Jennie Allen: Lean on Me
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Is it hard for you to depend on people? Author Jennie Allen discusses friendship in marriage and community—the kind that says “lean on me.”
Jennie Allen: Lean on Me
Dave: So many people tell me that friendship—deep, deep friendship—is a girl thing, not a guy thing.
Dave: Women want it—they love it—they are good at it. Men don’t want it—they are bad at it—we’re just not into it.
Ann: And here is what I hear from wives/is they will say, “I have friends, but my husband has no friends.”
Ann: I hear that a lot, and they are frustrated; because they say, “My husband says I’m his friend and ‘That is all I need.’” That’s frustrating to the women, too, because they know their husband needs a friend.
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 Today!
Dave: Well, we’ve got Jennie Allen in the studio. She wrote a book about friendship and relationships called Find Your People. Jennie, welcome back.
Jennie: Thanks; great to be here.
Dave: So I heard you already pipe in.
Dave: You jumped right in there to say—
Ann: Yes, that was awesome.
Jennie: I was just—I knew I wasn’t supposed to talk yet—I was just so agreeing with you.
Dave: That’s alright!
Jennie: I keep hearing that.
Ann: —because women are saying that to you?
Jennie: Yes, because I hear that a lot.
Ann: Yes, I do too.
Dave: What do you hear?
Jennie: That women are pursuing this and eager to do it, and their husbands are slower to do it.
Dave: You think that is true? I mean, I’m the only guy in the room that knows whether it is true or not; but I want to ask the two women: “Do you think that’s true?”—like you are married to men—"Do your husbands pursue it? Do other men pursue it?”
Ann: I do feel like you have so many friends, and you are super-extroverted. Watching my brothers and my dad—who were all coaches—they were all each other’s best friend. My dad had a lot of friends; he is a lot like you. I don’t know if my brothers do, though.
Dave: What do you think, Jennie?
Jennie: I think there are a lot of personalities; I think it’s pretty complicated. I think, for a lot of men, they have bought the lie that we talked about in the last show about the individualistic hero complex.
Ann: “I can do it myself.”
Jennie: There is a sense—I think, sometimes, it’s harder for men to be as transparent and vulnerable—so I do think, probably, men/their view of friendship and relationships looks a little bit different. For my husband, he loves to do things men. He took one of his friends to a Mavs game in Dallas recently, and they didn’t talk a lot. He came home and said, “I had so much fun with Kirk.” Then Kirk told his wife, “I don’t think Zac likes me very much; we didn’t talk very much.” [Laughter] To Zac, it was like sitting there, watching a game with someone, and not having to talk, made Kirk his best friend; right? [Laughter]
Dave: I am the same way.
Ann: Okay, so this is the joke about—
Jennie: I mean, it’s just nuances.
Ann: —I mean, the joke among women—and I say this, even at the Weekend to Remember® marriage conference—Dave will go golfing for hours. I’ll say, “Oh man, you went with John. What’s going on with his life? How is Betsy?” You’ll be like, “I don’t know. We had a blast; we didn’t talk about that stuff.”
Dave: I knew he got a new driver.
Ann: But I don’t know if men need to, up front.
Dave: Here is why I brought it up. There are husbands listening—dads—there are, obviously, moms and wives. I’ve always joked: I have a motorcycle; and I love going on a ride with a guy, because you don’t talk. You stop at a stoplight; you say, “Hey, man, what’s up?” “Good.” You take off, and you come home; and you go, “Man, that was awesome!”
Dave: But here is what is going on: I think we are so insecure; we cover it up. Deep down, we want a guy—we want a guy—but we are afraid to go to dark places, to say: “Here is what I am struggling with…” “Here is what I’ve been thinking about…” So we sort of cover it up and act like: “Yes, men don’t really need guys; that’s a woman thing.”
It is a guy thing as much. Obviously, I’m not a woman—I don’t know how it works for you—but I know we long for it; we’re scared of it.
Dave: I’m not talking for every guy, but I think it is scary.
Jennie: You know, one thing we talked about on the last show, too, is women feel that way too. I think we’ve got some universal problems. Now, one thing I have seen in my sons and in my husband—because they are the ones I am closest to—is they tend to move toward shame in a different way than women do.
Dave: Oh, let’s talk.
Ann: What do you mean by that?
Jennie: When they feel ashamed, they close up; right? When women feel ashamed—they have a feeling, and they notice it—and they want to talk about it.
Now, I am saying things really drastically. The reality is I actually bond very well with women when I’m running beside them, like when we are doing things beside each other.
Ann: Me, too; you can do both.
Jennie: What we’re saying is this is partly the way we have been raised, and our differences in our gender, but it is also partly our personality. In that, there is always going to be—there is not 100 percent accuracy to all of this—but in general, what I have seen is women like to talk more about what is really going on.
Ann: —and what they feel.
Jennie: With men, it’s a little more awkward to get there; but I think that is changing. What I am seeing in the generation coming is actually they are actually pretty good at authenticity. They’ll do that part pretty quickly.
They are not prone to a whole chapter in the book, which is accountability. I think that’s part of the magic of the local church—and the magic of a small group—is that’s a forum where you actually have some structure to talk about deeper things; right?
One thing I talk about in the book is—I think it is important for, especially, spouses to read this together; because I’m suggesting a way of life. It’s not just—
Ann: That’s a great idea.
Jennie: —it’s not just a way to think; I’m suggesting a whole way of living, that it would be a communal way of living. I’m not suggesting you add something to your plate. I’m suggesting that—already on your plate are relationships that you have not cultivated—and how you do that as you are going. That’s the thing we have missed, and the muscle we have really lost in the midst of the pandemic.
So if you are going to do that, it is so hard. And one thing I’ve heard over and over again is: if one spouse is doing that, and the other one isn’t—and that one/the one who isn’t, or is introverted, or more confused by it—can get really resentful and feel like that person is just running out in front of them/the other. You know, sometimes, it’s hard, because this is something people actually really fight over a lot, whether—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: Oh, absolutely.
Jennie: —because someone might be like: “I want to go out every week at night with my friends.”
Dave: That’s me.
Jennie: The other person is feeling like: “You know what? I have to do this, this, and this. When you go, that feels like a lot; and I don’t really want to go out.”
That’s where I think you have to get creative, and really put on paper, and say: “This is what fills my tank. This is what I need to live this part of life that God has called me to.” If you just shut someone down, because they are pursuing friendships in your marriage—and some of you are going to send this to your spouse, and you are going to be like, “You need to listen to this episode,”—if you are shutting that person down, because they are pursuing relationships in their life, and you don’t want to; that’s not biblical. We’ve got to have this in our life.
We are in a culture, where we are not going to get water down at the river every single day and washing our clothes together. So we do have to be intentional about how we find it, and how we get it. Those conversations just need to be had—like everything in marriage: like finances, like sex—like everything else. You have to lay it out and go, “Okay, how are we going to each bring our expectations to this?”
Dave: What does that look like? You used the term, “communal.” You talked last time about village. What is your vision? What do you think it looks like? What do you think God’s vision is for a marriage and a family, communally?
Jennie: I think it can look a million different ways.
Jennie: I heard a story, last night, about a couple who is older now; but when they first got married, the wife decided that she didn’t want to work because she wanted to volunteer, and that was important to her. The husband didn’t make much money; but they were like, “You know what? yes, we are going to do this.” Now, she ended up taking on basically a full-time job, where she cared for a woman in their church, who needed constant care every single day when they were first married. That was a choice they made of generous living/of just saying, “You know what? We’re going to be generous with what time we think we can be and with what convictions we can be.”
For me, it looks like: early on, when our kids were young, having lots of people over. We would have meals at our house, and we would invite five couples and their kids over; and our kids would help host. That was one way we did it. The thing is: it’s endless.
One thing I’ve wanted to do forever is to have one Sunday a month, where we just make so much food that anyone can bring anyone they want. It’s simple like chili or soup, and we just—my name for it was going to be “Soup Kitchen Sunday”—you literally can bring anybody you want; I’m just going to bring a bunch of corn bread and soup.
You can be creative with this; but it just means putting people in your life, noticing people in your life, and doing life, not in an isolated way. If you are married to an introvert, and you’re listening—and you’re like: “Yes, yes; but he will never do this,” or “She will never do this,”—I would just say: “Every introvert is actually better at this than they think. Introverts are actually very intentional and deep. They don’t want to be at a party, but they are great over a meal with another couple.”
Ann: —one on one.
Jennie: Right; or one on one.
Find what works for you. It doesn’t have to be a big party. It could be—for us, one season in our life—we basically said: “We’re going to get a sitter every night on this night; and once a month, we’ll go by ourselves; and every other time, we’re going to bring a couple with us and meet a couple for dinner. But we had that sitter, and we had a list—we made a list of all the names of people we would like to spend time with over the next few months—we would just text people from that list and say, “Hey…” But it didn’t take a lot of thought, because we already had the sitter; and we already had a plan.
My thing is: “Just make a plan. You can do that as a couple together. You can sit down together—lay out—'This is how we want to live. These are the priorities we want to have’”; but it can look endless ways.
Ann: I just think we don’t have those conversations very often because the demands of life, and kids, and jobs, and stress. But if I sat down with you, Dave—if you, as a listener, sit down with your husband—just say, “Let’s just talk about friendship. What would you like that area of your life to look like?” That’s not something people do very often.
Dave: Yes, and I think—you know, we’ve talked about it—I think a lot of couples, and maybe, it’s the man or the woman is afraid of the intimacy that comes when you invite people into your life. I can’t tell you how many times, in 30 years, as a pastor, a couple would come up, and they actually want to meet with me for marriage counseling. I’d always joke and go: “You don’t want to meet with me. I’m the guy who says: ‘Stop doing that,’ and ‘Grow up.’”
Ann: “Walk with Jesus.”
Dave: “You want to meet with somebody”; yes—
Jennie: You want someone who listens and cries.
Dave: —but as I even talked to them, there at the front of the church, or if they did come into my office—often, this happened—“So who else in your life knows about this struggle?” They’d look at each other: “Well, no; we’re not going to share that with anybody.” “You have nobody in your life? I’m your person, that you don’t even know?”
Jennie: “That’s not okay.”
Dave: That’s so many couples.
Ann: Yes, yes.
Dave: I’m like, “Why not?” I think it’s work; it’s energy—they’ve been hurt—you’ve said that.
Ann: Yes, they pull away.
Dave: I’ve been hurt. We all pull away.
Yet, I think your whole book is about: “You’ve got to find your people.” It’s going to be hard work, but you’ve got to do it; or you’re going to die.
Jennie: One of the gifts of village life that I researched and saw, constantly, was nobody could hide from each other; right?
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Jennie: Everybody was stuck together. You see generations of people/they never moved.
Ann: The windows are open; you can hear them fighting.
Jennie: Yes; it’s in my interviews. It was so fun; because the stories people would tell about their childhoods: growing up in India; growing up in the slums of Nairobi, in Africa; and all the places that they grew up, that I interviewed people. One was in Mexico, just precious.
One of the things that was consistent across all those countries was—and this was in our lifetime; this wasn’t decades or generations ago—this was in our lifetime. Everyone had abuelas that knew their name/that knew their family. I know abuela is a grandmother. If you’ve ever seen In the Heights, the idea in much of Latin culture is that there is an abuela that is kind of a mother on that whole street; right? They are everybody’s abuela.
I kept hearing stories like that: “We were in the slums of Nairobi, and my”—this Jay from Kenya—“My grandmother/we didn’t have anything; we lived in the slums, but she would put on a pot of whatever we could afford. If kids came in, she fed them. They called her ‘Grandmother.’” This was how the culture has been.
I think what we’ve done is we’ve lost all of that for the sake of convenience. Because of wealth, we’ve been allowed convenience; therefore, we have to choose—and I say, “wealth,” I just mean we are not in slums; right?—we are not in a village, with no doors, and huts, where we are washing our clothes together. So probably, everybody listening to this, to some degree, fits in that category: we have what we need to survive the day; therefore, we don’t borrow anything from our neighbors. We don’t need anything from anyone else. We Amazon® what we need, and it’s there within two hours or twelve. It’s just changed the way we depend on people.
At the same time, we are also lonely, and anxious, and depressed, and sad. There is something really broken.
Ann: It’s not working.
Jennie: We do need each other.
My suggestion is to: “Admit that need.” As believers, it’s the greatest context for this—right?—because we actually can admit that need because of Romans 8:1: “There is, now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I say that line is the most important line you learn in community; because, if it is a safe place—if you say your sin/if you say what you are struggling with there—it has to be met with no condemnation, or everyone is going to recoil. Everybody is being brave and saying, “I’m going to say this thing…”; but then, when you feel like nobody else feels that way, you recoil. We’ve got to be people that are aware of our own sin and not afraid of others’ sin. It does; it changes everything.
Dave: So what do you do—and you’ve mentioned it—when you are hurt? You’ve gone there: you’ve tried with a group of people; or maybe even in your marriage; or maybe another couple. I think we’ve all felt it; I know I’ve felt it. You said you felt it; you wrote about it. I read several stories in there, where you were hurt. Usually, we pull back—because community didn’t work—it was hard.
Ann: Didn’t you have a friend who told you that you don’t ever need anything?
Jennie: Yes, a lot of the stories I tell in the book are failures on my part. I haven’t been good at this, and I hope that gives people confidence that you can grow in this/that you don’t have to stay where you are today.
Ann: What do you think they meant by that, though, when they said, “You don’t need anything”?
Jennie: You know, I think it is that I was a pastor’s wife; and I was so hurt by people, who would use those things against me—that would not keep those secrets—or they would, in the right moment, gossip about it for the right purpose. I just felt so wounded, and I had recoiled. I went into the next decade of my life very guarded. It was very hard for me to be vulnerable, and I think that came from previous hurt.
I also think it just came from: it was exhausting. My personality, somewhat, looks at the glass—and it’s always half full—“Let’s focus on that,” and “I don’t want to share.”
Ann: “Just keep going.”
Jennie: “Just keep going, and I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to suck the oxygen out of the room. I don’t want to make it all about me. I don’t want to complain. I want to be optimistic.”
It became a good, healthy pattern, in my mind, until I got to counseling. They said: “Actually, you are just coping. That’s not healthy; that’s pretending that everything is okay when it is not. You’re not grieving; you’re not mourning. You’re not feeling angry if you should.” I had to do work, even personally in my life, with counseling to get to a place where I could even name what I was struggling with; because there was such a guard up, even against my own self. I was protecting myself from myself.
Ann: You wouldn’t even allow yourself to feel those things.
Jennie: I didn’t allow myself to feel.
Dave: Are you going to go there? Let’s hear it.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Jennie Allen on FamilyLife Today. You’ll want to hear her response, and what she describes as genuine hell, in a minute.
But first, in such a connected world, life can feel isolating; right? Well, what do we do about that? Jennie Allen was on a mission to search for the 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 a difficult time in her life, when it was clear she needed her community.
Jennie: Basically, I walked through a season where it was hard; and it was in every category of life. Again, there were issues in our marriage; there were issues with our kids; there were issues publicly in the ministry that I lead. It felt like I could not survive, and the pressure was everywhere.
What my counselor said was: “You had to be a Navy SEAL to get through that season,”—where my husband was in depression, and we were open about this, and check out; and I was alone—
Ann: —raising a kid.
Jennie: —with a brand-new son from Rwanda, adopted; with a ministry that was skyrocketing publicly, and costing me more than I ever meant for it to cost; and yet, I felt called to. My husband and my community felt like I was called to it. It was three years where I had to be a Navy SEAL: I was holding my family together; I was holding this ministry together; I was holding everything together. And that’s just three of the other multiple big things I could name.
I look at that season of my life: “Was I wrong?” “Could I have crumbled? Could I have grieved or mourned?’ The counselor was like: “No, some seasons you just have to get through it.”
Ann: “You just have to survive it.”
Jennie: I think that was a turning point for me, where I started to go, “Okay, I can grieve some things now. I can start to admit that I’m not a superhero, and I’m scared, and I feel alone. I can start to say those things that I didn’t feel like I could say.”
Dave: Did you do that with people?
Jennie: I’ll tell you one of the most life-changing things that I have done, that has helped me more than anything, is I’ve been part of a little cohort of people, who are practicing this way of life. I think being in a small group—this is a different group that we meet once a month on Zoom—where that is the agenda of the day: that we say the thing that is hard—has helped me say it in other places. Does that make sense?
Jennie: I think that is why, sometimes, a counselor can help you with self-awareness. I think what that group did, and what counseling did, was taught me—one, why it was harmful to keep living in that way; and then, two, how to do it—I had to practice, and it was awkward.
Ann: Give us an example of what that looked like.
Jennie: Our first gathering was—we went to a retreat center—many of us knew each other, but not everyone. We spent—there were seven of us—we spent two days together, kind of sharing life. I highly recommend—if you want to start a small group—get away together for two days, if you can; because something about getting away, out of normal life, helps you to connect in that way.
The first question was: “Tell your life story in 20 minutes.” I took everybody into the pressure that I felt at work. Well, that is a very, very vulnerable thing to share, for a lot of reasons, for me. One, everybody sees my work; I’m online—lots of people follow me—my work is very public. Also, I feared complaining about something that was so obviously good, like: “God is so good in this, and I have gotten to see people’s lives change all over the world. I’ve been so blessed to get to do what I do.”
Well, about five minutes in, I am screaming at the top of my lungs—like I have all this pent up anger—of just how hard this has been. I didn’t know I had that. I knew I wasn’t enjoying work the same way that I used to; I knew I had some issues with work I wanted to figure out.
Then I’m so embarrassed. At the end, what he has everybody do is say: “How does that make you feel to hear Jennie’s story?” There were so many sweet comments, but one person said something that hurt me. Then he turns it back to me and says, “How does it feel to hear what they think?”
Ann: Who is the “he”?—a counselor?
Jennie: A counselor.
Ann: He is in there with you.
Jennie: Kirk Thompson: yes, he is in there with us.
Jennie: I look back at them; and I say, “It hurt my feelings that you said that.” Now, you’ve got to understand: everything about this moment is vulnerable. I don’t know everyone in the room super well; but it was a breakthrough, because when I said that, they spoke to the thing that I feared. Basically, that person said—I mean, you can imagine what they said—some of you were thinking it. They said, “God isn’t trying to punish you; He has given you this good thing.”
Ann: “Stop whining.”
Jennie: They didn’t say it quite like that—they weren’t that mean—but they said something that made me feel that way.
Jennie: I was able to say, “You know what? That was so hard for me to share, and that hurt me that you responded that way.” Then that person goes, “Will you forgive me? I am so sorry, and you are so right.” What that did was build a culture of trust. Normally, I would have walked away, and just been hurt; instead, I said it; because he made me say it.
Jennie: But we don’t need a counselor to make us say these things. This is not rocket science, you all. It is—that is what I hope the book does—is it just gives you little handles of ways to say things, that maybe we are not accustomed to saying. It’s just saying what we feel, and being candid, and then allowing the truth/the truth does rise up.
I knew the truth—I knew God wasn’t punishing me—I knew the truth. The truth wasn’t the problem in my head. It was feelings I had been stuffing for years that I needed to get out, and feel loved, and understood, and seen.
Ann: How did it feel after that whole process? What did you feel like, even in all the conversations that took place?
Jennie: I have a great story. Those people/those seven people have, in the last year, become some of my dearest friends. I was speaking at a very large conference, and it was 65,000 college students at Passion. I think I said to one of them [in the group], “I wish you all could be there.” They all came; they all sat in my section. There is a video of them going nuts when I get up there, just standing up, screaming their lungs out.
What I got by being vulnerable is I got them. I got this incredibly committed group of people, who are committed to me, not because of what’s right in my life; they are committed to me because of what is broken, and I’m trusting God with; right? The reward is so big; the reward is so good, if we do this; but it is brave, and it is scary, and it is messy.
Ann: But there is something beautiful about—they know you—they know the good; they know the ugly; they know what you struggle with. I think that is the perfect picture: and they are cheering for you.
Ann: That’s what we need. We need to find someone, who sees us for who we really are; and they are continuing to cheer for us.
Jennie: My friend Kirk Thompson—I’ll quote him again, and he is in the book too—he says, “The main thing we want to know is that someone is not going to leave the room.” I think that’s what they did—is they stayed—they stayed with my mess; they stayed with my anger toward God even, which wasn’t my prettiest moment.
Ann: We don’t all share that, especially in ministry.
Jennie: Right. Where they were not perfect, they apologized; and they asked for forgiveness. We felt safer because of that; right? I think after that, everybody said, “I feel so safe now that I know I can say: ‘Hey, that hurt me,’ or ‘That didn’t go well.’”
I think that’s the sadness in relationships right now—is we are all kind of bumping up against each other; and when we get hurt, we just go find somebody else—and we quit. The reality is we are supposed to need each other and stay for a long time.
Ann: I love your quote in the book: “Vulnerability is the soil for intimacy, and what waters intimacy is tears.” You’ve experienced that.
Jennie: Yes; oh, I’ve experienced it. It’s worth it.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jennie Allen on FamilyLife Today.
Our listeners know that our mission at FamilyLife is to pursue the relationships that matter most. That means connecting with those around us and serving others with all our hearts. Right now, there are two ways you can join us to impact the community around you. The first is: if you feel led to start a small group, we want to offer you a discount on all leader material with the code, “25OFF”; that’s 2-5-O-F-F. Second, you can partner with us, financially, to make an impact in families as they grow closer in the relationships that matter most. You can find out more about both of those opportunities at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Jennie Allen about how friendships don’t have to be hard. They can be as simple and routine as getting groceries.
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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