I pulled up to the drive-through screen at Starbucks and smiled when I heard her voice. Her joy traveled through the high-tech video speaker system, a Chick-fil-A level attitude of kindness that cut through the typical early morning yawns. I placed my order and pulled around, scanning my Starbucks app to pay – and receiving not only a smile but cheers from the barista who noticed immediately that I just made Gold status.
We can talk later about the amount of coffee drinking required to get to that point.
Our drinks weren’t ready yet and she could have closed her window and walked away, taking the next person’s order or simply wandering away to avoid small talk. But she stayed. She spoke with Madi and asked about our plans for the day, her extroverted exuberance contagious even before that first cup of coffee. She handed our drinks through the window and I was honestly sad to leave, so delighted by the unusual encounter.
It felt like we’d just made a friend.
I think social media and blogging can feel like that sometimes. We discover, in a sea of complaints and fears and anxiety little pockets of people who make us feel at home. Their energy is contagious, passed along through photos on Instagram or words on blogs. So we follow and connect, comment and engage and we feel like we’ve discovered our community. If we have the opportunity to meet those avatars in real life at a conference or event, it feels like friendship. Then we leave the conferences and lose touch, or we start to notice that the community we found online isn’t reaching deeply into our real life.
And it hurts.
Over Voxer I shared some of those hurts with a friend, and she offered some wisdom over the walkie-talkie app. This online world is hard to live in, and when we’re vulnerable and share our stories and find others who relate, we feel like we’ve made friends and found community. And it can be easy to forget that what we’re really experiencing is more likely something we should label “networking.”
When I think of it that way, that the groups of women God brought into my life were networking opportunities that I could use to learn, grow, and move forward as I worked on my dreams, it makes sense that those relationships were a limited time only. Networking feels cold, like you’re passing around business cards and making connections at a local chamber event, not sharing parts of your story with other women. Networking plus vulnerability still doesn’t equal friendship – though it may be considerably braver than the version done by bankers and business owners.
We aren’t built to be in deep friendship with dozens or hundreds or thousands of other women. We may be called to serve them, to use our gifts generously to shine Jesus into their lives and to learn from them in return. We may be invited to be part of communities that give us opportunities to build God’s kingdom in new ways. But when it comes to friendship – the real, lasting, kind – the kind that happens in your everyday, ordinary Tuesdays when you have nothing to offer to save your place – that looks small. It looks like the women in your church, the friends you’ve known for decades, the new neighbors across the street.
I’ve been confusing friendship, community, and networking for the last few years and have allowed my heart to be hurt by women who never intended to hurt me. We just had different labels and expectations for our relationships. When networking ends, the connection is broken. You’ve learned all you can, you’ve offered what you’re able, and now you move on stronger than you started.
Connect with women on social media. Encourage them in their pursuits and passions, point out how you see Jesus in them. Collaborate and work together to do something more incredible for the kingdom of God than you could ever do you on your own. Create community online and in real life that honors God, with realistic expectations and room for everyone. And in your real life, look at the women God has placed in your life and pour deeply into those friendships. Cherish them, not for what you bring to the table, but for the fact that you don’t need to have it all figured out, perfected, or “fine.”
- Have you ever found yourself applying the label of friendship to an online connection that was really networking?
- Who in your real life is God asking you to connect with more deeply?
- How can the differentiation of these three levels of relationship help you move forward in your holy hustle this week?