- 2008 1 May
At sunset last night, I found myself driving my son to his friend's house. As I made the turn onto the boy's street, my eyes immediately drifted to a house on the left. What I saw inside was so welcoming I had to slow the Suburban down! I couldn't wait to drop my son off - "Bye, son, I love you too!" - so I could quickly turn the car around, and drive by this home again. As I slowly approached the house, I gazed into the window. (I kind of felt like the paparazzi!) Through the front window I saw a huge dining room table filled with 4 couples of all ages. Dark hair, gray hair, glasses … I could see their bodies leaning inward, engaged in conversation. I could almost hear the laughter and smell the food.
Good for them! I thought. I wish more people could see this beautiful picture! I even wished I had my camera. Then reality hit as a car approached from behind, and I sped off towards home.
What stops people from hosting like this more often? We all crave relationships and connection. A recent study called Social Isolation in America showed that on average, the American adult has only two close friends. It went on to say that 80 percent confide in family only. There are so many lonely people right in our neighborhoods, schools, work places and churches that would love to be invited over for dinner. I know I'm guilty of failing to think of the lonely person. And sometimes it's hard to know, really, who is lonely?
A friend recently asked me this question: "In your twenties, what drew you to God?" I immediately replied, "Loneliness." Having never voiced that before, I've been thinking about my response these last few weeks. I longed not only for God, but also for deeper human connections. The changes I made had to start with me. I could not rely on anyone else to soothe that lonely feeling inside. I learned to go to God first, but then He also showed me that I need others.
My husband and I have been reading the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Although the book is rather long with many graphs, it shows how we've become a less social society since the 1950's. I realize we live in a different society now, but the busier we become, the more people we cut out of our lives. If this trend continues, then where are we headed? How will we make it without each other? Who's going to help when the hard times come?
Do you retreat to your loneliness or reach out for help? Do you turn to television and the internet for your friendships, or do you have real life friends who will come when you call or when your family is in need? I personally put the following steps into place in my own life, starting twenty years ago, and still resort to them now as a married woman.
Open Your Doors
Learn to open the doors of your home in whatever season of life you are in. Introduce yourself to others and invite them in. Think about what ministry can take place in your home. I can think of so many ways of getting involved with people and life - right in our very own homes.
Our friend, Scott, opened his home to a bunch of public-school, 3-5th grade boys for a couple of years. These "Wise Guys" played basketball, ate snacks, and learned spiritual lesson for boys. Years ago, my good friend, Carrie, went into different friends' homes and taught 5th grade girls about relationships. She was my true inspiration for starting my Balcony Girls group. My friend Donnetta opens her home to young moms on Wednesday mornings just to be friends to these ladies. Of course many churches offer care groups which take place in the home setting. The ideas are never-ending, really. You take your passion and fly with it!
Become a Friend
Resist the urge to sit back and mourn because you think no one cares about you or your family. Start getting involved in other people's lives - by caring about them! Ask a lot of questions - show interest in their lives and when the time is right, invite them over for a meal.
Friendship offers benefits to our emotional and physical health. Loneliness can cause high blood pressure and problems with sleep. Lonely people are even at higher risk for Alzheimer's later in life. Being open and authentic with others will help combat loneliness.
Lose Your FEAR
We've learned, and taught our kids, how fear robs and steals. Fear is: False Evidence Appearing Real, and it's snatching lives right and left. People do not want to be vulnerable because they've either been burned or rejected. As we grow in life, I say - get over it! Learn from bad experiences - read, pray, find healthy friends. Do what needs to be done to heal so that a bad experience won't squelch future relationships that have great potential.
Entertaining in our home has become easy for my husband and me. Why? Because early on we decided: We are who we are. When we invite people over, they get the real us. We are willing to open up, share, be vulnerable, and not pretend. People are attracted to our openness but sometimes they are afraid to be open themselves because it leaves them feeling vulnerable.
We know we are not self-sustaining - there is no need to pretend otherwise. We know we need accountability and closeness with others. We know that we find value in friendships. We've learned to offer help - and we've learned to ask for help. And it's made all the difference.
Sandy Coughlin is a wife and mother of 3. She loves her family and loves blessing other people's lives by entertaining in her home. Sandy's husband, Paul, (who used to be the reluctant entertainer) has come on board, and they often offer hospitality together. Sandy and Paul co-authored a book called Married but Not Engaged(Bethany House, Aug. 2006). It's written to women who are married to "checked out" or emotionally absent men and who want to create a more satisfying, intimate relationship. This article was adapted from Sandy's regularly updated blog "4 Reluctant Entertainers," which you can visit at www.reluctantentertainer.com. Get more information on Married but Not Engaged by clicking here. Visit Paul's website at: http://www.paulcoughlin.net/