When we moved into our current house almost two years ago, we left another home, along with a cul-de-sac dotted with neighbors who had become dear friends.
When we left that address, we also left summers of our kids playing outside with familiar friends all day long. On that street, watching out for each other’s kids and one another had become the norm. We cried in-between driveways in our pajamas, barefoot with morning breath. We processed through big decisions, shared longings and pain, and helped diffuse arguments among our small grove of kids. We fed each other’s pets and plants, took walks, asked for eggs and butter, shared cookies and bandaids and lawn tools, prayed for each other, and sat on each other’s couches while dirty laundry piles sat with us.
We didn’t lose these friendships when we moved, but we lost the details of what that little community had become.
I knew this would happen, but feeling the losses over time is always harder than expected. Like so many other times I’ve had to leave people and places, the grief has glued itself to my insides. When one of my kids says the kids here don’t want to play with him, I remember the sounds of our old street and the way laughter lined it, and I doubt our decision.
In the midst of grieving and doubting, I know it’s okay to feel these feelings and have these questions, but I don’t want my kids to have to experience them. I want to rush and conjure up an immediate solution, but community-building is a slow work that won’t be bullied by my impatience.
What we left at our last address took over a decade to build. We watched that little community come together slowly, and become sturdy over time. What we left was nothing like what it was when we began.
It’s easy to forget the awkward conversations we had at first, or that we had three or four years of those kinds of conversations before we would even begin to call each other friends. Forget how many times I came inside after an interaction and told my husband that I wasn’t sure we’d ever connect deeply with our neighbors.
The community we eventually became did not become by my urgency or grit. I couldn’t just water it more, or use something in my own power to make roots and stems shove their way from seed and soil. Instead, our friendships grew roots in dark days of doubt, through trying and trying again awkwardly, alongside seasons of silence and solitude.
All of it reminds me that bearing the fruit we can see and savor, takes time, care, trial, and error.
This morning I looked in the mirror and thought about how much has changed over the last few years. I’ve grown older and I’ve become more sad than I have been in a while. And yet, I’ve also become more gentle with myself, more tender with my body, mind, and heart. Our community has changed and keeps changing, and the losses continue to feel far-reaching. But instead of chasing a community (or anything else for that matter) and trying to force it into shape, I’m learning to stay open and tender, to let the losses impact me and inform me, and to wait for our Creator’s timing to build: one interaction, conversation, or gathering after another.
God has created each of us to be builders and re-builders of community. Part of that calling is grieving the losses that come, lamenting what isn’t and sometimes what is, surrendering to our own limitations and the limitations of others, and hoping for the holy cultivation of connection that God wants to provide to take root throughout it all.
Are you in a season of loss, loneliness, or rebuilding when it comes to community? I know it can feel impossible some days, but take heart, dear reader, and remember it’s okay if it feels that way. You aren’t alone.
Let’s look outside and pay attention to the trees and flowers that Jesus told His followers to take note of. Notice how they hide and grow, bloom and fade away, moving in and out of seasons, dependent on things much bigger than themselves; let them remind us that we can take our time.
In the end, it isn’t merely the fruit we pick and consume in an hour’s time that we long for. No, it’s so much more than that; it’s the entire process of becoming and realizing that we have been loved and seen throughout.
I look back and see God in the lonely days, in my doubt, and in the long stretch of growth over time.
We’re meant to change and transform, release and receive, to plant and prune and harvest, to leave our little seeds in the dark, to not be able to see what will be, to build and rebuild, and to be surprised by the good things that grow into what they need to become. There are unseen things at work in the relational seasons that feel empty, and it’s not just the fulfillment of community, but our communing with God throughout our longing and loneliness that is building something beautiful too.