I mentioned in my last post that God has been teaching me 2 things this year. The first was that the timing was right for me to start dipping my toes in ministering to those outside my household. For years, he needed to keep my focus on seeing my kids through to the end of the day, and I kept getting distracted.
The second was related, but very difficult. It cut deep to the heart of so many of my insecurities. I has required that I face a lot of these insecurities, and trust the truth on a scary level. I’m hoping it will gradually feel more normal.
I grew up in a pretty touchy-feely family. My mom would often rub my back at night. My sister and I would snuggle, even as adults. My grandpa always had us in a hug, or held our hands. Even my step-dad and I would sometimes lay down and take a nap. Touching was just normal. Sharing what was on your mind was normal. I really don’t remember any topics off limits to discuss. Religion and politics were normal conversation. Debate was encouraged.
Then as a young adult I married into a family that is equally as wonderful, yet totally the opposite of that in mannerisms. They aren’t touchy feely. They don’t talk about your business. I think that early in our marriage, I had a lot of awkward moments, as I simply did not understand the family culture, and misread a lot of things. In hindsight, Knut and I joke that there are pros and cons to both styles of each of our families.
Then we moved for Knut’s job. At our old church, we had friends who had walked some dark places with us. They were friends that we had done life with, wept with, laughed with, and learned how to be a family with. Starting at a new church wouldn’t have been so hard, but no less than 30 days into our new move, my family went through a really, really hard thing. It rocked Knut and I to our core. We reached out to our new church, and it was just…awkward. It was like sharing too much, too soon in the relationship. It was like going on a first date, and sharing all the worst parts of you over dinner.
After that, Knut and I went through about 2 years, perhaps more, of feeling like we had no friends. No couple friends, no individual friends…nothing. None of our close friends lived close. A lot of our local friends we liked a lot, but they never seemed to have time for us. We moved from a big city, where your friends were your family, to a small town where for most people, their family is their family, and their friends were people they saw every once in awhile, and they kinda already had their friends established.
I remember when Knut and I would ask each other, “Is there something about me, that turns people off? Do I stand too close to people, or something?” We began to honestly critique each other, and our body language and people skills. We would watch each other, and give each other feedback. There had to be some reason we couldn’t make friends. We used to have friends. We knew it could be done. It was sad, and a lonely time.
Well, eventually we made some great friends. It took some time. We started pouncing on people who just moved to town too. We knew how lonely a move to a small town could be.
But the insecurities, that I was not really a top-tier kind of friend stayed with me.
It was bad…like middle school bad.
Sometimes it’s just easier to give into the culture that surrounds you, to keep your head down, and just go with the flow. Don’t make a ripple. Talk about the weather. Don’t make people feel uncomfortable.
There’s just one problem with that. I am not a small-talk person. I have a deep desire to talk about deep things. I have a burning desire to help people with words of truth, and I believe it’s a gift God has given me for his kingdom use. And yet, I felt like I just made people uncomfortable. I was always standing on the outside of things, waiting to be invited.
I found a “safe place” on the internet, where opinionated voices are welcome. I saw it as an outlet for my writing. I found it as a way to reach other women, connect with them, and be a friend. I still value my friendships online. However, last spring, when I was listening to a writing podcast, I heard none-other than the blogging queen herself, Ann Voskamp, being interviewed. (She would hate being called that. Sorry, Ann!) I’ve listened to that podcast multiple times since, and even got to see her in person, and discuss it a bit more with her. She said to seek the small. Seek the small ministries, not the large platforms. Seek the little moments that God has given you to notice for a reason. You don’t want to reach the masses. You want to reach that one soul. There is no number too small for God to call you to.
It was then that I decided to try to meet with some younger women. Here I had been talking about the importance of older women mentoring younger women, or women who are 10+ years or so behind where they are in life. I had wanted so badly for someone to pour into me like that, and various women had done that for me from time to time, and it had been a lifeline. I started with 2 ladies. Then I happened on a couple more, who I meet with differently than the other 2. It seems that just being someone who listens and speaks back truth is very, very needed these days.
I don’t feel worthy of holding these women’s stories. All I do is try to point them back to Christ, in whatever that might mean for their situation. I pray with them. I don’t have much great advice to give, but I have Christ to share, and he’s walked with me through many things.
But I still find myself pulling back. Recently, I have been deeply convicted of friendships that I have neglected, because of my insecurities. I really thought I was bothering them. I really thought they didn’t have time for me anymore. I really thought that I was dragging them down. Then I found out, they were hurting because they thought I had forgotten them.
I have been such a terrible friend.
The conviction of that weighs heavy, and the relief of forgiveness is like a flood.
It’s easy to say it’s because I have been busy. No doubt, I’m a crazy-busy person. I do a million and one things. But that’s not the truth as to why I haven’t been pursuing them. The truth is: because of my insecurities. Because of the lies I believe that I’m bothering people. The lie that I have nothing good to say to them, or they don’t have time for me. The lie that I would be imposing.
We are a culture afraid of being a stalker. Do you know what the #1 thing that people say when I meet them, and find out that they read my blog? They say things like, “You don’t know me, but I read your blog. I promise I’m not a stalker!”
You’re not a stalker. You’re my friend. If I wanted my words to be private, I’d put them in my journal. I have a lot of private words in my journal. I put them out here because I pray, and hope, and get on my knees that these words find people that I don’t even know and encourage them. If you read them, and are encouraged by them, than you, my friend, are an answer to my prayers.
No one ever says, “Oh, I don’t like her. She’s always writing me those encouraging notes.” No one ever says, “You know what, she’s just always saying nice things, and trying to bring out my best. Ugh.”
Everyone is afraid of being a stalker. Even me. I was terrified to pursue certain people, and yet, they were the very people I was supposed to pursue. The 2nd thing that God has been teaching me this year is to shed this fear I have of making a fool of myself for the lie that it is, and encourage people with my words as much as I can. My new goal is to pursue people. Pursue friendship with abandon, not because I’m in dire need anymore of friendship. The opposite is true. I have so many friends now that I’m full.
That just means it’s time to give out of that fullness, and find those people are alone, and wrap my arms and my words around them. I know personally what Satan does when he brings people out of the safety of friends and gets them alone. That’s when people really start to believe lies about themselves. It’s when we start believing things about ourselves, or our marriages, or our lives that just don’t even make sense.
I have been convicted. I have been forgiven. I have regret. I knew that some of my friends were struggling, and I stayed silent because their problems seemed too big, and I felt like butting in meant I was being pushy. Likewise, when I spent years hurting, I didn’t speak up because I didn’t want to sound whiny, or incapable. I really, really needed someone to encourage me, and speak life into my hurting soul. I kept waiting…waiting in silence for someone to notice.
It would bless me greatly, if some of my long-time friends/readers on the blog would join me by considering your local friends, and think about who seems to need that encouraging friend. That friend who makes them relax. That friend who will call them up, and ask them out. That friend who drops by and brings banana bread. I want some of my friends to step up with me and do the scary thing and be one of those crazy-encoueragment-stalkers. The world is desperate for it.
You wouldn’t be a stalker. You would be a mentor. You would be saying to them, through words or actions: I want to be a safe place for you to come. I want to use only words that build up and bless you (Ephesians 4:29). I won’t gossip. I won’t judge. I’ll let you wrestle through stuff, and I’ll speak the truth and love as much as you need to hear it as the world tells you lies that tears you down.
Broken people need to be pursued. That’s what I’m learning this year. Fortunately, we are all broken people, so you won’t accidentally pursue someone who couldn’t use the help. They don’t always know how to speak up, and they don’t always know what they need, but they know that someone out there might know what to say, even though they don’t know what that is. They are too exhausted to seek out a strong encouraging friend.
Titus 2? Yeah, that famous passage doesn’t say “Younger women, seek out older, wise women, and listen and obey them.” Nope, it says [Gretchen’s paraphrase] “Older women, be a safe place, not a drunk, not a gossip, but a trustworthy woman, so younger women trust you and open up to share the deepest hurts in their lives: that of the intimate places in their marriage that they’re too afraid to speak, and their deepest fears of their ability to parent children who won’t listen. Help out those young women who feel like they’re drowning in their marriages and mothering, and guide them along. Don’t just give them more laws to follow, but show them how to apply the gospel of grace to every relationship they have.” The command is for those who have lived through the dark times, and understand how dark it can be, and understand the depths to which Christ can reach.
We need more of this type of stalker. The encouragement stalkers.