Make Yourself Scarce

Make Yourself Scarce

I once went to a evening class at church related to spiritual disciplines. We read through Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines over several months, and each month, we would talk about a difference practice. One evening, we were set to talk about simplicity.

I had been going to this church for several months, returning to the church I always attended during summer breaks from college, now that I had graduated. I was trying to “plug in,” attending small groups and talking about ways to serve. But I still entered the sanctuary every week and prayed that I would find someone to sit with at the 9am service.

That was part of why I had come to this class, hoping, not only for an opportunity to learn more about spiritual disciplines (one of those topics that make my ears perk up) but to meet other people who were interested in them, too. Also, just to meet other people.

On the night that we talked about simplicity, my pastor, in his cool shoes and sandblasted jeans, took a seat on a wooden stool at the front of the room, across from the round tables we were seated around, to more easily promote discussion.

“I’m going to talk about simplicity in relationships,” he said.

I had a page of notes containing my own thoughts on simplicity, answers to the discussion questions we’d been given during the previous month’s session. I had written about my own attachment to possessions and perfection, among other things, areas that the Spirit has gently touched in my heart.

“My wife and I have found that it’s best for our family to carefully guard our time,” he continued. “We’ve made friends that we love, friends that we want to invest in, and we protect our relationships with them, and with our kids, by avoiding many other commitments.”

I thought about the smiles and hellos I sent across the sanctuary on Sundays and on Thursday nights. I thought about my suggestions that we get lunch, coffee, or that I simply come over and be present in everyday life, complete with their children. I looked around at the people nodding and taking notes as my pastor continued to talk about setting up boundaries around his life.

Even then, I could see the glimmers of truth in what he said. I was learning to set boundaries, learning about the necessary rhythms of time alone and time with people. But as he spoke, I couldn’t help but think about the morning a few weeks prior when I had ventured to the front of the church to ask for prayer. He and his wife asked me what was going on, preparing to pray for me together.

“I’m just so lonely,” I said. “I feel like I’m drowning. I keep reaching out to people and no one is reaching back.”

“Have you talked to your small group about this?” he asked. That church highly emphasized small group involvement.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve been asking for weeks.”

I thought about the way that we wrote down our prayer requests on sticky notes and passed them to another person to be prayed for during the week. I was starting to feel whiny, asking for prayers for friends and community each week.

They prayed for me and sent me on my way with a hug. I left the front of the church feeling lighter in my spirit.

Like a break-up, the choice to leave a church rarely comes all at once for me. There are little things that chip away at the relationship for a long time. After many weeks of anxiety, wondering if anyone would talk to me if I didn’t walk up and interrupt their conversation with someone else, wondering when people would stop turning to me during morning worship get-to-know-you and ask if it was my first time, wondering if anyone would notice if I just didn’t come back, I walked out those doors for the last time.

I have been in many relationships that made me feel alone, even when we walked side-by-side, with men, with women, and with churches.

I’ve been thinking about scarcity often, lately. It is tempting for me to think that it’s all going to run out. I am that widow making one last cake out of her oil and flour, planning to savor the last thing standing between myself and death, looking at Elijah with shock when he asks me to make him something to eat, first.

I have soaked up community the way I used to eat fudge, wondering why I was never allowed to have as much as I wanted.

Recently, a dear friend and I talked about the Eucharist, communion, together, and she showed me something I’d never seen before. Communion is given to us in the Body and Blood of Christ, but once we eat and drink, entering into belonging and relationship with God, we are the Body and Blood of Christ.

I want to give myself away, knowing that I will be renewed.

At first it seemed presumptuous to think of myself this way, but I have watched the life-giving effect that communion has on those it is lavished upon, when freely given. Jesus does a work in me, making me into His Body and Blood.

That exchange of communion, of community, of thanksgiving around a table, metaphorical or otherwise, gives me the strength to go on, provisions from Heaven.

Now, when I look into the eyes of the ones I love and those I’m only just meeting, sometimes I find myself thinking: the Body of Christ, the bread of Heaven. And as I give a hug, or speak words of love or comfort, I think: the Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

We eat, we drink, we are satisfied.

You can read more Single Minded Mondays here.

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  • LizBR

    I like this essay, even though it makes me sad.

    • Cara Strickland

      Thank you, Liz. It’s good to tell some of these stories. Somehow, they become a little less sad when I am not the only one holding them.
      (So good to meet you this weekend! Looking forward to getting to know you better).

  • Katie

    i have been thinking all day on how to respond to this. i so relate to being on the receiving end of the “i’m too busy for more friends right now” conversation, while also being really lonely. i understand the need to prioritize our lives, but i pray i will never (directly or indirectly) say to someone, “your loneliness is not worth my precious time and energy.” i don’t recall Jesus talking about boundaries, only giving us a glimpse of a boundless and boundary-breaking God.

    • Cara Strickland

      Thank you so much for your gracious words here. I’m with you. Healthy boundaries are not the same thing as choosing not to help alleviate the pain of loneliness where we can for those who come across our path. This is not my heart, either, and I’m praying for the grace to listen and move at the impulse of the Spirit about this.

  • Anna Bersagel

    This post made me really sad because a pastor should be encouraging people to reach out of their comfort zones instead of using boundaries to keep potential friends out. As a singleton who has lived on both coasts, I’ve found it easier to make lasting friends on the east coast. I have found my current city to be the hardest to find “adult” friends because most people who grow up here, stay here and keep their childhood friends. And those friends are enough for them. They have no (or very little) desire to open their hearts to new friends which is too bad because their lives could be richer for opening themselves up more. Risky? Perhaps. But with the risk comes potential for a great friendship reward.

    thank you for sharing!

    • Cara Strickland

      I think that risk is a key part of this discussion. There is the temptation to try to control relationships, keeping them safe, but honestly, there is very little, in my experience, about relationships or the Christian life that is safe. I’m hoping that both of our risks will pay off.
      Thanks for being here, Anna.

  • Bethany Pegors

    Love this, friend! I find it upsetting when pastors hear the cries of someone’s heart for friends and companionship and decide not to do anything practical about it. Yes, prayer is a good thing – but we cannot expect prayer alone to solve our problems. If nothing else, it would have been good for them to set you up with some people who were also looking for friendship.

    You and I have both talked about our desire/need for good, healthy relationships, so you know I resonate well with this. Thank you for your words on this, friend. :)

    • Cara Strickland

      Oh Bethany, yes.
      It’s easy, I think, for a spiritual leader to feel the need to do everything, and to forget that we are all called to love one another. I wasn’t really looking to him to meet that need, but I was finding that the culture (which he helped to shape) was not one that was ready to welcome me.
      So glad you resonated, and so glad you’re one of those welcoming people in my life.

  • Jamie

    Oh yes. I am well acquainted with this invisibility and the frustration and soul-wilting that goes with it. It seems like sometimes those healthy boundaries transform to unhealthy walls- the too high to climb kind. Every small group I’ve been in has dissolved, without communication. What do I do when they don’t need me but I need them? It’s tough. Hugs and thank you for sharing honestly. You are not alone. You are not a whiner. Thank you for sharing that beautiful picture of communion and community. May we truly be so for our brothers and sisters. Praying to that end.

    • Cara Strickland

      It does seem that way, doesn’t it, Jamie? I worry sometimes about walls with no doors or windows.

      That line haunts me: “What do I do when they don’t need me but I need them?”

      I wonder about this daily.

      Thank you for being here, and for offering up these encouraging words. You are not alone, either. (And thank you for thinking that I am not a whiner).

  • Anne-Marie

    hmmm. Yes. Unfortunately. At least you had the courage to walk away and keep looking – a sign of a hopeful heart. We probably need to leave where we are. But it is so hard to walk away from the known and through new doors.

    • Cara Strickland

      I hope so, Anne-Marie. Sometimes I get tired of hope, but she always seems to find me again.
      It is hard walking away from something you’ve been doing for a while, even when it is a place of loneliness. Praying for you in this decision, friend.

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    Oh church… Been there. It can be terrifying to offer ourselves in vulnerable ways.

    • Cara Strickland

      Church has been both hurtful and healing at different times. I’m hoping for some healing (and the opportunity to practice vulnerability) coming soon.

  • Leigh Kramer

    Relate to this so, so much. Wishing we’d had more of a chance to talk at FFW.

    • Cara Strickland

      So glad, Leigh. The Festival was such a whirlwind, I felt like I didn’t get enough time with anyone. But there is always the internet in the meantime :)

  • Brenda W.

    This touches on a lot of things that I’m also wrestling with right now. Thanks for sharing your journey and wise words.

    • Cara Strickland

      Glad to be on the journey with you, Brenda. There is much to wrestle with here, isn’t there? Grace and peace to you as you walk and wrestle.

  • Courtney

    Dear Cara, I wish I could sit next to you in church, squeeze your hand now and then to make sure you know you are not alone. I have been there, too. Having to walk away from a church because ultimately I realized no one would even notice if I didn’t come back. So I didn’t come back. And no one noticed. And it was sad and relieving all at the same time. As a woman who is an introvert and currently battling a chronic, life-altering illness, I understand the necessity of boundaries in relationships–choosing carefully who to invest my limited resources in. But I love what you say here, that sometimes what keeps us from reaching out is the fear that we don’t have enough to share. Healthy boundaries can turn into unhealthy and unloving boundaries in a heartbeat, if we do not reevaluate them regularly and if we are not mindful of the way we can use them as excuses to say “no” to things that scare us or stretch us or challenge us to try something new. Especially in the Church, where we seem to have a propensity for making people feel unwelcome. I know Jesus is deeply grieved by this. But somehow, the fact that there are many of us experiencing this and trying desperately to push back against it (even just by telling the truth, writing our stories out in the open), gives me hope for a better, more loving Body of Christ. Love and grace to you this Easter weekend, Dear Cara.

    • Cara Strickland

      I so agree, boundaries can be so important and healthy and so unhealthy so quickly. I’m constantly praying about this in my own life.

      If there is something to be thankful for about these experiences, it is the empathy that I find for those who are on the fringes, who feel left out, who are forgotten.

      And yes, that gives me hope, too. Grace to you today, dear one.

  • Glenn

    Hi Cara, thanks so much for sharing this. You write beautifully. I’m pretty introverted so I’m not usually looking for much contact at church or away from it. But the loneliness tends to build over time. A few weeks ago I made a return visit to the church I left six years ago, hoping to see old friends and feel the kind of connection I haven’t for a while. And I was greatly rewarded. I can’t begin to explain how it lifted my spirits, lifted a burden I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying. The church is of the more fundamentalist stripe, which makes some features of it awkward, given my now much more progressive outlook. But I’ve been missing something and for now am just taking a week at a time.

    Thanks again for being so vulnerable and passionate about God and the world. You really are a unique voice out here on the Interwebs.

    • Cara Strickland

      Thank you so much for these kind words. I’m so glad that you’re finding what you’ve been missing. I’m learning that those times are to be savored and leaned into.

      I’m glad you are able to see my heart through my writing, that gives me hope. Thank you so much for your encouragement!