to strangers throughout the Old Testament. He commands:
And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
The Israelites were intimately acquainted with what it felt like to be a stranger, a foreigner, and to literally be held hostage. I can’t imagine the despair they experienced followed by sweet release. Once chained and enslaved in Egypt, they experienced freedom and God’s merciful rescue. And when they didn’t have a home as they wandered through the wilderness, God provided food and shelter (Exodus 16-17).
Over and over, I’m reminded of His goodness and how God wanted the Israelites to remember their own desperate loneliness and struggles in Egypt so they could empathize and create a safe space for others to be welcomed.
Another reason God calls them to care for the foreigner is to model for all the surrounding nations what a relationship with God looks like and who God is. They were to show that God wants to and would welcome the stranger into a relationship with Him.
This is at the core of who God is: He is the One who made a home for us, a welcome amidst our loneliness. As I’m trudging through a hard friendship season, I’m holding on to that truth. It’s not a quick-fix tutorial on how to create instant community and connection; that’s a much longer and often laborious process. But it is foundational to why I’m convicted to keep reaching out even when it feels like I’m on the outside looking in.
We are strangers and wanderers holding the hope of the gospel to invite and welcome. Won’t you join me?
I’m still against the wall– j
Bless you, J. I’m so sorry that is your current experience. I’m praying for you right now and asking God to help you find your place and your people. I know that takes time and effort.
Anna Brown says
You. Tears in my eyes, I find it so much easier to make friends in non Christian environments and more often than not the odd one out in Christian spaces. (Except with the children and young people, my happy place). Until recently. When I’ve discovered a bunch of older 70s80s and more feeling insecure and like they have nothing to give. They are so awesome they have so much experience, such a depth of faith and so many many talents. I don’t know if it helps anyone else, but look for those people, you may think they have it all together and all figured out but they are lonely too. Encourage them and you will be encouraged also.
Yes, Anna!! All of this. 🙂
As you read the comments below, so many of us feel the pain you’re in right now. I wish I could be physically present with you and walk together towards the center of the room since its so hard to do it alone. Know I have a waiting and open seat at my NC table anytime you want. And I am 100% serious. xoxox
Beth Williams says
Abba Father please guide J to places where she will feel welcomed & loved. Send people her way to shower her with friendships. Take away the loneliness & bring about happiness. In Jesus Name AMEN
Your post today was encouraging to me to know that I’m not alone in this friendship struggle. I was always the one to reach out to people and stand beside them through difficult times and yet through my own struggles I have felt so alone. I even feel that God has stepped back too, but I realize in actuality, He is asking me to trust Him, and to bring my pain and loneliness to Him. He is the best friend we could ask for. Thank you for your message today. I don’t normally make comments but today I decided to. God bless you.
Gillian – thank you for trusting us to reach into the comments here. It sounds like we are two peas in a pod and it can feel so lonely when we are always the one reaching out and its not reciprocated. It’s been so important for me to realize that was probably Jesus’s ministry day in and day out and when the goal is to be more like Him, I’m all for the refinement in my own heart.
As a strong introvert I have grown comfortable in being on my own, but the dynamic is always different and more difficult in a group setting–especially a new or unfamiliar one. The enforced isolation for so many over the pandemic has helped me realize that I am being called to reach out to and for others even when that might not be my natural reaction. If I am to serve Christ, I will have to serve His people. Deliberately remembering to make the effort to welcome and include others, especially unfamiliar others, is something I am working toward on a more regular basis. I pray that you will be able to once again experience the gift of welcomed and welcoming community very soon.
Thank you for your comment, Becky. Isn’t it something to see how He continues to grow us more into His character when we are willing and available?
I love reading this from you. “realize that I am being called to reach out to and for others even when that might not be my natural reaction. If I am to serve Christ, I will have to serve His people. Deliberately remembering to make the effort to welcome and include others, especially unfamiliar others, is something I am working toward on a more regular basis.”
I feel so sad to hear about this, Becky (& Jen). As an introvert myself, I have always felt the pressure to be something I am not within church circles. Church leaders are almost always extroverts and seem to expect everyone else to be like them. It breaks my heart.
You should never feel the need to deliberately go against the type of person God created you to be, Becky. If a church, and especially it’s leadership, cannot accommodate and celebrate the strengths that introverts bring, it has a fundamental flaw in its structure. Be yourself and shine!
Jungle girl says
Yes, coming back from a time overseas is often one of facing situations where I don’t fit in anymore. No welcome back, or even a glance, as old friends chat with each other. Finding an empty seat that isn’t saved for someone else.
Anna Brown says
How painful. Sending love and a virtual hug. Typing solutions and deleting them here because I don’t believe that’s what you need instead praying that you are seen in this and use those eyes to spot others feeling the same.
Thank you for being an encouraging voice here in the comments today, Anna. I appreciate you.
I can’t imagine how painful it must feel when it seems like everyone has moved on when your reality is so very present and lonely. Thank you for trusting us with that. And while words across the screen are no match for the in person interaction, know that I will be praying specially that new friends who also desire community to be made clear to you. blessings, Jen
Beth Williams says
Abba Father please help Jungle Girl to fit in. Guide her to places you would have her. Give her eyes to spot other lonely people. Bring friends to her. Take away the lonely feeling she has.
Tammie Bray says
This has been my whole life. I have never fit any and am always on the outside looking in. It’s incredibly hard to live life this way.
Oh Tammie –
I wish I could sit with you on my NC porch and give you the hugest hug while reminding you of how precious and loved and unique you are in His Kingdom. Internet words fall flat but know that He has created you especially to be that person to someone else and I’ll pray the Lord brings that one new friend into your life as you pursue that.
Julie Allenby says
Linda Schutte says
Thank you for your words! This sounds very familiar! I have been here and my heart goes out to you and your friend! I have to admit I have finally just quit putting myself out there! It’s just too painful ! I have had this since I started school! I’m 72 , will be 73 in August and did fit in with a small group for awhile before I had to move again! Now, I have been alone again going on 5 years now! I am not alone with Jesus and Father, the Holy Spirit, however people are very hard to get to know! I have 2 very dear friends that stay in touch and that helps a bunch! The Lord has blessed me with them. I always loved helping people when I worked, since retiring everyone is to busy to care about older people, stop by for Bible study or coffee? Isn’t because I haven’t reached out, they just refuse! Too busy! Oh well gives me more prayer time! Thank you for your time to reach out to us and do Gods work! Be blessed!
I’m fortunate to have a good core group of friends. Unfortunately none of them are at church! I’ve tried several ways to meet people but it’s not been successful. I’m considering a move to a smaller church where I’m not lost in the crowd.
K. Gillenwater says
Oh my goodness….this.hits.home.
I feel this so much lately. Why does it seem like everyone have “their people” other than myself? Am I not Godly enough for the Christians? Am I too Christian for those who don’t know Jesus (this I don’t mind)? But seriously, I don’t have friends reaching out to have a girls night, or go see a movie, or even check on me to see how things are going. It is honestly a season of loneliness for me. My husband cannot be all things for me, unfortunately. I need a gal pal or mentor. Someone who feels like they care about me. It has been so long since I’ve had that best friend, but this today, reminded me that I already have that Best Friend, in Jesus. He probably won’t ring me or text me today, but the communication line is always open and available.
I try to give grace to other moms who aren’t reaching out. Maybe they’re super busy or super stressed to where they don’t want anyone around them and they just want to be alone or they just need special family time. I’m hoping this season will pass, but this was a wonderful read today and I’m taking it to heart. I’m not alone. And, in my loneliness, I can reach out to others, which who knows, may help in their loneliness season too.
Pearl Allard says
Thank you for this reminder that God wants to take the lonely experiences we’ve endured and deepen our empathy for others through them.
This is me! Thank you Jen for this post, its a blessing to know im not alone in my situation, and to know nothing is wrong with me and that I also am a daughter of zion, a heir of Abraham.
So if anyone will love to connect, im open to having new friends, im a 38 yr old mom to a 2 yr old. Would love some sage advice.
Ruth Mills says
I realized I coped with being odd man out thru out my life by masking the loneliness in being the instigator of gatherings. While a good approach it sometimes takes my reliance on God for my sense of worth out of my equation which is not good. Praying for myself & all my fellow strugglers to know deeply God really is enough & let Him show us who we r to reach out to. Thanks Jen for this reminder to be inclusive!
An encouraging post that seems like it has touched many readers here. God bless you for sharing.
Precious ladies – Thank you for sharing your heart here and your responses to my post.
I think we are senses a theme as we all desire strong community, but it can be so hard. We want to quit and give up from finding it but let’s encourage each other to keep pursuing even when it hurts.
I’m reading every single comment on my phone and will be responding through out the weekend since I’m heading out for a week with 100 high schoolers. I know that there will be so many girls on that trip feeling the same as I wrote about in my post even amidst a huge group, so my goal this week is to find those precious ones up against the wall.
Pray for me as I seek them out as I pray for you all.
Dear Jen, I am thrilled those hi-schoolers have you looking after them. God will speak mightily thru you and your actions toward those up against the wall. I can almost feel the ripples your ministry will have in many lives this weekend. May you see God in the details of your interactions and be encouraged Jesus is shining in & thru you! Blessings my heavenly sibling I haven’t met yet.
Donna Burttschell says
I am in a very long season of depression and anxiety. It saps me of strength and I have difficulty sleeping.God seems so very far away and I am very lonely. My husband is supportive and kind, but I fear he is getting very tired of this too. I have taken antidepressants but they didn’t help or even made it worse. Please pray for us.
Donna Burttschell says
Also I forgot to mention that my stepdaughter and her 15 year old son (our precious grandson) have been with us since he was born. And my husband and I are supporting them on our very limited social security to help keep him in a private Christian school. I am waiting on the Lord, praying in desperation for the Lord Jesus to be our very present help.
Dear Father minister to Donna in her depression & anxiety. There are so many phrases while true seem trite to those in the battle. May I only offer my prayers & confidence in the Hearer of the prayers that He might be your joy & strength. Your comforter that doesn’t just say “there there” while patting you on the back but is the One striving next to you making you brave. May the finances be met in bold & creative ways. May your husband express delight in the bride of his youth no matter how long you’ve been married and may your stepdaughter & grandson see Jesus in & thru you & express gratitude to you & to Jesus! May God surround you in tangible ways, growing fat & deep faith roots in you.
Donna Burttschell says
Dear Ruth, thank you so very much for your prayers. God bless you!
Yes, I too am walking through a season of friendlessness. It has been going on for years now despite all my many attempts to reach out to women.
I kind of feel that maybe I won’t have any anymore. I have given up and am leaving it in God’s hands.
Thank you for this helpful devotional, Jen! You have clearly articulated how I have felt most of my life. I have acquaintances and various groups of people I interact with, but not a go-to friend. Jesus went to the Father and Jesus let the Father’s love flow through Him to people. Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do and not expect others to reciprocate, necessarily. After all, one of his own disciples betrayed Him, and another denied Him. In one week after praising Him when he entered Jerusalem, the crowd cried “Crucify Him!” Your devotion was very encouraging in realizing others feel left out too, especially someone as warm and friendly as you are!
Ariel Krienke says
This hits me. I am all alone every day except my husband. It’s hard when have no friend to grow in faith with. I am ignored but Jesus truly loves me for me and God is always there. That helps me to carry on looking forward to heaven and try to be welcoming to others in case they feel alone as well. Truth in love. Thank you sister for this article. I’m thankful for your prayers.
Amy Bartels says
This could be one of the many pages from my prayer journal. Thank you for the words of encouragement and for “seeing” all of us in this stage.
Donna Burttschell says
Dear Ruth, thank you so very much for your prayers. God bless you!
This helped me out a name to times when I didn’t feel included. But to think of Jesus as a stranger was pivotal.
Seeking community, feeling loneliness, wanting to be included and cared for is not a sin. In fact Jesus says, if you take in a stranger, you take in me. The act of Inclusion is a blessing. ♥️
I am weary of issuing invitations only to be turned down over and over. I moved to a new state eight years ago and finding friends here has been exhausting. My two closest friends live in other states! It is so hard when people don’t make room in their lives for new relationships because they feel they already have enough. I think we as Christian women talk a big game about having seats at our table for other people but we often don’t follow through, because frankly it is easier to stick with the ones we already know. Then sometimes we do actually invite someone new to sit with us but that’s as far as it goes. It takes two people to WANT to form a friendship and I am having trouble finding someone else who has space for a new friend.
Thanks for sharing this episode in your life with us all, Jen. I know exactly where you’re coming from as I was rejected by at least 5 women in my church when I made overtures of friendship. I would sit alone and look at my fb posts and sip my coffee. Since lockdown I have been to church only three times, but am hoping to go more often now that summer is here. I hope I won’t have to sit alone again.
Beth Williams says
Such an insightful post. Growing up I was super shy & had few friends. I was always the one by the wall. Now many years later I’m a little more extroverted. For me it is not just about having friends, but being a friend to others. When at church if I spot a “newbie” I will always go up & say hello. My way of making them feel welcome.
My pastor’s wife is so much like you. When they bought a house years ago she started inviting people over for holiday potlucks. Each person brings a dish or two & we all get to enjoy some company. Then we divvy up the leftovers. It is her way of making sure no one is alone on the special days.
Thank you. A timely message that holds true. Daily, as I live in this world with others is as that began in the house I grew. ‘The stranger’ I was shaped as to be ‘the outsider was by the very caregivers, who were themselves shaped as ‘the stranger.’ I am in the constant reminder, ‘What is in my house?’ The call of the soul to the truth that we are not strangers unto G-D. Your ‘turn to’ her met my insides, too. How simple a small act of recognition to another (who is not a ‘stranger’) provided ‘the gift of G-D’s love’ as the highest form of being in ONE. Thank you.