The Infinite Value of Unalone

Feb 17, 2016

[guestpost] Have you heard? On Monday, February 22, we’re beginning Undone Life Together: A 5-week Conversation About the Unexpected Life. Picture it as a giant, online family room where you and I are going to circle up and talk about the questions and conundrums of this undone life. When you sign up, you’ll receive daily email encouragement, questions to get the conversation started, a dedicated Facebook group with daily interaction, and weekly videos where I’ll dive deeper into the week’s topics. It’s FREE and it’s for you. Will you join us? Get more information here and sign up here. [/guestpost]

She stood in the Colorado sunshine surrounded by suitcases when I pulled up to the train stop. After sixteen hours of train travel, she’d arrived minutes from my house.

Other than my parents and brother, there’s no one I’ve known longer. We met at church when we both were six years old. Seventh months and one school grade apart in age. Two years later, my parents moved to a house a few houses up from hers. And there we remained until after I graduated from college.

We’ve weathered a lot of life together, Tangie and I. Birthdays at Chuck-e-Cheese, weekend sleepovers, Christmas tree cutting, high school dances, neighborhood bonfires. Then we grew up, stood next to one another in our weddings, celebrated births and milestones and multiple moves cross-country.

But we also weathered the not-so-magical moments. The loss of a much-anticipated job, the end of my 1st marriage, and the deaths her mom and my dad. Not to mention the every-day crises of imperfect marriages and in-progress parenting.

Then cancer showed up three times at my door. The very thing that took her mom and my dad. And rather than pray and cheer from a distance, she packed suitcases, jumped on a train, and showed up real-time at my house.

What transpired in the five days that followed was nothing short of sacred. It’s not that we did anything exciting. In fact, we did much of nothing most days. I was far too sick to go anywhere. On one day, we watched the entire PBS version of Pride & Prejudice {hello, Colin Firth}. Two different evenings we sat across from each other at a folding table and put pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle together while we unraveled all the emotions and questions surrounding her mom and my dad’s deaths. Another afternoon we alternately took naps and talked about whole food and clean eating. After which, of course, we served ourselves up a healthy serving of Gelato.

What was it about that week that meant so much to me—and her? Connection. Relationship. The ability to unpack a small piece of real life with someone safe. We didn’t solve the worlds problems, and we both returned to undone lives once the week was done. But somehow both of us felt more equipped to handle it, simply because we no longer felt alone.

In our overly busy, hyperconnected culture, current research says you and I have never been more isolated. We’re lonely. Hungry for relationship. It doesn’t take much effort to see that the research is true.

But here’s the deal: I’m not willing to let that statistic stick. I want to do something different. I want to push against the norm to create the real.

But how? How do you and I rediscover the infinite value of unalone?

  • Dare to go first. The only way to create opportunities for connection is for someone to decide it’s worth an act of intention. It won’t just “happen.” We have to make a choice. And then go first.
  • Create space for connection. Connection can’t happen if we don’t have time for it. You and I can talk all day about how alone we feel, but if we don’t slow down and make space for relationship, relationship can’t happen.
  • Commit to tell the truth. Anything less sniffs of distrust. Like rain on a flame, distrust drowns out any spark of relationship. Tell the truth, no more no less. Let go of your need to please and impress. Instead, build honest relationships, one conversation at a time.
  • Guard against purposeless puke. Not tasteful, I know. But here’s my point: there’s a big difference between sharing authentically and dumping indiscriminately. One is all about long-term mutual growth. The other is about individual, temporary relief. If you and I want to know the joy of walking through life unalone, we need to become wise about how, when and with whom we share our most personal selves. Honesty works best when coupled with wisdom.
  • Remember to listen. This goes right back to the last one. Inevitably, indiscriminate dumping leads to limitless talking. We think the more we say the better we will feel. If we can just “get it all out,” peace will come. Not true. To move from victim to learner requires both processing and listening. We have much to learn from one another. Share, yes. But don’t forget to ask questions. And listen.
  • Determine to stick, not fix. Your friend doesn’t need you to fix her life any more than you need her to fix yours. The Savior job has already been filled. You can rest, and so can she. Resist the urge to solve, relieve, fix or cure. Instead, stay close. That’s enough.

What is one step you can take toward a more meaningful, purposeful relationship today? 

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9 Comments

  1. Jim H

    Thank You

    Reply
  2. Jackie

    Michele! Thank you so much for this beautiful spirit-led piece. A sweet friend and I were just talking about this very thing yesterday, musing over how we could be more intentional in our friendships, and BOOM! This was in my email this morning. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful thoughts!

    Reply
  3. Sonya

    Michelle,

    This is so sweet and accurate. For my one step, I will have lunch with a new friend this week (and a trusted friend). Making time to visit, without distractions, is important in developing relationships. I loved your point of listening too!!

    Reply
  4. Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet

    YES! The world has more people on it than ever before, but it has also become an increasingly isolating place. You are so right — being able to unpack a small piece of real life with someone safe is a necessary part of living and trying to make sense of this beautiful, bittersweet life. I think if we were all a bit more honest with one another, we would heal faster and not feel so lonely. I am so excited for this 5-week journey and can’t wait to see what the Lord does in and through our conversations. <3 <3

    Reply
  5. Wayne Stiles

    I love this quote, Michele: “Your friend doesn’t need you to fix her life any more than you need her to fix yours. The Savior job has already been filled.” The bottom line is motive. Love loves for others, not for self. Thanks for the good words.

    Reply
  6. Brenda

    I just found your site today, I came over from Deeper Waters. What a blessing meeting you already has been! A kindred spirit for sure!! Thank you for your honesty, vulnerability and openness, how much we need this today and every day! I have signed up for your “Undone, life together conversation”. What a lovely “find” this has been!

    Reply
  7. Teresa Burdick

    Michele– you had me at Colin Firth.
    Actually, yesterday was the two year anniversary of my daughter’s lymphoma diagnosis, and tomorrow she will be admitted for stem-cell transplant. Two years ago my “perfect” life started unraveling before my eyes. But in all the mess, there have been countless blessings. I have learned that it’s easy to say you trust God, but you really find out how much you trust Him when that’s all you’ve got. And “pray continually” is no joke. That’s really what it takes. If I didn’t give my fear up to God many times each day, I would be in the fetal position, unable to cope. I am most comfortable in a care- giver role, but I have learned to lean on friends. Thank you so much for all you do for others. You are an inspiration. We have our “Undone” journals packed for the hospital.

    Reply
  8. Marcia Ballard

    Best article I’ve read in months. I’ll reference it a lot in the future. Would you please ask to have this posted as a national article in macaronikid.com? Won’t make any money but would bless thousands… send to eric@macaronikid.com

    Reply
  9. Rev Philomena Hare

    Thank you for this insightful reflection.

    Reply

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