Starting over with community is never easy! Building friendships takes time and effort, and putting yourself out there certainly isn’t risk-free. When you already struggle to find a spare minute, is it really worth putting your heart on the line to invest in new relationships? Besides, you’ve totally got this independent thing down. You don’t really need a community, do you?
As a military spouse who moves frequently, I know this scenario all too well. Building relationships doesn’t happen overnight and just when those ties finally form, it’s often time to move again. Furthermore, military spouses are required to be highly independent and capable of managing life stressors on our own. Sometimes the thought of investing in a new community is downright exhausting. It almost seems easier to keep juggling things solo than to start over with new people yet again.
But here’s the thing… Community is one of the most beautiful gifts God created for us in this life! We are relational human beings with an extraordinary capacity to love. We were never made to live in isolation.
When we allow our busy schedules, weary spirits, or the fear of being hurt to prevent us from pursuing authentic relationships, we create a tremendous void in our lives. Not only do we neglect our own God-given need to be in community, but we forfeit countless opportunities to extend God’s love to others. After all, how can we fully love others like Christ if we aren’t in relationship with them?
Whether building a community to last several years or merely for a season, below are six tips I’ve found most helpful when being the new girl.
SIX TIPS FOR BUILDING COMMUNITY
1. Step Out of Your Social Comfort Zone
If fear of stepping out of your comfort zone holds you back from pursuing new friendships, you’re not alone. It can be very difficult to jump right in as the new person (especially if everyone else knows each other).
I have a reserved nature, particularly in group settings. Add onto that a heap of anxiety, and being the new girl can often leave me feeling silent and paralyzed.
I should have something to say right now. Why do I suddenly have no words? What on earth just came out of my mouth? Was that even English? What if I get in peoples’ way? What if I say the wrong thing? What if they don’t like me?What if, what if, what if…
It can really make for a socially awkward, stumbling-over-my-words mess.
Nevertheless, I have found that I must step out of my comfort zone to truly build community. Sometimes this means taking several small steps over time (i.e. speaking up even if I don’t have all the right words, introducing myself first, etc.) Other times it requires taking bigger leaps of faith (i.e. joining a small group, attending a social event, inviting someone to hang out, etc.). It’s not always easy, but the relationships that form in the end are worth the initial discomfort.
If this is you, be gentle with yourself and keep stepping out little bits at a time. You’ll be surprised how many people feel the exact same way!
2. Practice Hospitality
One of the best ways to get to know people is to practice hospitality. Invite them into your home, cook them a meal, host a dessert party or a game night. You don’t need a perfect house or the best food to be hospitable. I promise! Just open your doors and love people as they are—imperfect and in need of love just like you.
For those of us with perfectionistic tendencies, the idea of not being the perfect host can be hard. I want to give people my very best and love them well. But having a perfect house or exceptional cooking is not practical at this stage of my life. It’s tempting to believe that I shouldn’t invite people over if I can’t make it perfect for them.
Sometimes, though, we just need to let people see that we’re human too. If we wait for everything to be perfectly prepared, we will miss out on so many opportunities.
Open your door, love people well, and the friendships worth building won’t care whether your home is beautiful or your recipe is out of this world.
Focus on what you can give to a community rather than just how your needs can be met.
What are you passionate about? What gifts has God equipped you with? What do you enjoy?
Find places in your church or local community to put those gifts to use and serve others! You don’t have to be the best. Just find ways to be the love of Jesus to those around you, and dive in with a servant’s heart. Your time and love will be a blessing to those around you, and you’ll build Christ-centered relationships along the way.
4. Be Authentic and Look for People Who Do the Same
Seek out friendships with people who are real and down to earth, rather than those who pretend to be perfect.Chances are, if they’re willing to share their authentic selves with you, they’ll be a safe place for you be real as well.
Letting people see the real you can be terrifying! But there’s no point in wasting time putting on a face in hopes of winning people’s approval. The relationships worth building will value a genuine heart over a fake smile any day. This doesn’t mean you should bear your soul to everyone you meet. But set aside the act and let people see your authentic self. The best relationships are those in which we love, encourage, and challenge each other without the need to impress one another.
5. Don’t Write People Off At First Glance
How often do we jump to conclusions about people we’ve never met? We grow up learning the old phrase, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But when it comes down to it, we are much more likely to cast judgment before extending grace.
If you try to create a community that only looks like you, are you really loving all people like Christ?
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have incredible people in your life by failing to reach out to people who are different than you. Let go of your judgments, open your heart, and actually extend the love of Christ to all people.
6. Give Yourself Grace
Nourishing relationships and cultivating space for them to grow takes time. Some days will go better than you expect. You’ll connect with wonderful people and the loneliness will begin to ease. Other days will feel incredibly lonely, even if you spent the entire day socializing.
Don’t beat yourself up when it’s hard. Extend yourself grace, practice self-care, and try again another day. Continue putting in the effort to be a genuine friend, and everything else will eventually follow. You won’t always be the new person. Before you know it, you’ll be the one reaching out to help the next new person find their place.
Image Credit: ©Thinkstock.com/monkeybusinessimages
Kimberly Carroll is a military spouse, mother of two, and graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. She has a heart for the weary and broken-hearted, holds tightly to her eternal hope in Christ, and wants nothing more than for her life to be an outpouring of God's never-ending love to those around her. On her blog, Kimberly discusses mental illness, grief and the importance of never giving up. Follow her blog at https://kims88.