Friends vs. Tribe & Family

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1 Sam 18:3Recently I had a fairly major misunderstanding with a friend.  She thought I had made some deliberate decisions when actually it was a series of events out of my control.

I like to resolve issues on the spot not because I’m good at it… but because I can’t sleep and will do nothing but eat if the conflict isn’t resolved.  My stomach gets so knotted when I know, or even think it could be possible, that someone has ill thoughts about me. I tried to chat with her that day and then every day after but she did not respond.  I was miserable.

After a few days of personal angst, she called and we chatted. It was a good but difficult conversation and I believe we both realized some things about the other.  For me personally it was a landmark conversation.  It was like I had been given a pair of glasses after years of not knowing I wasn’t seeing well.  My friend has superpowers of insight.  During our chat she helped me to see that one of the reasons why we had the misunderstanding is because I have some voids that are causing me to have unfair and unrealistic expectations of people.

As I’ve thought and prayed about it I believe that, at this point in my life, these voids are mostly due to me being a solo-immigrant.  There are two specific voids: tribe & family.

TRIBE:
The people and culture you grow up with are your “tribe”.  I was born and raised in Australia.  I left my country, and my tribe, in my early 20s.  When I moved, very few people had email and international phone calls to Australia were unaffordable.  I got on a plane and lost contact with my people.  I got off the plane and was surround by a culture and people that I only knew from tv and movies.  By the way, tv and movies are not true representations of American culture.  Also, despite the fact that Aussies and Americans speak English, I had no idea what was going on around me.  A lot of things seem to be the same but under the surface we are very different cultures.  I TOTALLY understand why immigrant populations cluster together.  If I could have lived alongside a bunch of Aussies here, I would have.  But I rarely ran into any.  And, like every country, Australia has so many sub-cultures that my particular tribe was hard to find.  All that to say, I’m in search of a people.  A group where I belong and where I’m understood.  A group where communication is not strained because of cross-cultural issues.  I have a vacuum in my heart that is desperate for a tribe that feels like home.

FAMILY:
When I moved here, I left behind my beloved parents and sister. The void in my heart and life is huge.  An example of the consequence of this void is that for about a year, I had almost no physical touch in my life.  I was working with teens at the time so I did get an occasional punch on the arm or legally appropriate side-hug.  But I didn’t have any life-giving hugs or touch like I had grown up with in my family.  I can look back now and see that I had to shut down the pain of that need and I lost my ability to relate deeply with people.  Touch is an affirming communication.  Without touch, it is difficult to know where you stand in a relationship.  It’s a funny blessing that my husband’s top Love Language is touch.  He has brought healing to my life but it took several years to get used to hugs again.  My family has been through a lot together, we can make each other laugh like no one else, and my parents are my greatest fans and my greatest mentors.  Living life here without them, especially in the beginning when technology isn’t what it is today, was like losing them.  Years later my dad came to visit me and planned to stay for just two weeks. I couldn’t understand why he would spend so much money to come for such a short time.  After he was here he explained that he wasn’t sure how it would be and he didn’t want to plan to stay a long time just in case we didn’t get along.  He was treating me like a stranger, not like family.  The truth is, it had been almost 10 years and he was being wise.  But it was painful.  I’m happy to say that he extended his trip and stayed for five weeks.  And when he left we both wished it could be that he could stay for much longer.  All that to say, I have a huge hole in my heart that is needing to be filled.

My friend helped me see that these two voids are a big hinderance in my life and are setting me up for failure in relationships.

When I become friends with people I end up auditioning them to be part of my tribe & family.  Every now and again I find people who really fill my tribe & family needs.  It’s a rare mix of personality, history, and life purpose.  When I find people who feel like home to me, I try to establish life-long relationships.  Then, I feel hurt if those people don’t return the same level of relationship. And I feel really hurt when people who were part of my tribe & family leave and don’t try to keep our relationship alive.  (Try to imagine how ridiculous my emotions were every year when our seniors graduated from youth group and went off to college.  We had given our lives to these kids and their families but many we have never heard from again. Could I have done something to fix that?  Yes, of course!  I’m not trying to blame anyone… just reflecting on the journey I’ve been on.)

Please know, I don’t need a lot from people to keep a relationship going. I simply need to know that it is safe and worthwhile for my heart to invest in them.  One of my best friends is a Bible college friend I see at most one-a-year.  We have a sisterhood that is firmly established and I know that we’ll always be in each other’s lives.  When we come together, we just pick up where we left off.  She really is part of my tribe & family.  I also have dear friendships with some of our former youth leadership team and some of our youth kids who are now adults.  They are the ones who kept in contact with me and clearly expressed that they always wanted to be in relationship.

So here’s where I am in my journey to address the problems of these voids:
– FRIENDS:  I’m examining my friendships.  I need to cut some people some slack!  I need to let go of my need for tribe & family and let friends be friends.
– TRIBE and FAMILY: I’m having conversations with people who I see are my tribe & family.  As I’ve been assessing my friendships, I’m seeing that some really are gifts from God on a tribe & family level.  I’ve been talking to them about how I feel about wanting to be committed to them in long-term tribe & family relationships.  It’s a real joy for my heart to have these people in my life.
– ME: I’m watching for seasons. Some relationships are for a season.  It’s okay to let go.  I’m cutting myself some slack too!  Just because people leave or stop being in relationship with me, it doesn’t mean that I did something wrong.  Sometimes people just leave our lives for no reason.  If it doesn’t bear fruit when I try to keep the friendship, tribe-ship or family hood going… it’s okay to let go.  I have been grieving a bit about these people.  I get so attached.  But I do believe that seasons are seasons and I need to be able to embrace who God has in my life today.

At the end of the day, I am just craving what all humans need.  To be known and loved.  I can go about that in my own strength, or I can look to God and trust Him to bring people into (and out of) my life in His time.

I wish I could go back and ask for forgiveness to those friends who were hurt by my high expectations of them.  Sorry friends.  Maybe my ramblings here can shed some light on what was going on.  Please forgive me if my void vacuums caused you harm.  I am so grateful for the season we had together.  No ill feelings reside in my heart.  (Well, some days I probably still have twinges of pain but I am on the path to freedom!)  Also, I wonder if there are some people who were part of my tribe & family at one point but it changed and they don’t know why.  I don’t know who they are so I can’t do anything to fix it.  But I can pray that God brings us back together for reconciliation.

Here are some of the passages that have been helping me find godly definitions of friendship, and tribe & family.  I don’t want to operate under my own definitions or cultural definitions.  I want to know what God wants from these kinds of relationships!

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another [man‘s countenance] (friend). (Prov 27:17)  God uses friendships for His purposes.

A friend (friend) loves at all times, And a brother (tribe & family) is born for adversity.  (Prov 17:17)  There is a place for friendship and a place for tribe & family.

Then Jonathan made a covenant (tribe & family) with David because he loved him as himself.   (1 Sam 18:3)  There are people who will become tribe & family for me.

P.S.  Thank God for modern technology!  Email, Skype, Twitter, Facebook and Smilebox have helped me reconnect with my biological family.  Also I’m so grateful that I’ll get eternity with my Dad, Mum and sister.  Without that awesome future, I would be a way bigger mess!

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11 responses »

  1. A truly inspired post Jusi…it makes me cry tender tears…so poignant it is…my heart has a bittersweet ache for myself and all fellow aliens…with a foot on two continents.
    After close on 7 years in Africa I returned to my home country homess, penniless, sick, tired and in need of two surgeries. Had it not been for church I cannot say how i would have coped. The irony that we were having church in my old HS was almost too much for me, but the Lord told me ‘this is your church’…and i obeyed.
    My fellow Americans did not know what to do with me. I was no longer a tax deductible donation. Unbeknownst to myself; i spoke with a strange accent. I used words like salad cream, serviette and bakkie (truck) and i used the Brittish pronounciations for words like banana, tomato, bath, water and even my own city. People who haven’t been in missions thought i was putting it on…understanding past and current missionaries were many states or countries away…and i was near fully rejected. Reverse culture shock to the MAX!!!
    …And one day i felt to walk in to your office…i had sensed a bit of your ‘shield’ but it did not put me off in the LEAST. I knew i wanted to be your friend and i really wasn’t bothered with whether you wanted to be MINE! (blush)…i felt alone…and somehow i knew i would be safe in chatting to you…
    No town or church or person is perfect…least of all myself…i only got to find shelter in the safety of your friendship and the TOTAL bath of love and acceptance i found at church for a very short while…but it was a gift…and surely one that would need to sustain me….for Alaska…America…and yet….almost not…

  2. Thank you all for your comments. I had no idea this was something other people were walking through. So encouraged by your stories. Thank you for taking the time to read and share!!

  3. Aw, Jus. You spoke words from my heart! I have been on a similar journey for a while. When you have no ‘extended family’ it leaves a huge void. Without those deep friendships, life gets pretty lonely. Loving your blog, Jus. You seem to be speaking my heart (what I am feeling) almost each day 🙂

  4. Thanks again Jus, your deep reflections and soul pondering always both challenge and bless me. I have a similar yearning to build deep lasting lifelong friendships, and often expect to much from others while giving away to much of myself at the same time. I have felt stung and disappointed when other don’t share a similar heart, and don’t maintain the relationship over time. I think I have learned to adapt and let go over the years. Even though my family live within my country ( only hours away) I still find myself looking for family/tribe types of people to build my life around and often God does send those rare kindred friends into my life. Im glad you are one of them.
    Great insights,healing to know as women we all struggle with this in some respect, and crave a community of others to belong to in a family/tribe sense. Thanks for sharing dear sister friend.

  5. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like you didn’t have time/space to grieve the loss that you experienced when you left home. I was trying to explore something similar in one of my posts “Reflections on Home,” a reflection I started writing when I was doing CPE and realizing that I had become a different person because of the path my life had taken and one day found that home wasn’t where I had left it…. Glad for the fruitful conversation that you had with your friend, and hopeful for the ways that God is accompanying you through your journey and sending people along the way.

  6. Very well put. So much of my life has been surrounded by the need for relationship fulfillment. I think this affects many in life. I have virtually grown up and lived in the same town for my entire life and b/c of the childhood i had, there is much to grow thru. i’m learning each day and growing moment by moment, but currently am definitely walking thru a friend-season-change and they are painful. Thank you for your words this day. They are enfolded into my heart.

      • I only recently began writing. I have not started any of my story yet, but do plan to. I’m venturing into unfamiliar territory quite often these days! I’m loving reading your story, tho, and appreciate you sharing.

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