Where To Find True Community
If I’m completely honest, I never wanted to live in New York City.
Being a single, independent, young professional in my late 20’s, you’d think that Manhattan would be calling my name, a la Carrie Bradshaw, but in truth, New York was dead last on my list of prospective “next chapters.” A child of the Pacific Northwest, I’d spent the last decade in Chicago and my heart was yearning to return to the lush evergreens and infinite mountain trails of my childhood.
But to make a long story short, I took a proverbial leap of faith and moved to the concrete jungle, leaving behind a city and a community that taught me how to love, and heading for a city that went against everything I was seeking, a city where I knew almost no one.
Fast forward a few months and I wish I could say that I’m a convert, that I’ve fallen under New York’s magical spell and will stay here forevermore. But in truth, it’s been an incredibly lonely journey. Don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful to be here. Everything that people say about the city is true, from the rich diversity of people and thought to the myriad of arts that cements New York’s place as a cultural cornucopia.
What about this city draws so many lonely souls?
BEHIND THE MASK, EVERYONE IS LONELY
You can be surrounded by millions of people, rubbing shoulders on narrow sidewalks or wedged up against total strangers on ridiculously crowded subways, yet in the midst of it all feel a pervasive, deep-seated loneliness. Almost everyone I’ve met in the city has brought up the exact same theme: true community is hard to find.
And as if finding community wasn’t already difficult, moving to New York in your late 20’s is a different ball game altogether. At this age we’re more self-assured and less willing to tolerate the superficial. We don’t really feel the need to make new friends. Time is our most precious commodity, even more so with demanding careers, significant others and children. Why waste it on total strangers? So with every awkward meetup or chance to just ’put myself out there’ as I’m constantly reminded to do, I walk away mildly amused and chagrined by how difficult it can be to sustain a real conversation, to find that spark of chemistry in which one kindred spirit recognizes a sister. It’s enough to make me want to throw up my hands - to tune out of life here, and tune in to Netflix.
Something within us desperately longs for relational community. Countless studies point to the physical and psychological benefits of social ties. From stronger economies to stronger mental health, we’re better together. But regardless of how many friends and followers we have on social media, something within us yearns to be fully known and accepted for our authentic selves — baggage, bruises, and all. What a seemingly impossible ask in a city that accepts no less than perfection, the glamour of Vogue cover models and fashion bloggers shining on every corner.
True community that goes beyond the superficial is challenging. If you’re looking for transactional relationships that affirm your behaviors and beliefs, forget about it. Community takes time, it’s messy and frustrating, exacting compromise, sacrifice, and engaging with people with whom you wouldn’t normally engage. It’s welcoming the stranger, promoting compassion and confronting prejudice, treating everyone as an equal deserving of respect.
And in return?
There’s a unique and priceless freedom and love that come from authentic community. Freedom in the ability to be wholly yourself and tell your story without fear of judgment or alienation. Love from the inevitable expansion of the heart that overflows from caring more about the needs of others than yourself. In sharing the weight of this difficult world, you may be surprised at the lightness in your own shoulders.
COMMUNITY IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
So where do we find true community? Not in the fleeting, pleasure-driven activities we gravitate towards in order to fill the void. But look around you at the loneliness and all the conversations that aren’t happening, and ask yourself if you’re willing to listen. Community is simply where many broken, lonely hearts sing together. And if we view every interaction as an opportunity to spread kindness, the chance to love, then we will inevitably find community.
Despite the challenges, the awkward introductions, and snail’s pace of progress, I know what a precious gift I have been given: the chance to build community in a city that so desperately needs it. God has designed a beautiful purpose for each and every one of us here. What a gift to reframe this daunting city into a wealth of opportunity to hear new stories, experience unique perspectives, and be challenged on preconceived notions and prejudices. As easy as it would be to simply walk away from the challenge of the gift, I won’t give up because a bold and vibrant opportunity for connection awaits.
In this season I encounter loneliness but also the freedom of new beginnings. I learn to rely more on the one who knows my innermost being, the one who is always with me. When I cry out in frustration, God’s voice seems to gently whisper: “Do you trust me?”
And in this season when I must venture forward with blind faith, I can answer: Yes, I do.
What’s stopping you from finding true community?
Kathryn is new to the Radiant team. You can find her bio here.