Strangely, at the private Christian college I attended, I struggled most with finding community. I came in as an 18 year old junior, and knew almost nobody. During orientation, I tried desperately to connect with someone, anyone - and felt awkward and alone. Rather than participate in more awkward activities, I went to the State Fair with my amazing boyfriend (and hey, that turned out well in the end!). My roomates and I got along well enough, but they formed their own friend groups and I didn't want to just tag along. In our daily chapels I resigned myself to sitting alone in the crowd, doing homework to appear like I was just fine while my heart ached. I despised getting lunch in the cafeteria, sitting at a huge table by myself while friends laughed around me. I walled off my heart and tried hard not to care, but I was bleeding inside.
Shame didn't help matters. I was struggling with my sinfulness, feeling like such a bad Christian compared to the amazing students around me. I confessed my struggles to a few, and withdrew even more when they didn't seem to know how to respond, when I didn't know how to move forward. My mind was being filled with knowledge of God every day, but my heart was walled off.
Looking back on those days, I can thank God for the pain and loneliness, for being my comforter and healing my broken places. I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self a few things...
1. Show up. You can't build a community if you don't show up! Go places, accept invitations, invite people over.
2. Be interested. People don't care how interesting you are if you aren't interested in them. Ask questions - silly ones, deep ones - and listen.
3. Follow through. If you pour out my heart to someone one day and ignore them the next, you are sending mixed signals. Be consistent, even if you feel awkward or embarrassed.
4. Give. Even when you don't feel like you have much to give. It's enough. Share your heart, encouragement, skills, food, home, whatever you have. It will bless others, and you.
5. Be real. Don't pretend like its all okay if it's not. Share, cry, be silly, laugh. The people you want to be your friends can handle it.
What would you tell your 20-year old self?