Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Friendships

Finding God in Unexpected Places

Lindsey Smallwood

Our summer sermon series at The River Church Community is called Finding God in Unexpected Places. I love this idea - that God might not be where you expect God to be - because for a long time I thought I knew exactly where to find God. Turns out I was thinking too small.

Actual footage of me trying to get out of my Christian bubble. ;)

Actual footage of me trying to get out of my Christian bubble. ;)

Last Sunday I got to add to the conversation with this sermon on what it’s meant to me to experience friendship with people of other faiths. I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve learned in these relationships - and delighted by the ways God has shown up in our midst. Also there’s some bits on Wonder Woman, Kim’s Convenience and the tree in our garden that makes me cry.

Feeling Lonely is Not the Same as Being Alone

Lindsey Smallwood

This isn't the first time I've written on loneliness. It probably won't be the last. No matter how many connections I make, people I befriend, babies I birth, I think learning to be alone is one of the deep joys, true sadnesses and profound challenges of my life. (There aren't many things I can say that about!) I'm thrilled to be back at Middle Places with thoughts on solitude, extroversion and why Jesus always gets to ride shotgun. 

For someone who's never alone, feeling lonely happens way more than you might think.

I'm raising two toddlers, so on any given day there's a lot of cuddling and carrying and breaking up wrestling matches.

I work part-time at a church, where I lead Bible studies, meet with women and use shared office space.

I'm an extrovert and my free time includes things like workout classes, mom's group and book club.

I'm married, which in my case means I sleep close enough to my husband to feel him breathe.

And add to all that, I'm pregnant, so even when I actually am alone, I can feel a tiny person swimming around inside me.

And yet, even with all of these daily connections, I find myself wondering about the quality of my relationships at church, in my friendships, with my family. Though I'm grateful for all the places I'm connected in this season of life, I find myself searching for more because I'm feeling lonely.

When I think back to the early days of our marriage, I remember long walks with my husband, holding hands as we caught up on life and dreamed dreams together. These days, walks include a double stroller, snacks, a just-in-case diaper bag and a nearly super-human patience to answer my two-year-old’s repetitive questions over and over again without raising our voices.

I long for the days when I’d go meet a friend for happy hour, and we’d talk so long and laugh so hard that we’d have to order dinner to have more time together. Those extended times of just hanging out feel like a distant memory in my current life where every minute has to be coordinated and arranged in advance.

I know this is a season – and I can’t even count the number of times people stop to tell me how quickly this time passes. But I hear about the fun date nights my neighbors do every week, and I notice the way some of my other mom friends seem to make space for fun time together and I wonder if I’m missing out.

The truth is I am missing out. It’s inevitable. None of us can do it all, so there will always be areas where our lives seem to fall short. That’s the danger of comparing our lives with our neighbors.

But here’s the other piece – I always have been missing out. Even during the time I now recall as blissful early in my marriage, if I’m honest, I remember how I wanted us to have more couple friends, or I worried we weren’t planning enough for the future. And for all of those fun friend times, there were nights where no one texted back, where I found out I hadn’t been included, where I obsessed over whether I’d said or done the wrong thing during a coffee date or small group meeting.

I’ve always been searching for more in my relationships, for friendships and connections that are meaningful and deep. It’s a human problem existing since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had an actual perfect relationship – with God and with each other – and still they wanted more! It’s that longing that led them to the sin that would take them away from the garden forever.

It’s never going to perfect. My relationships with others, even in my best moments, won’t offer the total fulfillment my heart longs for. But in the midst of the search, of trying to find contentment in the season I’m in, I have this wonderful promise from Jesus –

… I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

If you're feeling lonely, consider this:

A woman in our church decided to try and make that promise seem more real to her during Lent. She created an actual physical space for Jesus everywhere she went to remind herself that He is, in fact, always with her. At work, she pulled an extra chair into her cubicle. At the dinner table, she set an extra place. Even in her car, she made her friends ride in the backseat during those 40 days because, of course, Jesus always rides shotgun.

What a way to paint the picture!

He’s there.

In my loneliness.

In the search for meaningful relationships.

In the longing for more.

In the challenges of this season.

Jesus is with me. Always. Every moment. Ready to soothe my doubts and calm my fears and offering a relationship better than any I’ve ever known.

I’m learning to see Him.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

How to Start a Summer Book Club

Lindsey Smallwood

...in which I share about our super fun summer friend group and invite your own group to dive into the book I wrote this spring!

Summer is my favorite. 

I know there are people who live for crunching leaves in the fall, those who can't wait to hit the ski hills every weekend in the winter and the gardeners among us who live for spring's planting season. But oh man, for me, summer is where it's at. 

I love short sleeves and sunshine, days spent at the pool or the beach and the long hours of daylight that somehow make you feel like anything is possible. Some of my best memories are summer memories, like the time I decided to work at a circus camp for 12 weeks or the year I drove cross country with six friends in a mini-van.

Last summer my family and I had just moved to Colorado a few months before. We were settling into life in our new home when all of sudden, summer appeared. And when summer started, everything else ended. My Mom's Group. My Bible Study. The Community Playgroup I'd joined. All of my regular activities went on hiatus. So I knew I needed something more. 

I decided to start a summer book club.

Here's how:

1) Ask some people.

For real. Just put yourself out there. It's as easy as sending some emails. I asked a random assortment of women I'd met in different places since we moved. Some already knew each other and some didn't. A few said no - but most said yes! Many of them have since told me how thankful they were that I was willing to go first so our little group could be born. 

2) Choose a time.

Figure out what works for everyone. Everyone I asked had young kids, so we decided to meet in the morning so our kids could play outside while we talked. If you're working, night-time probably works better. 

Some of my super fun summer book club friends - and a few of our teeny-tinies.

Some of my super fun summer book club friends - and a few of our teeny-tinies.

3) Find a spot to meet. 

We live in the dorms. Much as I love to play hostess, there's literally not room in our place for 10 other women and their kiddos. But that's okay! I still started the group, even without knowing where we'd all meet together. Before our first meeting, I send out a question about ideas on where to meet and a couple of the gals volunteered their homes. 

4) Pick a book.

There are so many great books out there. You could go fiction (The NightengaleWhere'd You Go, Bernadette? and Me Before You are some recent faves) or non-fiction (I always recommend The Geography of Bliss and Boys in the Boat is a great one).  Last summer we decided to go the get-to-know-you route and do a small group workbook on friendship by Stephanie May Wilson. It was fabulous.  

If you're interested in a more spiritual selection, there are so many great reads to choose from. But if I may - this is where I invite you to pick me!

Over the winter, I wrote a Bible study guide for small groups on the New Testament books of Philemon and Colossians, which are fascinating letters with ideas about identity, calling and living in community. This spring 60 women in our church piloted the study in small groups. And now, I'm thrilled to bring it to all of you!

The book is designed to be completed in 5 weeks, although those who prefer to move at a slower pace could easily do it in 10 instead. There are chapter introductions, daily homework, devotional reflections, and small group questions. In addition to the book, there are short talks for each chapter (soon to be available here) which you can stream or download for personal or small group use. And, just for fun, I've created adult coloring pages which you'll receive as a free download when you order.

If you're thinking about a summer book club - just do it! And if you're interested in using my new Bible Study guide, I'd love to send you one. They're available for individual purchase by using the link below, or contact me with larger orders, I offer discounts and free shipping for small groups! 

Happy Summer! Here's to good time with your people in the months to come.

Order Your Copy of Philemon & Colossians: In Christ Alone

Stir It Up

Lindsey Smallwood

During my first few years out of college, I worked as a campus pastor for university students. I started my career in ministry the way most people start most careers these days - as an intern.

The first person I met on the first day of my internship was Jessica.

Jess, already a full-time pastor, was fast-talking and friendly, showing me the ins and outs of the house we would share - along with 13 other women! - and helping me navigate the intern manual. That first week, she was formally assigned to be my mentor, a role that involved meeting together weekly for support, accountability and advice. 

The (at first) weird and (ultimately) wonderful thing about having Jess as a mentor is that we were also friends. I'd had mentors before, my campus pastors during undergrad, a lady in my church back home, a dear family friend, but these had all been people either

a) older than me,

b) in a position of power, or

c) both.

Due to age or power differences, my previous experience with mentoring relationships meant that the roles were very clearly defined. When I met with a mentor, I was coming to receive something, to ask for something, to benefit from their wisdom and experience.

But with Jess, the lines were blurred.

Jess was my friend-tor, a peer who was also interested in helping me grow, both personally and professionally.

Me and Jess sporting some serious safety gear on a rafting trip down the Kenai River. I was mentoring her on the appropriate response to a bear sighting, which, incidentally, is  not  to point and yell "Bear!" Which we did. About 5 minutes after this picture was taken.

Me and Jess sporting some serious safety gear on a rafting trip down the Kenai River. I was mentoring her on the appropriate response to a bear sighting, which, incidentally, is not to point and yell "Bear!" Which we did. About 5 minutes after this picture was taken.

We'd made a commitment to know each other well, to learn from each other and we set structured times to do it, sharing about vocational challenges, deep convictions, and struggles with sin and doubt. But because we were friends, we also did things like make dinner and go backpacking together.

This sort of spiritual friendship was new to me - and it was powerful.

My friendship with Jess lead me to three important realizations.

1) Explicit commitments contribute to personal & relational growth.

I have a lot of friends.

Some I catch up with at happy hour or ultimate frisbee games, others live far away and I have to call if I want to connect. Our family has small group friends we only see on Sundays and work friends we see socially on occasion.

In most of our relationships, the level of interaction we have with someone in a given month is determined either by happenstance or in reaction to whatever else we've packed our schedules with that.

But what if we made growing in and through friendship a priority?

Scheduling an hour a week or every other week to meet with a friend for the purpose of sharing joys and challenges, giving and receiving advice, and joining together in prayer could change your life.

Seriously.

Imagine knowing that someone you admire, respect and enjoy is making space to know and love you well - regularly. That thought delights me and gives me hope.

It might feel scary to ask a someone to make this kind of commitment. But brave things are often scary.

And worth it.

2) Friends can mentor you. And you can mentor your friends.

Mentors don't have to be older (or even wiser) than you, although those kinds of mentors are great if you can find one. But everyone around us has a gift to offer the world.

Maybe you are bad at organization and have a friend with a knack for using rubbermaid containers in beautiful ways - ask her to show you the way! Or maybe you really admire the way your buddy is navigating his career. Talking about your own challenges and asking how he makes professional decisions can lead to your own development.

Finding a mentoring relationship means putting yourself in a position to learn from someone else, which can feel strange in a friendship. But by being direct about what you see in someone else's skill set and how you hope to grow together, you can create a space to be friend-tors.

3) Deep friendship requires vulnerability.

Here's the hardest part. If we want relationships that support us in our weaknesses and push us to develop our strengths, we have to be honest.

Honest with ourselves and with our friends.

Honest about our hopes and dreams and goals and plans.

Honest about our failures and struggles and heartache and sin.

All of our beautiful messiness becomes fair game in true friendship. And in the mess, where we experience shame and frustration and fear, God lovingly uses people to speak life and healing and hope, to pull us up and get us unstuck, to point us back to the path we wanted to walk in the first place.

Hebrews gives us this challenge:

Image courtesy of  incourage.me

Image courtesy of incourage.me

Living the kind of life we all want to live, a life filled with doing good things and loving people well doesn't just happen.

We've got to stir it up in each other.

And if we are intentional, vulnerable and committed to growing in friendship, God can use those relationships to shape us more fully into his image.


You guys, I need some friend-tors in this season! I decided to "go first" by asking some local girlfriends to do a six week summer study on friendship together. We start next week and I'm looking forward to sharing more with you about what we learn together.

Do you have a friend-tor? What steps are you taking or considering to grow in and through friendship? I'd love to hear more in the comments below.