Jennie Allen: Doing Life Together
Having little kids can mean a season of profound loneliness for young moms. Author Jennie Allen explores how to find community by doing life together.
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Having little kids can mean a season of profound loneliness for young moms. Author Jennie Allen explores how to find community by doing life together.
Jennie Allen: Doing Life Together
Ann: Tell me a time when you felt really lonely.
Dave: Going through succession after 30 years of leading the church.
Dave: That felt lonely; that felt like I was walking down a tunnel alone; it was dark. You, and my family, is with me; and I was alone.
Ann: Where were your friends?
Dave: It was interesting. It didn't feel like they were there—I mean, my closest friends; you know, the couples that we do life with; we’d done for 30-plus years—they were with me. Everybody else was on the outside, not understanding how hard it was.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
I've always said the greatest gift in my life, behind Jesus and you, is the couples we've done life with for 30 years, raise our kids together. I think I did all their kids’ weddings/you know, officiated. It was hard work, but it's the best gift we've ever done.
Ann: It’s been really fun.
Dave: We're talking about that today—about “Find your people,”—we sit here, going, “Wow! We found our people.”
Ann: But Dave, so many people—
Dave: —so many don’t.
Ann: —haven’t; and they're lonely. Sometimes, you really don't even know you're lonely ‘til you hit something that, as you're saying, you've gone through something that you feel devastated; and you don't even know how to get out, and you don't have people.
Dave: Yes; so Jennie Allen is back again at FamilyLife Today to talk about Find Your People. Jennie, welcome back.
Jennie: It's so good to be here; thanks for having me.
Dave: Now, you're smiling; because you’ve found your people. You wrote a book that says: “This is how God made us.
Dave: “We have to find our people.” We talked for a couple days now; it's really hard.
Ann: Well, let me ask you, Jennie—you’re an author; you’re a speaker; you’re a mom; you’re a wife—what has been the loneliest time for you?
Jennie: Moving to Dallas was a moment. I mean, we moved our whole family. We had a senior in high school at the time, which there was a lot of reasons for this move; and it was hard, but he was on board. We had a sophomore in high school, and then we had a middle schooler, and an elementary school age kid. That whole first year really revolved around getting them set up and settled.
I was meeting people; but you know, you don't feel known. It was just starting over, and it was scary and hard. We had to do all the awkward things you have to do to make friends.
Ann: I feel like, as I talk to women, there's two phases, too, that can be really difficult. One is when you have young children—and whether you're working, and then you come home, and you're just pouring into your kids—or maybe you're a stay-at-home mom, and your friends are working.
Dave: And you're complaining, because your husband is not helping enough.
Ann: Exactly. Your marriage is struggling, because that's a really hard time in your life.
Another hard stage, that I'm talking to women my age, they're empty nesters. And whereas before, their kids were in school; so they had all these people—their [kids’] parents, sporting events, all these different things: they're meeting people—now, they're not meeting as many people; or they've moved into a new community, and they don't know any people. So let's kind of hit those two things a little bit.
Jennie: Sure. One thing I talk about in the book a lot is that the idea of a village should be more than your two to five best friends. It should actually be a whole group of people that are helping you live life, and raise kids, and do all these seasons together. That village should—they're not going to be your daily friends—but they're going to be in and out of your life: it’s Sunday school teachers; it's friends that your kids play sports with; it’s neighbors; right?—it's all of these people that are just in our life anyway, and might be different ages and life stages and all of that, but provide, hopefully, what village living has provided for people for generations, which is help; right? And then I think we all need it.
And so, to the mom that feels really isolated, I would say: “First of all, make friends with people that don't have kids—so singles—those were some of my best friends in that time. They would come over after I put my kids down, and my husband was gone, and we’d get to hang out. They were flexible enough to be able to drop by when my kids were napping or when they were asleep.”
Then I would say: “Make friends with people who are older than you—who will come over and like say, ‘Hey, let me tell you…’—you know, give you perspective that this season is not the end all/be all—like: ‘This is what's going to happen…’ and ‘Here's how I handled this,’ and ‘Here's what I did, and this is…’ Those people are necessary in your life. We call them mentors or disciple-makers sometimes. But whatever you call them, you just need people that have done this life stage before you.”
And then I would say: “Get creative with your friends.” One thing I did with my friends, when we had young kids, was every Sunday, we would cook for each other. We would take/deliver meals and see each other when we would deliver our meals to each other.
Ann: That’s so sweet; so you did that every Sunday?
Jennie: Yes; we would cook together; yes.
Another thing I've seen people do is: meet at Costco®; meet at Target®—meet somewhere, where there's a playground; go to a park together—like push your strollers.
I also want to say, for those people that are just starting their life: do not be like Monica and Chandler on Friends, where they have their twins, and they move out to the suburbs. [Laughter] If you are having babies, and you're thinking: “We need a yard,” “We need all these things,” “We need the perfect house,”—all that—be sure you're not leaving the communal system that you actually need to raise your kids.
I would say be careful [not] to take a job that pays more and leave your family. Be careful in that season. [Avoid making] choices that maybe bring you conveniences but take you away from people. Certainly not everyone is going to go move, because they read this book; but I do hope it brings into context: “You know what? I need neighbors, and I need people that know what's going on, and that I can borrow things from, and take walks with, and be in each other’s life.”
Ann: —which is so contrary; because many times, we make that move because of money—we have a better job status/kind of climbing the ladder—like: “Of course, we're going to do it.”
Dave: Well, I mean, I've literally sat with men, who asked for my advice on a job change—often, a city change/state—and this, what you just said, Jennie, is way down on the priority list. They think it's not that important.
Jennie: The number-one priority of your life should be the relationships in your life. There's nothing else that lasts forever—it's God and His people—like that's it. This is going to go into eternity with us. There's not a better investment of your life, and you need it to live. We are just so arrogant in America—that we think we can live without connection and—
Dave: “But Jennie, the job that I'm being offered—
Jennie: “We’re not doing it”; I don’t care!
Dave: —"is double the salary.”
Jennie: Take half the salary and live, you know, in a neighborhood with five friends that have less means than you; and that's the neighborhood they can afford. Make choices around this. This should be the guiding force of our life, because it's the richest part of life; it's the most meaningful part of life; and it's the most essential part of life.
Dave: So you've got that community; you're never leaving? [Laughter]
Jennie: You know, people are going to have to move. I mean, I hear a lot from military families—right?—and I just had to redo it in Dallas.
Jennie: Our move was to move closer to family.
Dave: There you go.
Ann: She did do it.
Jennie: I did; but certainly, we left a lot of good friends and had to start over. You can build it anywhere you go, certainly. But I think it should be at the top of the list of the choices we're making and why we're making them. Sure, take the better job; but you better get busy, right when you get there.
And for military families, what I say is: “You can do all this. Like be vulnerable, find accountability. Like you can do all the things that I say to do in the book, but you just got to do it faster than other people; because you're going to be off to the next place.”
Then you’ve got to pick the friends that you keep with you. I have a great group of friends in proximity to me. They are the ones that pull me out of bed when I'm really, really down; and they know I need to go out; and like they will come over and be like: “Get dressed and let's go.” I have those friends, who can get in my face, and like are my day-to-day friends.
But that other group serves a purpose, too; and they are deep, rich friends too. None of them live—well, one of them lives in Dallas—but most of them don't. And so we're doing and practicing depth, long distance. You can do that, praise God, now through technology. That's not enough; you also need someone that's in your day-to-day business in your life.
Dave: I tell you what: one of our best friends, that lived two blocks from us—they literally lived about 20 miles away—they moved to be near us, and we raised our kids together.
Ann: —which I thought that was amazing that they did that.
Jennie: It was very radical. Everybody listening is like: “That's crazy.”
Dave: Yes, it was crazy. And it was—
Jennie: Tell me it wasn't the best decision they ever made.
Dave: It was incredible.
Ann: It was the best. We walked—my friend and I—we walked probably four days a week.
Ann: And this is a good thing, too: we ended up praying and fasting, one day a week, for each other’s kids. We became sisters; that was worth it.
Dave: And he was my brother; we've known each other decades. And I'm not kidding—about five/six years ago; I don't know what it was—we get a text, our guys’ group—"Hey, anybody want our snow blower?” I’m like “Why?” “Oh, we’re moving.” “What do you mean you're moving? You tell us by asking if we want your snow blower?” We all went crazy, like, “What do you mean you’re moving?!”
Ann: We were so mad.
Dave: And they did; they moved to be near their daughters, which is awesome. They wanted to be there with their grandkids.
Ann: We kind of had it out a little bit.
Jennie: I bet.
Ann: They also said, “You guys, you're gone all the time now. You are constantly on the road.”
Dave: We’re traveling, doing marriage stuff, writing books.
Ann: Their kids/two daughters moved way.
Dave: So we get it; we weren’t as involved. But they're listening right now—Rob and Michelle—and they're like—
Ann: —because they listen all the time.
Dave: —it was so hard, because it's everything you're saying: they were our people.
Jennie: Right? And everybody, probably listening, has heard this before: “But God's got to be the center of your relational activity, or you're going to be a real drain on your friends”; right?
Jennie: That is very important. It's an important thing not to miss that principle; because ultimately, people will die; people will move. Our hope is not ultimately in people.
Ann: They do not meet all our needs.
Jennie: No; and they will certainly be transient. I'm just suggesting what you all just said—which is that was a radical thing—that shouldn't be radical. We should make choices like that all the time—and the church should be making choices like that all the time—that we choose to be near family; we choose to be near good friends. We make that a priority in our lives. Will you be able to hang on to them forever?—no. Will there be a sense of they won't ever meet all your needs?—absolutely.
Jennie: And that's why it's so precious about having godly friendships, where you're all going, “You know what? My needs are getting met with God; and I, out of obedience, want this to be part of my life in following Him; and so we're going to do that together.” But we're not asking each other to be each other’s end all/be all, because we have a God who is the best of friends; right? I mean, it says Jesus is the best of friends; and so we get to walk with Him, and have a relationship with Him, and then that bleed into our relationship.
Dave: At the same time, even though they're in Atlanta, now we just have to work harder.
Jennie: That's right.
Dave: It isn't like we're done.
Jennie: You don’t do that, not that kind of friend; yes.
Dave: It's like: “You’ve got to come back and see us,” “We're going to go see you.” It's going to be where/we're in a Zoom. It's harder work—they're not a couple blocks away—but you still have to do it, because your people are your people.
Ann: What I've realized with her being gone/with Michelle being gone is she's my therapy person; you know?
Ann: You're talking; you're sharing; you're kind of doing life with somebody; and you're working out things as you're talking. I realize, like, “Oh, I’m not doing that as much anymore.
Jennie: It is why proximity is the first thing. Now, you don't have to have it; but man, didn't that make a special friendship?—because you were walking four times a week.
So everybody listening, who feels lonely: “Look at your neighbors,”—like maybe you have them; maybe you don't; maybe you do need to make a shift.
Dave: Well, we, you know, crawling out of a pandemic, where you talk about loneliness and isolation was built into it. I'm not saying it was only there, because of the pandemic; but it heightened that, because we had to pull into our little homes. We interviewed a pastor from Missouri, Don Everts, and he talked about chronic loneliness. He had an interesting perspective. We'd love to play this clip and just let you respond. I want to know what you think of what Don had to say.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Don: In our research, it came out that a quarter of people in the United States live alone/live by themselves. A number of people say that no one comes over to their house, ever.
In the medical field, they talk about there's a chronic loneliness sweeping the country. And the interesting thing is, in the medical literature, they prefer to call it depression; but the doctors are like: “I's chronic loneliness,” like you have no one in your life. Humans aren't meant to live that way. So just to knock on someone's door, just to say, “Hi,” in our current context: it does not take much to be heroic.
Jennie: Wow. Yes, I'm so glad for people like Don that are doing that research. I interviewed a guy that probably has a similar focus on loneliness right now; it was absolutely depressing. Because this is the disease of our day—that we're not able to really quantify it or talk about it—because we haven't made it an acceptable thing to struggle with; I think people feel a lot of shame. If you say “depression,” that's kind of, you know, more of something you can't control; but loneliness feels like something you could, so there's a lot of shame around it.
But also, its—praise God—it's something that we can change; right? It's something that I'm/I believe right now my job is to trumpet this in the church—right?—to the church and say: “Hey, I don't think we've been doing this as well as we could; and I think we could do it better.” Then they start to go: “You know what? 'm going to live differently. I'm going to start to know my neighbors,” “I'm going to start to have people over for dinner,” “I'm going to notice that single person, whom I've never noticed, who’s across the street, who I don't even see very often and invite them over.”
One of my good friends—she's got to know the single person across the street, who is in his 80s—he's very cranky. The street, really, doesn't like him; because he's always complaining about things. [Laughter] She was like: “You know what? He needs God. I'm going to love him and pursue him.” She takes him flowers all the time, takes him food all the time—invited him over for his birthday—and said, “Bring any of your friends you want.”
He brought one friend, and the two of them sat there and told stories for a long time. He complained the whole time about things; and the friend was hitting him, and saying, like, “Stop complaining. This is so lovely. I can't believe you got invited over here. You need to be nicer.”
And yet, she is determined to make that man fall in love with her family and then, hopefully, fall in love with God; right? We've just got to be people that notice. We have the answers; we have a relationship with God; and we have, hopefully, local churches, where there's some sense of connection—even if it's not a village-like existence—we have those connections and potential.
So how do we invite people into it? How do we pursue it and prioritize it in such a way that that we look different? Because contagious Christianity begins with contagious community. When you see people loving each other well—and Jesus said that; that's not my words; that's His—He said, “They will know you by your love for one another.” That's how everybody would know: “You're one of Mine.” We're not great at that, but I think we could get better. I think we're all craving it. I hope what the pandemic has done has given us a distaste for that isolation.
In the middle of this research, I pulled aside one of my friends, who was moving from a group with roommates to an apartment by herself. I, with tears, said, “I do not know if that's the best idea.” I know some people listening live alone, and some people can—that is just their lot right now—but I would challenge every presupposition to that, because I believe it is not good for man to be alone. God said that.
What does it look like to maybe take—you know, one of my friends, what she did as a single—she still wanted to live alone, but she moved into a little complex with other people that she knew. She has a town home, and she got to know all her neighbors. They have cookouts at night, and they all spend time in their little courtyard together. She made a choice about where she would live alone that she wouldn't be alone.
I just think we've got to make choices—that we have to realize there is nothing worse for our health—and science has proven it; I can show you the statistics; it’s in the book—that smoking, overeating, lack of exercise—none of that—is more dangerous than loneliness. Loneliness is the worst thing for our health. And so if you just do it, because it's not good for you; that matters.
Dave: You said that—I have a part of a book from John Ortberg, years ago, that he wrote—did you ever see this?—he said people, who had—this is a study done; just what you said—people, who had bad health habits: smoking, poor eating, obesity, alcohol—but strong social ties—live significantly longer than people, who had great health habits, but were isolated.
Ann: Tell them your little—yes, listen to this.
Dave: This commentary; in other words: “It's better to eat Twinkies® with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.” [Laughter] I mean, it’s just a cute way to say it.
But here's what I'm hearing—as you listen to themes that God brings into the church, and are in the Christian community, you start to notice—you know, a few years ago, I'm like, “Wow, every worship song that I love is about identity right now,”—it's like who we are in Christ, which was beautiful; and you notice another one, another one.
Sermons—as I was preaching—I think this is something God’s bringing to us right now.
Ann: Me too.
Jennie: I hope so.
Dave: Because we need it.
Jennie: We need it, and we're all aware we need it.
Ann: One of the things you said, Jennie, was you and your friends—this is kind of beginning to get to know each other—you told your life story in about 20 minutes. That's something that we've been doing, too; and it's a great way to start. I did that with my friend, Michelle. We would just go out to dinner; and I would say, “Tell me your story.” There's something about revealing who you are, and what you've gone through, that makes you really see the person.
We've done that recently with a new group of friends, where they just told their story. As we listened—this is kind of a small group of couples—and as we listened, then what we did was we spoke life into them after they shared it, and even empathize with their hard points. In that 20 minutes—you're sharing your highs; but you're sharing your lows—and so, to say, like: “Wow, I can't imagine how hard that was for you to experience that,” and “Thanks for going deep, and revealing kind of those pains, and struggles, and hurts in your life.” It was amazing; wasn't it, Dave? The guys did it too.
Dave: Yes; but it's scary. A lot of people hear that, and they’re like, “Whoa, I'm not going there”; you know?
Shelby: That's Dave and Ann Wilson with Jennie Allen on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear about what it is we really want from other people, whether we know it or not.
But first, in such a connected world, life can feel isolating; right? What do we do about it? Jennie Allen was on a mission to search for that same answer and wrote all her insights in a new book called Find Your People. When you give today at FamilyLife, we’ll send you a copy of Jennie's book as our thanks. Your gift helps others pursue the relationships that matter most. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Jennie Allen and what we actually want from other people.
Jennie: The science says that what we want from people—we actually don't want answers; we don't want to be fixed—that is not what we want; right? We want it to be seen, soothed, and safe.
That right there is excellent marriage advice. If you're listening—and you're like, “We have a hard marriage,”—if you just make your spouse feel seen, soothed, and safe, that goes so far. Most people think what they want, and what they want to give, is answers. We want to fix people; we want to—when someone says something hard, we’re like, “But da-da-da,”—we're immediately giving the positive.
I've learned, from counseling, someone is sharing something with me—not because they need me to fix it—but they're probably sharing it with me, because they don't want to be alone in it. When we can be with people in difficulty—that's why the Bible says: “Mourn with those who mourn”; right? There's a gift in just being with someone, who is in their struggles and in their disappointments.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten, and will give ‘til I die, is: “When someone shares something with you, to do what your friend did—to listen, to say what you hear back—and to say, “I'm so sorry,”—
Dave: Hey, men—
Jennie: —just that.
Dave: —men, are you listening right now? Because I've blown that so many times.
Ann: I do it, too, Dave; I try to fix.
Dave: One time, Jennie—we said this here before, and we probably won’t even keep this on the broadcast—but a long time, and I'll keep it really short, she was—you know, kids were little—sharing with me how hard it was that day.
Ann: I had a bad day, parenting.
Dave: I literally go upstairs—
Ann: Wait, wait, wait; I have to tell Jennie.
I'm sharing all that; Dave goes, “I'll be right back.” He goes upstairs; he comes down with a little piece of paper. I thought, “Aww; he wrote me a love note.”
Jennie: “He's thankful.”
Ann: Yes; he's going to share all the things he loves.
Dave: Look, you guys already know.
Ann: And so, it's numbered one to ten. I'm thinking, “Oh, these are the ten reasons why I'm a good mom.” I pick it up; and I look at him, like, “Thank you.” I say/I read out loud: “Number one,”—and I look at him—“Get more organized.”
Ann: I'm like, “Wait, wait; what?” Number two was: “Use your time more wisely.”
Dave: Okay, that’s enough; that’s enough.
Ann: I said, “What is this?!”
Jennie: So great. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s enough! You don’t need to read the rest. There were ten of those! There were ten of those.
Ann: So you know what I did? I rip it up, like, “You think this..” And he goes: “I prayed about this.” I said, “You did not pray about/this is from Satan.” Yes, and I ripped it up and threw it in his face.
Dave: She yells at me; she throws it in my face; but I mean, it was, again, 40 years ago. What did I ask her?—I'm like, “That's not what you want?” She told me just what you said.
Dave: “I want to be seen, soothed,”—what was the third one?
Dave: Now, she didn't use those words; but that's exactly—and I'm like, “Really? What's that look like?” I think we miss that.
Jennie: The book I wrote before: this is called Get Out of Your Head. I did all this—
Ann: —which was really great.
Jennie: Oh, thanks. I did all this research on the brain. Our brains, by God, were built this way. We actually were built, not to need information; we were built, needing connection.
It was why this was the next book that I had to write; because when I did all the work on the brain, I realized: “This is the greatest healing tool we have. This is the greatest gift we have on earth”; right? “It's God first; but on earth, it's God through people.” I think that is the way He built us—was to require each other/to belong to each other—that is how He built us. It is actually built into our brains. Guys, that need some science behind it—because I know what you're thinking—because I think it, too—"How does that help?” Your brain decompresses; all the little pathways open/reopen when you feel understood, and seen, and known; and there's something in your brain that begins to heal.
That's why, for trauma, you go to therapy because—not so that you can get fixed and hear advice—but so that you can process that story; and feel in a safe environment; and feel soothed, and seen, and understood. That is why therapy works; it's a relationship where you get to talk about the hurts that you've had. So it's worth it, guys—that are out there—diminishing this plan. [Laughter]
Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jennie Allen on FamilyLife Today. Ever wonder about where that line is between what's constructive criticism and what's actually tearing others down? Well, Ann Wilson’s words feel so relatable to me; she says: “How many times have I used my words to tear Dave down and destroy him, thinking I was helping him and doing good, when all the time, I had this power of influence to be able to speak life into him?” It's a good quote.
Could your relationship use a shift towards using words to respect and cherish each other? Well, check out our marriage studies at FamilyLifeToday.com, and use the code, “25OFF”; that's 2-5-O-F-F to save today, and beef up your communication, so your marriage becomes more life-giving to both of you.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will be joined in the studio with Sho Baraka and his wife Patreece to talk about dealing with children, who have unexpected special needs.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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