C.S Lewis once said that friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.“
How often have you felt that you were the only one thinking or feeling something? I often do. We all long to belong and to connect. To not feel alone. There is a deep desire in all of us to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to be meaningfully connected to others and to be really seen. Biologically speaking, from birth on, we are hard-wired for meaningful relationships. Perhaps one reason our Creator has wired us for this connection is that we will continually seek Him out for that soul-deep perfect love and intimacy that is ultimately found in Him.
Connecting in a really meaningful way is hard for me and I think it is for most of us. We don’t have the patience to listen, the humility to accept ourselves and others, and the courage to be transparent. To connect meaningfully with each other requires taking time to listen to each other with our full attention and without any preconceived notions or judgment. We also push against this inner need to belong or to be connected because we want so badly to be more than than normal or ordinary - we yearn to be extraordinary. I want others to see my best face. It is hard for me to accept that the simple, mess of me is enough to show and share with others without putting on my best face.
Studies have shown that one of the reasons why social media is so powerful is because social platforms give us that quick, reward-feeling of being connected to each other without too much risk. It is so easy to click "like" or heart and move on without risking anything at all. It can also set up an unrealistic expectation as to how connected we “should” stay in terms of the ins and outs of each others' lives along with an uneasy sense of what psychologists call ”the fear of missing out.”
I personally often struggle to find the courage to take off the mask and to be real. Most days I think it would just be easier to put up a pretense and let my friends and family think that I am totally and completely the best version of me. To do otherwise would mean showing them the real, struggling, messy, me.
Honestly, a few months ago when I thought I only had a few months to live it was easier to be vulnerable and real than it is now. I suppose it was because I had nothing to lose. Now that I am feeling much healthier, I am daring to think about a future again, and suddenly my instinct is to put the mask back on. Self protection, I suppose. Certainly not the direction I want to go. It is so much easier to pretend than to be transparent.
This has been on my heart because I often feel alone but I am not. And neither are you. It can be especially hard to open up and to become vulnerable to others when facing a hardship or failure or when feeling overwhelmed which is actually when we have the greatest need for meaningful connection. Instead it’s so much easier to play the games of denial and blaming others, playing pretend-nice, passive-aggressive humor or manipulating as a means of self protection. According to two decades of research conducted by Dr. Brene Brown, a by-product of social fear is shame. If people know - really know - me then maybe I won't be worthy of love, or connection or inclusion. That fear makes us feel ashamed of who we are and fearful of being real with each other.
Although we have different life experiences, I choose to think that we all share hopes and concerns for our families, fears for the next generation, disappointments and perhaps regrets. To be more specific, I don't know of anyone who does not earnestly desire for people to stop shooting at each other, regardless of their stance on gun control, or earnestly struggle with how to respect both the life of a mother as well as her unborn child or what kind of resources and legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren on planet earth. We have similar fears and disappointments. We all want our families and our nation to be safe, even if we don't agree on the "how." No one wants children to go to bed cold or hungry. Everyone wants to live in a moral society where everyone is on good terms and acts justly toward their neighbor. All of us are connected by our desire to be close to our loved ones, our hurts, our failures, our fears and our disappointments. If we are blessed to live long enough, we are connected by the reality of aging, the gradual failure of our bodies to keep up. So many of us are taking care of others - kids, grandchildren, spouses, parents and we need to recognize and honor that commonality so that we can best support each other. We are so connected by these things that when one of us is struggling or hurting, it tends to radiate out and when we act bravely it tends to strengthen those around us.
Let’s embrace the messiness and complexity of us - me and of you, the mystery and the unknown bits of who we are and what we do not understand or know about yet. We must help each other in this way by being the safest people we know how to be with others - to listen without judgment, to love fully and completely and to be vulnerable and open ourselves so that there aren't any games being played that cause a break in connection. Together, let’s practice gratitude and joy and to love and embrace ourselves and others with grace. We are all beautiful messes - emphasis on the beautiful - and we have that connection in common.