When I mentally bailed out of the church I’d devoted my adult life to, I lost my tribe and a chunk of the person I’d been taught how to be. I’d put a lot of energy into local congregations, so my self-imposed exile left some holes in my heart. The widest gap comes from losing a community of women who had the same belief and devotion as I did.
I grew up without managing to have sustained friendships. As I child I was sick a lot, and we moved occasionally. I went to four elementary schools and then a religious boarding school. I had friends in high school, but I didn’t have the “stick-to-it” social skills to stay connected as we moved back to our home communities.
The church I joined in the third (of seven) colleges I’ve attended became my social structure. (I know that attending seven colleges is a bit of head-scratcher, but that is a story for another time.) After I was baptized, I felt like I was part of an organization that was greater than I could ever be alone. Michael and I both held leadership positions, and I served long and faithfully with all the caring and prayer that I could muster. I enjoyed my plug-and-play friends, and with lots of meetings to attend, I saw them often. I don’t miss a dogma I can no longer embrace, but I do miss the social connections, the sense of belonging, and the comfortable rapport.
I have one friend from the former days who still keeps tabs on me since I’m on her assigned list of women to check in with each month. On a recent visit, she mentioned the Christmas gathering for women. Not a religious service, just a party. She said she would call again to see if I could go. In just thinking about the invitation, I realize that I haven’t found anything to replace the “just show up” camaraderie of similar believers.
At a time in my life when I expected to be coasting, many in my generation are coping with social change. Like retiring and losing ready colleagues, divorcing and losing couple-friends, being widowed, following their souls to the sun, moving to be near family, or surviving as friends die. Instead of cruising along with sustaining friendships, we are just managing change. Often repeatedly.
These days to connect with people I need to make arrangements for lunch or a walk, to plan a hike, or to find places to volunteer. It means I have to invest more in relationships than just walking through the church door and waiting for the embraces.
I’ll miss the party, but it has been good to remember the sisterhood of women who succored me during tragic times.
Now, who should I text about a winter hike?