Keep Your Circle Broken
by Sara Horn
I still remember that one long nervous breath that came painfully to my lungs as I walked up the drive towards the house. Everything in me wanted to turn around, scurry back to my car and drive home. Home was safe and familiar. Home was where I could be myself and know that the people there loved me anyway.
But this house I walked towards was not home.Â
My steps were slow and I hesitated more than once as I moved closer towards the door, laughter and excited chatter spilling out in waves from behind it. Women who sounded like they knew what fun and fellowship meant. Women whose circle I really wanted to join. Women who I didnâ€™t know, and who didnâ€™t know me.
Why am I doing this again?Â I thought for what must have been the tenth time since Iâ€™d left my house.
My family had attended this church for months – could it have been a year? – and I was hungry for real friendships, not just acquaintances. God had made it very clear that IÂ neededÂ friendships. But this was new territory for me because over the years, Iâ€™d found it easier to focus on projects and goals instead of relationships and people. People were messy and relationships complicated. Give me a list of tasks to complete or an objective to achieve -Â thatÂ I could do with no problem. But people werenâ€™t so easy.Â
WhatÂ wasÂ easy, Iâ€™d learned, was not bothering to engage at allâ€¦ at least until God showed me just how very wrong that attitude was.
Iâ€™d learned that the Bible is filled with examples of how Jesus always put relationships and people first. He chose some of the most imperfect people to be His closest companions, and even when His disciples got it wrong, Jesus gave them more chances to get it right. Though He encountered more than a few (hundred) messy lives during His earthly ministry, there was never a cutoff number in His mind. Jesus never raised His hand to say, â€œIâ€™ve reached my limit of who Iâ€™m willing to help because this is getting in the way of My real purpose here.â€
No, He never chose projects over people, because projects were never His priority or His passion. Godâ€™s people were.Â
Stepping through the doorway, I took in the scene – cozy comfortable rooms, decorated with warmth and elegance, a beautiful gathering spot the church had recently acquired and reclaimed as a meeting place for women. I took another step in, and tried very hard to work up my courage and my biggest smile, praying silently that God would help me find some new friends. Besides, wasn’t that what the church had promised this evening to be? An informal time to connect and get to know some of the other ladies?
Bright, shiny, bubbly women all stood around in clusters and groups mingling and visiting, and Iâ€™m sure I stood there, blankly, for a moment, as I tried to see a familiar face and assess where I should even begin. Standing by myself, though, made me feel more conspicuous than standing in one of those groups, so I quickly moved to the nearest half-circle of chatting women and smiled my warmest greeting.Â
â€œHi, Iâ€™m Sara, how are you?”
The woman who glanced over at me returned a quick smile, but hesitated as she looked back to the group whose conversation my presence was obviously making her miss.
â€œOh hello, glad youâ€™re here.â€ And with a polite smile and a quick nod, she turned back to the ladies behind her.Â
Another breath. Another step. I willed myself to ignore the pang in my chest while the little bit of courage Iâ€™d walked in with fizzled and sagged, like a sad balloon thatâ€™s spent way too much time in the Chuck-E-Cheese party room.Â
As I moved around the rooms of that little house, all laid out in what seemed to be a gentle sloping oval, I felt like a satellite suspended in space, set completely apart in my own little orbit. The knots and clumps of ladies talking and laughing, some hugging, some sharing hilarious stories, all seemed oblivious as I silently moved past. Occasionally a face glanced my way but none ever stopped me in my little lone orbit circulating the room. Everyone looked so comfortable, so at home. Everyone but me.Â
I tried, again and again, to find an opening in one of their huddles. Each time, Iâ€™d offer the same introduction and each time Iâ€™d get the same kind of response. A glance, a smile, but no engagement. No conversation. I tried asking questions that might encourage it – â€œhow long have you been at this church?â€ â€œA long time.â€ â€œWhich small group do you go to?â€ “So-and-soâ€™s.â€ By the time I landed eyes on a familiar face, my sonâ€™s school teacher, I was wondering how Iâ€™d missed the secret code and I hoped she might share it with me.
â€œHey! Good to see you!â€ And with that, she turned around in the opposite direction and began talking with another friend. Such perfect little circles, I thought, glancing back at the happy conversations as I quickly made my way out the door Iâ€™d entered just seven minutes before.Â
Another breath. Another step.
But not one circle with any room for me.
The drive back home that night felt a lot longer than the actual few minutes it took. More than ten years have passed since I took that walk around the little house but Iâ€™ve never forgotten it, or the two lessons I learned from that experience that have greatly shaped my ministry, my life, and the friendships I have today.Â
Lesson #1 – Always Keep Your Circle Broken
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says â€œTherefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.â€ When you purposely leave your circle of friendship open, you live life with an awareness and an alertness about you – looking for the next friend you can encourage. That young mom who shows up to your Tuesday morning Bible study knowing no one. Your elderly neighbor down the street. The single mom of one of your sonâ€™s friends.
Keeping my circle broken reminds me to never just be comfortable with the friends I already have but also to look for ways to be a friend to others who need one.Â Â
A circle thatâ€™s closed will stay the same size but a broken one has the ability to grow bigger, if weâ€™re willing to let them.Â
Lesson #2 – Never Stop Saying Hello
Someone once said that to have friends, you must first be a friend.Â
Have you ever wished this wasnâ€™t so true? Especially in those seasons of your life when you feel like youâ€™re the only one making an effort in the first place?
Why do I have to initiate everything, Lord? has often been my cry.Â Why canâ€™t someone come to ME?
Godâ€™s made it clear to me, though, in those moments of frustration or exhaustion or just plain selfishness, that itâ€™s not about what someone else can bring to me.Â
He is quite capable of taking care of my needs.Â
But He will often use me to help encourage someone else- and asks me to trust Him for everything else.Â
Heâ€™s never told me to reach out to someone only after that person reaches out to me.
He doesnâ€™t keep score on all of the times Iâ€™ve begged him for help compared to the times Iâ€™ve Â – and He doesnâ€™t want me to, either.
No, He gives me the courage and the prompting to say hello to someone else – to offer a smile, an encouraging word, a text that says â€œIâ€™m praying for you.â€ And then He asks me to do it again. And again. And turn to Him for when I need that smile or that encouragement or that text.Â
So that is what Iâ€™ve tried to do.
With my broken circle.
With my repeated â€œhellosâ€ that often require as much courage as they did that day in the little house.
With my prayer that “He will supply all my needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.â€Â
Today, even this week, as I see the text messages that come across my phone and think about the coffees or the lunches I enjoy on a pretty regular basis with friends, Iâ€™m reminded that my broken circle has not remained a small circle of someone broken but has become a circle that always has room for one more. I am so grateful for every friendship thatâ€™s been formed, for every precious woman in my life who shares with me life’s joys and hurts and blessings and sorrows. I canâ€™t help, though, as I think about those faces, and I see the broken circle of friends God has placed in my life, that almost all of those friendships began with a willingness to say hello.
And then with courage to say hello again.