Proximity & Tribes

Proximity - nearness in space, time or relationship (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Young children are most often friends due to space proximity. Their parents are good friends, they are in the same daycare class or they live down the street from each other. Their nearness to one another determines their friendships. When my family moved from Tennessee to Florida, my son initially missed all of his friends. However, 2 years later, there are now only 3 friends he misses. It has nothing to do with the other children’s character, appearance, or any factor other than location. It is quite simply “out of sight, out of mind.”

I think that’s why adult friendships can be so challenging. As a child, proximity friendships naturally happen. As we grow, we no longer are forced to be in classes 9 hours a day with 20 other people. We no longer have sports, chorus, band, or sororities and fraternities to keep us connected through obvious extracurricular opportunities. Quite simply it becomes “out of sight, out of mind.” This can be especially true for moms I believe. Since most of our days as moms, both stay-at-home and working outside the home, revolves around caring for the needs of our people, it can be easy to neglect being near outside relationships. We’re busy making sure our children are where they need to be, a pseudo healthy meal is on the table, and our husband has clean laundry for the next day that we consequently miss out on being where we need to be - in fellowship with others.

Fellowship sounds, at least to me, like an antiquated church word that is resolved for church picnics and awkward, forced fun. Fellowship actually means a community of friends or equals with a shared interest.I can get behind that! A trendier way to say fellowship would be “to do life with your tribe.” When I think of a tribe, it’s a group of people working together to meet each other’s needs for survival. We were made for fellowship. We were made for tribes. But what do we do when we have no tribe?

How do we recreate the proximity that permits so many young children easy friendships? It’s not as simple as liking the slide just like the other girl on the playground. The simplicity of early childhood friendships may gone, but the concept still works. We create proximity by forcing it - by showing up….and showing up again…and again…and again. Let me explain:

  1. Proximity is a nearness of space - to be where others are. That may be at church (it should be), local community center, spin class, story time at the library, or your neighborhood pool. When we first try this, we will likely feel lonely and awkward. People likely will not rush towards you begging to be your friend. Keep going. When it is hard on your schedule, but you really need grown-up conversation, go! When it seems like no connection is happening, go one more time! Ask God to make your efforts successful. (Psalm 90:17)

  2. Proximity is a nearness of time - friendships take time, both figurative in the sense of time to form, but also literal time. Put in the effort to go to the party or playdate even though you “really don’t have the time.” Send that text response right away instead of replying at nap time (which we know won’t happen because we’ll forget because mom brain is real!) Stick around for 5-10 minutes after the church service to chat with friends before picking up your child from nursery or running to get lunch (what is it about a Sunday morning service that makes me so hungry!?!). As we put in the time we start to notice the people like us - the ones looking for someone to chat with after church, the ones in a group text who share our love for GIFs or the other wallflower at the party checking their phone to see the time because they want to go home. As we put, and are patient, we start to notice possible friendships. Not everyone will be your friend, but perhaps you’ll notice friendships forming that you least expected.

  3. Proximity is a nearness of relationship - this is where friends switch to being your “person” and/or tribe. There are varying levels of friendships and not every one, or even most, are meant to be your posse, your ride-or-die crew, your person, or your tribe. Friendships form because of proximity of space and time. As we open up beyond the basic conversations we start to test the relationships. It’s similar to dipping your toe in a swimming pool or the ocean to test the temperature. I’m not saying dive in to your whole life story the 2nd time you hang out. (sorry K - I think it worked out though??) Perhaps its mentioning you’re at loss of knowing what the best education option is for your son, and seeing who provides encouragement. Mention how overwhelmed you feel with a newborn at home and see who texts you throughout the week and offers to help watch your other child for a few hours. Ask a friend how you can pray for them this week, and see if they reciprocate. Nothing earth shattering in these conversations but they help you get a pulse on if the friendship has depth. Do their responses and advice point you to the gospel? Do they follow-up when you ask them to pray for something? If they are putting in reciprocal effort, these friends may be the tribe you’re looking for!

Your “tribe” does not have to be 12 women that meet for brunch the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. Social media and tv shows can sometimes make us feel like we only have a tribe if we have a lot of friends and they all socialize together. That’s simply not it. Tribes can be you and 1-2 other women. Your crew can consist of both local and out-of-town friends. Your people do not have to all know each other or spend time all together. The deciding factor of who is in your tribe is simply which friends put in the reciprocal effort for communication and friendship. [Note: I’m not saying they put in equal effort! Some people have more words or giftings that make them better at encouragement, advice, and follow-through. But your bestest friends, your tribe, will always put in the appropriate effort so that life with them feels like a team effort.] Remember this, my closest friendships and posse of people are not with the people I expected. Be open to that. Ask God to direct you to the people you can trust to do life with.

As we put in the effort to share proximity with others we will find nice surface-level friends, friends for a season of life, and perhaps, if we’re patient enough, we’ll find our tribe of women to do life with. Scripture talks about having faith like little children (Matthew 18:3) . Maybe that is true for friendships too. Maybe those preschool friendships that form over a shared love for the same color or food should be our example. Maybe it is as simple as just showing up and sitting at the same table.