Fostering Connection (and free conversation cards)

Fostering Connection (and free conversation cards) We were made for connection, and if we're not enjoying it now, one day we will if we don't lose heart.

I cried while giving a devotional talk to my church's mom's group. That's not unheard of. I usually share personal or vulnerable things, so emotions being attached is normal. This particular time two years ago, however, was a little different.

I didn't cry because of what I shared; I cried because as I stood in front of that group of women telling about a challenging thing we were going through, I realized that was the first time I had talked about it with any friends at all.

I felt so deeply alone in that moment realizing I had been carrying this thing myself. I was sharing a story publicly that I had yet to connect and share privately.

I believe our stories matter and I believe in the power of us telling and receiving those stories. But there's generally stages to that sharing. It starts close to ourselves, perhaps in prayer or as we process with pen and paper or to a spouse. Then it's shared in other safe places like with a counselor and a close friend or two. It could also be shared in a small group, among friends or in some type of support group.

As all of those things happen, we bring our stories together and we relate with each other. We're no longer alone with this story, we're surrounded with support and the deep healing work of connection.

We shortchange ourselves of that meaningful necessary connection when we don't share our stories in smaller, more personal ways. When we jump straight to sharing our experiences publicly in a blog post, on Facebook, or for a devotional, or if we don't share them at all, we're still as alone with it as we were before.

We are made for connection. And struggling in friendships doesn't exclude us from that connection.

The many words I've written and spoken have rarely been about friendship, because I struggle with it. I often feel like I don't belong, or wonder like Mindy Kaling's so-relate-able book title, Is everyone hanging out without me? When I go through a challenging season, I disappear from my friends not reaching out or making an effort. The term "ghosting" was made up for people like me.

Those struggles with friendship don't exclude me from connection. When asked in high school if I'd rather 10 acquaintances or 1 close friend, I always chose the 1 close friend. I want meaningful connection, and I don't get that in easy breezy conversations with people I hardly know. But I've learned I can experience connection with people I hardly know when we show up ready for connection.

How meaningful connections happen, and 80 conversation starters to inspire meaningful connections.

Connection Happens When…

Following is a little more about those meaningful connections and what makes them happen. Then, grab these conversation cards to inspire meaningful connection with your friends, during a girls night, or for some other small group gathering.

1. Connection happens when we offer connection first.
He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 
Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38 
The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself. Proverbs 11:25
If we want to be encouraged and supported, we have to encourage and support. If we want to be invited, we need to invite. If we want to be asked how we're doing by someone who means it and wants our genuine answer, then we need to genuinely ask and await the answer from others. We need to do to others what we wish was done to us. Blessed is she who makes the first move.

2. Connection happens when we tell our stories and let others tell theirs.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Our stories matter. They're ultimately retellings of the story of salvation. By telling our stories, we’re claiming our need for and acceptance of salvation and inviting others to identify Christ in their stories, too. It’s never too late to let Jesus take over the writing of our story and even to help us reconcile or make sense of our past. Our complete-ish stories shared (with a friend, in a group, as a testimony, in an article) let others know they’re not alone, they tell about Jesus and offer an invitation to come-and-see, and they offer hope in the hurt. We don’t just experience for ourselves, we experience for a collective gain.

3. Connection happens when we love like Jesus loves, in person with our whole self.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
Jesus could have loved us from afar--and he did/does. But He also came to live on this earth, to interact and talk and heal and connect. When Jesus tells us to love like Him, I believe that's what He means. Love in person with our whole self. Be present to those around us. In real life. And if we're going to use technology, may it still be personal. May we still use uplifting words in personal messages to connect in genuine ways.

4. Connection happens when we are in Christ.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. ...Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1, 7
Just as the motions of love without love is nothing, so are our acts of connecting without Christ equally lacking. When we connect in Christ first, our connections with others bring new meaning and a deeper hope that transcends this moment.

5. Connection happens when we give of ourselves in the way we know how or were created.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
We each have our own gifts and personalities and strengths. Our connections are more meaningful when we start there. I write handwritten cards to my friends, not because I think everyone should do that, but because that's one way I can share my gifts and my self with those I care about. Some people are good at phone calls or hosting or starting conversations or bringing by pizza during a difficult season. Do what you know how to do, what you were created to do.

6. Connection happens when we relate / empathize, and journey with others.
To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Romans 12:15-16
We generally aren't meant to have the answers for other people's struggles. Usually we aren't even meant to have opinions about their experiences. Even a counselor won't often have input on what you should do; that's not our role for our fellow people. We are to show up with our own joys and struggles, and in that sharing of those human experiences we are equals in our need for Jesus and His grace and His salvation. We are in this life together, not any one person besides Christ ahead of us.

To be present in someone else's struggle and know they're present in ours--that is the depth of friendship and that is the depth we can also be present to each other's successes and joys.

7. Connection happens when we don’t give up.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9 
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to weep, And a time to laugh; ... A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; .. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11
Just because we don’t have connection now, doesn’t mean we never will. We are assured God makes everything beautiful in its time, including our lives and including our relationships. When we feel discouraged by our present, we can be assured that we are created with the hope of eternity deeply rooted in our hearts. When right now isn't good, we can be sure that it's not the end because God's good always gets the last word.

I'm preaching all of this to myself. I've stayed on the sidelines, I've thrown the pity parties. I've had serious FOMO confirmed by social media posts telling me everything I've missed out on. But it doesn't have to be that way. I can extend invitations and believe I'm worth hanging out with. I can make an effort, even if I'm the one that made an effort last time (I'm usually not). I will show up for my people and it will be worth it.

Don't let the opportunity to connect pass you by. Reach out to encourage and support those around you (even if they're not yet "friends"). Ask how someone is doing and make sure they know you want the real answer. Entrust those close to you with your story. Show up in person with your own personality and strengths. Empathize instead of carrying the burden to rescue.

If you'd like some conversation cards to use in your conversations with your friends, for a girls night, or in a small group you're a part of, you can download my 8 conversation cards >> here. They cover 80 statements that you can use to share pieces of your own story, or turn them into questions to ask others pieces of their story.

And don't give up. We were made for connection, and if we're not enjoying it now, one day we will if we don't lose heart.

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