After college, there was a period in my life when I dreaded the weekends.
I anxiously awaited the long hours of unstructured time I would spend trying to distract myself from my loneliness. It wasn’t that I lacked friends, it was the physical distance between us that left me without plans on the weekends. As I adjusted to moving back home while working full-time as a college librarian and not having connections at my fingertips like I had when I was a student, I hungered for community with peers.
My instinct during this time of loneliness was to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to foster social connection. I joined a women’s group at a parish in Chicago and volunteered as a literacy tutor. I invested in hobbies that would sustain my body and mind – I went to exercise classes and rollerbladed, I started a gratitude journal and listened to audiobooks.
Though these pursuits were healthy and helped me discover what fulfills me, I could not stay present and enjoy them when my focus remained on what I lacked. I stayed in motion but hadn’t found my place, becoming bitter and cynical when these activities did not produce the community I craved. Rather than reframing this period of loneliness as an opportunity to try new experiences and reevaluate my priorities, I saw it as a burden that I didn’t deserve to carry. I concentrated too much on what I wanted to gain from these activities rather than on what I could give to God and others through them.
As this period continued, I knew I needed help. While I received support through mental health counseling, I also brought this ache to my spiritual life, turning to saints who had both experienced pain and found profound peace in trusting God. I asked our Blessed Mother Mary for help finding good and holy friendships. I prayed a novena to St. Therese the Little Flower, asking for the courage to pursue true friendships. On the last day of the novena, I joined a woman whom I had briefly met at Mass for a drink. It was the first new friend I had made in a long time, and the conversation we had affirmed me that a new, meaningful connection was possible.
As I struggled to let go of my need for control and rely on the saints’ intercession, opportunities for friendship and community began to present themselves more naturally, but without the same sense of pressure. I was invited to volunteer with an organization that hosts afterschool programs for girls, and I met other like-minded women who also volunteered there. Saying yes to this invitation and engaging with the connections I made there allowed me to intentionally invest in the community, striving for quality of interactions over quantity.
I learned to rely on friendships that are spread across far distances, acknowledging that even if I don’t talk to these people every day, they are still the friends I have on speed dial whether I need to laugh or reach out for support. I planned weekend trips and organized a virtual book club with these friends to help us stay tethered. I worked to be grateful for the friendships I do have, and the community that I have within my family. By letting God into the work of bringing new people into my life, I slowly let go of the notion that I need a sprawling group of connections in order to feel whole.
As I look back to see what God was doing to my heart during this time, I can see him helping me rethink what community looks like. The biggest misconception I held was the belief that community is static, and that I will reach a stable point where I am completely fulfilled by all my activities and social interactions. Community is not a finish line or a goal to achieve – it is a growing organism that is never fully formed. God was showing me that community is always in flow, evolving as new connections form and others wilt, but he is the only one who will always be beside me.
The philosopher Aristotle wrote that, “Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.” The longing for community transcends generations, centuries and cultures. I do not take for granted the communities I’ve found through various avenues, but I know they may change and fade. There will be other seasons of loneliness, loss and grief that I will need to learn to endure with grace. Yet, it is these seasons that make my friendships so valuable, and allow me to renew my dependence on God, realigning myself with his dream for my life.