When going through a challenging season, it can be easy to isolate rather than show up. I’m not talking about those times when we really need to say “no” and the decision to stay home is the self-care that will revive us. I’m talking about the times when we need to be with friends but we don’t feel like all of our ducks are in a row, when we don’t have it all together (do we ever?!), and when we want to pull back instead of being present. The times where it feels like pursuing friendships takes a little more energy than we currently have, even though investing in connection with a friend would probably be just the thing to revive us.
Recently, the mom’s group at our church hosted a special Christmas brunch. This group of women has been meeting together on Wednesday mornings over the past year, but I’ve only attended a handful of times due to my cancer treatment. Because of this, although I know and love these women and they always go out of their way to welcome me, I still questioned if I should join for what seemed like a special event. I decided to RSVP “yes” because the invite was open and inclusive. But as the day approached, many reasons started to pile up in my head as to why I should just stay home.
First of all, as part of the brunch, we were encouraged to bring cookies for a cookie swap as well as a gift for a mom the group was wanting to help out. I completely forgot about the gift and the day before the brunch I didn’t have the desire or energy to bake cookies. Strike one. “It’s ok,” I thought to myself, “I know these ladies and I’m sure they won’t mind me showing up empty-handed.” The night before the brunch, our toddler was up for two hours, so I woke up feeling exhausted and disgruntled. Hmmm, maybe this is a day for staying home! I’d also been dealing with anxiety the past couple of days to the extent of having chest pain, and, on top of that, I was running late to drop off my four-year-old at preschool meaning I’d be late to the brunch. Sigh. Still, I was determined to show up. I wanted to spend time with these other mamas and felt pretty sure that I’d be glad I did. On the way, a friend texted: “Hey, I didn’t RSVP for the brunch, but I want to come. Will you ask someone if it’s ok?” I texted back that I was running late but was positive that she should join us! Funny how I could easily extend grace to someone else but had a harder time with myself. Upon arrival, I was greeted warmly and took in the beautiful table, the delicious spread of food, and the gifts prepared for us. I tried to take my toddler to the upstairs childcare provided where the other children were playing happily and peacefully. My little darling was strongly opposed and sobbed profusely. Strike…five? Another urge to just go home. I asked two of the moms if they thought it would ruin the vibe of the brunch if she joined. They both laughed and answered the same way I would answer in their shoes: “Of course not! It’s totally fine.”
I was officially staying. My sweet little one sat happily in my lap the entire time. I had a beautiful, real, and vulnerable conversation with the mama friend next to me about her postpartum anxiety. One of the group mentors was sitting next to us and shared openly about some of the challenges of her year. This is why I’d come. For connection. It was a breath of fresh air, wind in my sails, and all the other cliche phrases about when you feel truly and deeply seen and cared for. I even shed a few tears talking about my recent anxiety and left feeling replenished. If I had chosen to stay home rather than show up, I would’ve missed out on meaningful connections and the reminder that I’m not alone.
I’m so thankful for the women in this particular group for creating an environment that fosters vulnerability and supportiveness. I know this type of genuine and open community isn’t everywhere, but I think it’s available more than we think. And when we choose to show up rather than isolate, we can be part of creating that safe space for others. Sometimes the most deeply refreshing moments are when we let down our guards. It can feel like a risk to show up, but often the reward will be a gift of meaningful connection that will buoy our spirits and be exactly what we need.