Sunday, April 13, 2008

Malnourished [An Allegory]

I have a friend who is allergic to gluten. She spent her whole life constantly feeling sick, and only recently did she discover that the reason why was that she was poisoning her body with bread, pasta, and other "simple" foods that most people eat when they feel sick.

The doctor who discovered her allergy told her that, despite the fact that she didn't look anything like a concentration camp victim
, she was actually malnourished-- practically starving to death because her body wasn't processing any of the nutrients she was putting into it. So, although she was eating & absorbing calories and feeling full, her body was wasting away because it wasn't getting what it really needed.

I tell this little story because I had a realization last week-- not about physical nourishment, but something a little harder to detect.

What I realized was that I am relationally malnourished.

I'll explain: Although Chris & I have many friends & acquaintances in San Francisco, we actually have few to no deep relationships-- the kind of people you would call up when you're crying or hang out with in your PJ's, or invite over even when your house is a mess.

I came to this discovery slowly over the last 2-3 weeks, as I was traveling all over God's Green Earth (Austin, San Diego, Pasadena, etc, etc) and connecting with all sorts of new people. I realized that during the 3 weeks I spent traveling, I had more deep, intimate connections and conversations with new friends than I have had in my 3 years of living in San Francisco.

[Correction: A huge chunk of my job is sitting & having deep, intimate conversations, both with students and with our staff team. I love that part of my job. I would have whithered up & died without that part of my job. But, there is something very different about connecting deeply with people because it's your job and connecting deeply with people because, well, you just connect.]

Over that last 3 weeks, I met some really great women. I had tons of fun getting to know them, laughing with them, having deep & personal conversations, and connecting in real & genuine ways. And as I did that, something ached inside. It's like something woke up inside me that had been silently hungry for a long time.

The strange part about all of this, though, was that when I got home, I didn't rush off to form
deep friendships. It was actually the opposite. We had several opportunities to hang out this week-- opportunities we passed up because we were just so exhausted from all the traveling, all the extroverted people-time, all the intense conversations with students and all the "pouring out" that we do all week. I just couldn't make myself be social.

I realize that this sounds very bleak and depressing... maybe even a little martyr-ish. I don't
mean it to be that way at all. Mostly, this is a problem I am trying to work out in my head-- like one of those awful math problems about how long it will take a train to reach its destination if it goes X miles an hour and has Y number of miles to travel.

I'm trying to figure out why it is so difficult to make friends here-- why people feel so closed off in the City, and why I myself can even feel that wall around me. Why is it so difficult to form relationships here, and how do I find the energy to do so when I am so drained by the end of the week?

I really am hungry for friendships & intimacy, but-- like my friend's strange allergy-- it seems like something is keeping me from taking it in.

I am hopeful, though. I really do believe that it is possible to find those relationships here... and maybe even help to cultivate a place where true community can take place. I hope & pray that I can be a part of developing that-- or at least getting in on someone else's great invention. In the mean time, I thank God that I have Chris-- and those beautiful, deep interactions with students a decade younger than me, that truly give me meaning & fulfillment.

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