In his late forties, Sam began to sense that something was wrong. After a couple of decades seeking to honor God in the responsibilities of his life, a question confronted him one evening: Amidst all this stuff I am doing for God and others, does anyone really know me? This question named his unrest. Sam acknowledged the lack of depth and connection in his life. His soul was hungry.
Many people try to duck this unrest with greater activity or achievement. Others become depressed and paralyzed by the loneliness, and withdraw further. But for Sam, this haunting question prompted considerable reflection upon the shape of his life. He began to mull over another way of life, one where he might make more space for others.
Slowly but surely Sam’s decisions reflected greater relational priorities. One simple decision like making regular coffee times with a gentleman he always looked up to and admired seemed to awaken an awareness of God’s goodness in his life. Sam began to suspect that God’s Spirit was converting his unrest and loneliness into an invitation to something greater, or perhaps something truer, a more relational way of life.
Loneliness is such a pervasive experience in our culture.* Like Sam, we are often surprised and saddened by the degree of aloneness we experience in adulthood. From the outside, it seems like family, work, and church should provide a vital sense of place and belonging. For many of us though, we keep skimming across the surface of our relationships with spouse and children and coworkers and neighbors.
Andy Crouch writes, “If there is one word that sums up the crisis of personhood in our time, for the powerful and powerless alike, it is loneliness.” He continues, “Our greatest need is to be recognized—to be seen, loved, and embedded in rich relationships with those around us” (The Life We’re Looking For).
For over 23 years we at VP3 have been building communities of belonging and practice. Whether convened in groups of three or groups of 12, our VP3 Journey groups nurture deep connections among the participants. We have discovered over the years that our attention to cultivating the relational environment for growth is as important, and perhaps more so, than our attention to the content being offered. While nurturing relatedness and curating the content are both important, attention to the first is all too often neglected among leaders.
Spiritual friendship is not just a bonus or a cherry on top of the Christian life. Rather, it is an essential condition if we are to discover more deeply what the Spirit is up to and how we can cooperate with the Triune God’s action in the world, in our communities, and in our particular lives.
Fortunately, in the story about Sam, there was a revitalizing turn. Sam made a decision to reach out in the most simple, yet in our culture almost uncommon, ways, “Do you want to meet for coffee?”
May we suggest that THIS is the patient and enduring work we are each called toward…
“Our greatest need is to be recognized—to be seen, loved, and embedded in rich relationships with those around us,” says Crouch. Who would you like to invite for coffee? Who are you noticing?
* In May 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that “America has a loneliness epidemic.” See NPR Article