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This is a kind of continuation of last week’s letter on community.

Probably the most difficult issue for Lisa and I once we left the church was community, or friendship.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it because loneliness sucks.

Lisa and I were anything but lonely when we were in the church. As I always claim, the church’s greatest asset is community. When you’re a part of a church, the opportunity for community is handed to you on a platter. The immediate networks and relationships provided are usually incredible. You can keep your free time occupied with meetings, prayer and study groups, Sunday school teachers groups, choir, worship band, potlucks… you name it. The possibilities are endless.

We were always very busy with people. Then, when we left the church… POW! It all ended just like that.

I used to think we needed to find another church or some replacement where we could get the same opportunity to form community. But finding another church wasn’t working. Isn’t working. And there really isn’t anything like the church that provides the same opportunity.

But what about that sense of community that we had?

Sure, I could join a running club. Or a dog group. Or a book reading group. Or some other group. But we’ve tried other things and to be honest there’s just nothing like the church.

And I’m realizing why.

We have to change our expectations.

There is nothing else like the church perhaps because there shouldn’t be anything like the church. What I mean is… that sense of community that we had: was it healthy? Was it good? Was it even normal? You can read my letter from last week where I explore this further. What I’m getting at is we should not expect our normal friendships to be seriously intimate on an emotional, psycho-spiritual level like we’ve had in the past. Most people have never even experienced this. Ever! But many of us have. We got spoiled. But we also got burned. I’m not saying to close your heart in a cocoon of self-protection. Be as real as you dare. Be as honest as you can. Be as vulnerable as is allowed. But we don’t expect the touchy-feelies like we used to feel every. single. day. I’ve come to the conclusion that being in an intimate spiritual relationship is like sex. It can be that intimate. I also think this is why the church is a rich culture for sexual improprieties. Spirituality and sex can be extremely intimate.

But, on the other hand, I know the feeling of being with a friend who is not open to that aspect of my personality and it feels limiting to me. I don’t feel fully known or understood. It’s like I have to hide or edit or protect a significant part of me. It’s weird not living in a kind of perpetual confessional. But that’s okay. Maybe, eventually, when our friendship continues to grow to new levels, we can be more open about the totality of who we are.

Also, in the church, conformity is a powerful force. So everyone was necessarily on the same page. We are programmed to bond with one another. It’s an unnatural illusion to assume that we can only be friends with people who are just like us in every way, including our beliefs and life-styles. The new friends we’re making are nothing like us, really. I mean, there’s enough to find common ground. But we are very different. That’s good.

So, we’re being intentional… trying to develop new friendships or restore old ones. It’s just now starting to work. Unlike the church where there was instant relationships, building real and lasting friendships take time. But we are starting to see dividends for our efforts. We’re happy about that. We’re planting seeds and starting to see them grow.

I hope you do too.

Your friend,