I used to dream of a house with a wraparound porch, wood floors and old handles on the drawers and doors. It would have a long dining table in a room full of windows, bay windows. It would have lots of natural light. It would have a living room with lots of seating for lots of people. It would be filled with conversation, laughter, music, and life. It would be imperfect, with shoes on the floor and kids toys strewn about and coffee mugs and grocery bags and a bottle of wine and a stack of mail on the counters.
It wouldn’t be a mess, but it would be obvious that life happened there.
There would be lots of food and people would stop by and friends would bring their dogs and parties would be thrown on the back deck. The sound of guitars and singing voices would reverberate through the walls of this house, and on the front porch on summer afternoons, and on the back deck in the fall.
I still dream of this house. It’s always in my mind – but more than the house – I dream of the season. I dream of all the people and the voices and the gifts and phone calls and long drives and the sound of the doorbell ringing. I dream of when this lively, colorful part of life will occur. Mostly of the people – the community, family, circle – whatever you want to call it – that make this house-dream a reality.
I used to always think of it as far-off – a distant dream that would happen at an unknown time in an unknown place somewhere down the line, in our future, or maybe when we’re middle-aged, boring adults.
But in the last few years, I’ve come to realize that this dream is impossible.
It is literally impossible for me to get from right here, where I am now, to that dream. It’s just not going to happen. Basically, if someone gave me the opportunity right now – this very second – to have that dream come true, it just wouldn’t happen.
Why? Because this dream has to be cultivated.
You don’t just arrive at a place like this. You don’t just suddenly have a circle of close friends and family or a deep and vibrant community. You have to start from scratch, and build that circle around you. You have to take small, practical steps that seem like almost nothing – in order to move toward the fulfillment of this type of dream.
It’s called investing.
Do you have a dream similar to my house dream? Do you have that heart-desire to have a circle of relationships that are nourishing, edifying, encouraging, and life-giving? Do you want a deep well of history with your people, that is strong and will last many years? We were made to flourish in a loving community; no one should wither away in isolation.
If you find that you’re not surrounded, and you want to be, start first by taking a look at your own behavior.
Do you reach out to others, or wait for people to call or text you? Do you initiate with those you care about, or just respond when they initiate? Do you know what they’ve been up to lately, or do you have no clue what’s been going on in their lives?
There are a few things that must happen if we are going to be surrounded. We must push past inconvenience and drop the excuses, we must reach out and invest in people, and we must show up for those we care about.
The inconvenience excuse
My little brother recently took a trip up to a few states away from where I live. Because I only get to see him maybe once or twice a year, we wanted to see each other, even for a little bit. Was it a convenient weekend for me? No. Was it a 3+ hour drive out of my way? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Because my brother is worth more to me than making sure I am well rested and comfortable.
Life never happens at a convenient time.
Hate to break it, but if you are waiting to be there for people until the timing is right for you, it’s never going to happen.
Think about how you want to be remembered. How you want people to feel when they think of you. Do you want to be the one who wasn’t ever around that much? Do you want those you care about to be sitting at your funeral, with even the smallest question in the back of their minds whether you really loved them?
Because whether you know it or not, the actions you are taking now – even the ones you think are not that big a deal – are defining how they see you, and showing them how much you really care.
I don’t know about you, but I personally want no one in my family – or any of my friends – to ever have to question if I loved them. I want them to have no doubt in their minds that I truly cared, not some vague notion that I loved them because I had to but wasn’t ever around because I was always busy or inconvenienced.
We must reach out & invest
I have dropped several friendships that I had in my life when I realized that I was always showing up to help them move, attending their birthday parties, offering them to stay at my house, picking them up when they needed rides, and generally just being a nice friend and helper for them, yet when I invited them to hang out or even needed help with something, they never showed up.
You cannot have a relationship with only one person putting in the effort.
Relationships are a two-way street, they take both parties investing. That one person will burn out quickly and will stop reaching out, because they don’t feel loved.
What are your actions, over time, really saying to those you care about? If you are repeatedly declining invitations because it’s just never a good time for you, people will stop making efforts to be your friend. I’ve seen both sides of this coin.
The good news is, we can change what lies ahead. It is challenging to be inconvenienced. But people are worth slight (or even major) inconvenience.
Human beings knowing that they are loved is worth more than getting enough sleep that weekend. They are worth having to shuffle schedules around a bit. They are worth taking a long and tiring trip for.
Start being there for people when it’s inconvenient. Show people that they matter more than your schedule. Just start showing up.
I have purposed in my life, to the best of my ability, to never miss out on something important to someone I love. It’s not about the event or the situation; it’s about the person. I care about their life, and their heart.
When life is just too busy
I know that sometimes it is actually impossible to be there for someone, even if you want otherwise. There are plenty of times when life just doesn’t work out for a situation or event, and you have to decline, or tell your friend that you won’t be able to make it, as much as you wish you could.
There are also seasons of life in which it is very, very hard – more than just inconvenient – to nourish relationships in your life.
But while it is difficult, it’s not impossible.
Even small things like a text saying “Thinking of you today. What’s new?” says a whole lot. It says that you still care, that you still like them, that they are your friends. It’s understandable to be so busy that you hardly have time to take a breath before climbing into bed and doing it all over again the next day.
But if you don’t have time for people, your own life will suffer. You’ll wake up one day and wonder where everyone is.
That’s why it’s so important now to invest.
You don’t have to do everything you did when it was easier, but you should still do something.
Even if you have no time to hang out, show people that you are still interested in their lives and still value their friendship. Just check in with them and ask questions about what’s going on. Do what you can. Do something small.
Get leaders you can follow, followers you can lead, and friends you can walk right beside.
Make sure you have respectable leaders to follow, who can help guide you, who can be voices of truth and examples for your life.
Make sure you have young people under you, into whom you can impart wisdom and courage, and raise up and lead by example for and learn from.
And make sure you have friends right beside you, with whom you can do it all together, with whom you can run closely beside on this race called life and following Jesus.
If you do anything, make sure that you gather people under, and above, and beside you.
Do it so you can be surrounded in your happiest moments of celebration, so people will come to your parties and graduations and weddings and baby showers and your children’s programs at school and their sports games. Get surrounded so you’ll have people with whom to take fun adventurous trips, and sit around campfires, and have gift exchanges. Life is made so full by having quality friendships. Get people whom you immediately call with good news, and who call you up first thing with their good news.
Do it so you can be surrounded in your darkest, loneliest moments of heartache, by people who won’t leave you alone, who will rush to your side and lift you up and help you limp forward on your race, so you can keep going. Get surrounded so you’ll have people who will bring you meals when your spouse gets a life-changing diagnosis or you lose the job or a car accident wrecks your world. So you’ll have people who will sit with you in your pain and cry with you and not try to offer advice but rather a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, and a hug for as long as you need.
Do it so you can be the same for others – so you can be the one bringing the meals and sitting in silence with the heartbroken and attending the parties and graduations and lavishing with gifts.
Do it so you can leave this world knowing that you were loved immensely by a wide circle of people, and that you loved that circle of people well.
Don’t walk alone; find mentors, be a mentor, and get best friends. Move past the inconvenience and if you find you are making excuses, stop making them.
Invest – put in the time, effort, and energy to build rich relationships in your life, so that you can benefit from the fullness that people offer, and be that for others.
We only get one chance to do this. Life is not a dress rehearsal and we don’t get to go back. We all were made to be surrounded, so make sure you are.