“The friends of your heart are not to be taken for granted
and should always be granted much more than they would take.”

I really hadn’t planned to get to know them very well. The circles of friendship I’d been investing in over the years were solid and full—I didn’t need to add any more friends. Plus, I might be moving across the country in a few months—so I told myself there really was no reason to forge new relationships, what with leaving town fairly soon and all.

So, I’m not exactly sure why I even went to the “get acquainted” gathering to begin with. But there I was, in a circle of unfamiliar faces . . . meeting to start a community group that would get together twice a month. That seemed easy enough…and they seemed kind of fun. So, why not?

I remember how the laughter took me by surprise. (We laughed a lot.) Men and women. Single and married. We found ourselves meeting even on the off weeks for dinner and more conversation because we wanted to be together. We really clicked.

Somewhere along the way, the leader asked if we’d consider being more intentional about going a little deeper and investing the next several weeks sharing our stories with each other: where we came from, what we worried about, how we approached life and work.

I’m not sure why I volunteered to be the first(!) to pour out mine to these ten people. But that’s what I agreed to do. The next week, as I thought about what to share, I wondered:

How do I distill twenty-something years into twenty minutes?

What were the significant events of my life that had shaped me?

What if I revealed too much and they decided not to like me?

I felt the distinct impression that there were two stories to tell. Both would be truthful and accurate, but one was more transparent—the one that peeled back a few more layers, and would require greater vulnerability on my part, and greater acceptance by those listening. This version was more “real.” It might dissolve barriers and allow my friends to know me in a deeper way, so they would know better how to support me, how to encourage me, and how to love me. Or, potentially, how to hurt and reject me, if they chose to. It was a risk. I was nervous. But that’s the one I chose to tell.

My willingness to share the hard places and wanderings in my own life invited my friends to do the same.  As I opened my heart to a new way of relating, my friends joined in. What unfolded was a privilege to experience:  We learned of parents who had broken promises. Fathers who had abandoned daughters. People who were still carrying heartaches and disappointments that had seeped into their lives years earlier.

And we loved each other.

This emboldened us to ask questions, speak truth, inspire, and encourage one another. And laugh bigger and deeper than I remember ever having done. It was weird. But really beautiful. Without the pretense of trying to “get you to like me” or not say “something you might not like me for,” there was incredible freedom . . . and delight.

Six months in, the time came for my departure . . . and I had a choice to make. I could begin to shut down and close the door of my heart to my friends to ease the pain of leaving. (That’s what I would have done before this experience. Actually, I wouldn’t have made the choice to unlock it in the first place.) Or I could keep my heart open.

That big friendship experience happened more than 20 years ago. Several of us moved away, but for a number of years we trekked to a country cabin for weekends of laughter and catching up on the growth and struggles of the past year.  Hours full of deep conversation. Tears as we dove into challenges of parenting, money, sex, fears, marriage. It hasn’t all been perfect, of course; there have been trials, conflict, and tensions. But those are paired with a willingness—a commitment—to push through.

After that first cabin retreat weekend, we lamented that we hadn’t found similar communities in our new cities. Nothing at church was quite as comfortable. No people were surfacing who were such a good fit. One friend offered that it was interesting how some of us found ourselves in other parts of the country and maybe were given the opportunity to begin building these kinds of communities in our new homes. We didn’t want to hear that.  We liked this group. But my friend was right.

About 10 years after that first big move, I found myself in a different job with unfamiliar faces around the table, facing another decision about whether or not to open or close my heart. I felt the tug to keep it cool, reserved, guarded. Not to invest. But I chose to remember what can happen when I go the other way. So I invited the uber-hip co-worker to happy hour . . . began to share some of my story . . . listened gently as she poured out hers, heartaches and all . . . and realized that we’re very much the same. I discovered that my gifts can be an encouragement to her in some very real ways and that she will spur me on to take risks in areas where I’ve been hesitant. We found something neither of us would have experienced if we hadn’t entered in: A really fun, dynamic, unexpected friendship. A gift.

At BELONG, we believe opening our hearts in a safe space filled with love and laughter can lead to incredible things. We’re built on story, humor, and hope…and invite you to join us and step in to a world of possibilities that you might never have imagined. Who knows what discoveries and friendships you’ll make when you open your heart. We’d love to hear about them.