A study done in America asked people how many confidants – how many really close friends – they have in their life. 30 years ago researchers asked the same question, and the average answer was three. The next time they asked, it had dropped to zero.
Zero confidants, was people’s most common response.
Modern life steers us towards isolation. We are just so busy juggling all the responsibilities of our lives, that we don’t automatically carve out the margin to nurture meaningful community.
Though we hold in our hand devices that connect us to almost everyone we’ve ever met, there are less and less people with whom we feel truly, intimately known.
Yet deep down, we want to be known. We want community. We know it’s what we were designed for; what will best allow us to flourish.
Community doesn’t just happen though; it’s something we have to be deliberate about. It requires not just taking the time, but making the time.
So how can we do it?
I was listening to some one recently who identifies the values they are trying to nurture, but then also identifies the rhythms they practice to practically live those.
So, for the value of Hospitality, the rhythm is to have three people in their home to eat each week. For the value of generosity, the rhythm is to bless three people in some way each week.
I’m a big believer in the principle of you manage what you measure, and so I really loved that idea.
How can we identify and build the kind of habits that will help us nurture community in our lives?
Maybe that looks like making sure that at least one meal in your house each week includes people who don’t live in your house.
Maybe it means encouraging three people each week.
Maybe it means committing to volunteer once a fortnight at a local charity.
And, conversely, we need to ask ourselves if there any habits in our lives that are hurting our relationships.
I’ve written before about the fact that there is now research that just the presence of a smartphone on the table can reduce how well and how deeply we connect with each other in conversation.
What are the habits in our lives we need to nurture, and what are the habits we need to address, is order to make intimacy more likely in our community?
I believe that in many instances, what we do with and in our homes, tells us what is truly important to us. And we need to recognize that we live in a fairly unique place and time in history in regard to how isolated and self-contained our households are, and to learn how to counter-balance agains that.
Are we open to having people in our homes when everything isn’t tidy and together? If you’ve been married for a while, are you open to younger people being around to see how you disagree in love and respect, so they can learn how that’s done? Is your table one where the isolated can find family? Is a shared household something that you have every considered? Have you ever lived with anyone who isn’t related to you?
Community isn’t what we do with our free time – it is living alongside each other. What we do with our homes will have a big impact on how we invest in relationships.
A couple of years ago, I realized something. I realized that with my work travel schedule, I could easily go months without even those I’m closest to knowing what was really going on in my heart. What I was struggling with or being challenged on; what I was praying about; what dreams were starting to grow.
And I knew that was dangerous for my heart. Because when our hearts gets disconnected from community, it becomes a lot easier for certain things to grow. Rationalisation. Self-justification. Selfishness. Cynicism.
And so I talked to a few of my closest friends, and we decided to set up a regular breakfast, for the express purpose of getting into the nitty gritty of the heart. Asking, and listening to, each other’s hard questions. Encouraging each other. Growing with each other.
If we are just spending time in proximity to people, but not opening up our hearts, we will build our social circle, but we will never build community. Community is not just seeing people – it is allowing ourselves to be truly seen.
Community takes time, effort and intentionality – but it is well worth the effort. Which of these three ways of building community could you experiment with this week?