Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Tribe

backlit dawn foggy friendship

When I say tribe, I’m not referring to a group of people you were born into, as in a Native American tribe, but in the popular understanding of the word: a distinctive or close-knit group, a group of kindred spirits, people you feel safe with.

Sadly, these are not always the same people as the tribe you were born into, though it is for some lucky folks. Also, your tribe will change over time depending on where you live, work, play and grow as a person. Sometimes, a change in beliefs or political understanding will move you from one tribe to another. Sometimes a job promotion or increase/decrease in your standard of living will propel you from one group to another.

The important thing is, we all need a tribe — people that “get us,” people that are safe. I recently met a young woman who had developed a great group of friends. Later, something happened that showed her they were not her tribe. They betrayed her deeply and gossiped horribly about her. She was devastated and is now having trouble trusting anyone else. That is a hard thing; betrayals can stick with us causing us to withdraw and put up walls of protection around our hearts.

My husband and I went through a tribe change when we started standing with the LGBTQ community. Our faith tribe, some family members, and many friends could not understand this decision and we felt exiled from that tribe. It was a very painful thing. But it was also freeing. We had been tiptoeing around on eggshells, trying to avoid rocking the boat in our tribe, and when we left, we could walk more freely. Suddenly, it was as if we could breathe, we could be ourselves, and we could advocate for justice. We remained close to many of our longtime friends, but it felt as if our tribal allegiance had undergone a seismic shift. Eventually, we found likeminded people with whom we could be more candid with about topics that were previously difficult to discuss. It took a while but we are now enjoying exploring a new tribal identity.

 

photo of a person wearing printed crew neck t shirt

How do you find a tribe?

  1. Look for people who might have the same interests as you. Perhaps in a church, community organizing group, book club, hiking group or political action group.
  2. Look for people you feel comfortable around.
  3. Try sharing a bit of yourself and see how that part of you is handled by others in the group. Are you welcomed or held at a distance?
  4. Not everyone you meet will fall into the category of tribe-worthy. We all have friends, acquaintances, and family members that we love, but that does not automatically make them part of your tribe. Don’t put all your energy into forming a tribe at work. Jobs can disappear and your tribe along with them.

Why do we need a tribe? Life is hard, and we are all busy. Having a small group of people you can be yourself with is important. You don’t have to agree on everything to be part of a tribe. The best tribes can challenge and disagree but continue to love and be connected. The best tribes can bring in new ideas and expose each member to new things. But tribes don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated. Meeting with people regularly is the only way to develop a tribe. Weekly or monthly gatherings, dinners, or any event where you can talk deeply with one another can lead to a tribe. You must take risks to form a tribe. Tribes can be healing. As we share our pain in the safety of a tribe, we can heal.

five women laughing

When we left our former tribe, we started a new one called “Shalom.” It was to be a place of healing for people from the LGBTQ family who had been hurt by the church. This became a tribe of safety and love, but it took over a year before we could all trust each other. After five years we officially dissolved the group, not because anything bad had happened, but because it had met its purpose. Everyone in Shalom, including us, had found safety and healing, and life had gotten better and busier for everyone. Everyone agreed it was time to stop our meetings which had gone from weekly for three years, to monthly for the last two. We will still be friends, but it was time to let the tribe scatter.

How do you know it’s time to move on from a tribe? Sometimes it is just natural as life and priorities change. But tribes can also become toxic, as what happened to the young woman I mentioned. If there is gossip, lying, or intolerance of who you are, it might be time to leave. If you find yourself avoiding the folks in your tribe, you might need to reevaluate. A tribe is somewhere you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Do you have a tribe? How did you find it? Have you ever had to switch tribes? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

Man in shirt pic

Women laughing pic

 

Spiritual Practice: Nurturing Relationships

 

plant

You know if you follow me that I work with people that are dying. Nothing clarifies a person’s priorities like knowing they are going to die. One thing becomes crystal clear. When you know you’re dying, it’s the relationships you will miss. As someone wise once said, “No one says on their deathbed, I wish I’d spent more time at work.”

Nurturing relationships is a spiritual practice that takes time and intention.

Consider these three stories:

I’m working with a young man who is dying from lung disease. When I asked him if he had any “spiritual background,” he said, “I sort of just believe in the Universe.” I asked how he felt about the Universe. He said, “The Universe has been giving me s**t for years.” I asked if the Universe had given him anything good. He pointed to his fiance and said, “It gave me her.” She was the only joy in his otherwise miserable life, the one bright spot.

I worked with a man who had spent the last decades of his life as a houseless alcoholic. Because of his choices, he had been alienated from his many children and siblings. Then he told me about his cat, Jewel, and he wept bitterly, missing her. His only comfort was that Jewel would be waiting for him on the “other side.”

Today I sat with a woman who is deaf but can still see. She still has a strong mind, on good days. I was paging through her photo albums with her, impressed that she had traveled the world as a nurse. Her son even told me that she had smuggled Bibles into Russia. But the only photos she commented on, and did so consistently, were of her son. “My son,” she would say with pride. Nothing else mattered to her but him.

So, if relationships are so important to us when we are dying, we’d better start building them now. You might be wondering, who will I miss when I’m gone? Who will miss me? If you’re looking around, thinking, “Wow, my friendship pool is pretty small,” it might be time to nurture some relationships.

Spiritually, nurturing relationships is the natural progression of loving God, loving yourself and loving others.

Friendships are mysterious. Some last forever, like perennial flowers. Some, like annuals, are only for a season. Here are some ideas on forming new friendships:]

  1. Facebook is a wonderful place to find and reconnect with old friends, long lost cousins, or past loves. Old friends are cool because of your shared history. I’ve attended class reunions I would have skipped because I’ve reconnected with so many old friends.
  2. Join a small group on something that interests you: a Bible Study, a gardening group, a stamp collecting club. I’ve found that, in these kinds of groups, it generally takes time to get to know others. Don’t give up. It helps to become a leader in the group and bond with others in leadership. Once, when I had moved to a new city, I joined an exercise class that also did crafts. I had first thought I had NOTHING in common with the women in the group, but eventually, I learned we had many things in common and we became good friends.
  3. Get on “Meet ups” and find an active group to join: hiking, softball, writing, painting. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you may discover a hidden or forgotten talent. My daughter once gave me a membership to a writer’s group for my birthday. Nine years and eleven published books later, I’m still attending.
  4. Take a class. Especially a class that involves participation, like wine-tasting, travel, improvisation, or dancing. Having to work together builds friendships.
  5. Join a group that serves others. This takes care of any self-pity issues and bonds you together with like-minded people. Try Habitat for Humanity and build a house for a needy family.
  6. Nurture your existing friendships. A group of friends and I started a “Game Night” group 30 years ago. We meet monthly and each couple hosts the group once per year. These are the folks I would call if I needed anything. We may not hang out much outside of Game Night, but if there is ever an emergency, we’re all there in a heartbeat.
  7. Adopt a pet. My step-dad came home with a dog the SPCA had brought to a baseball game to give-away. That little fellow has become his constant companion, filling a big void since my mother died. Our own dog, Rocky, has been a very important part of our family.
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  9. Start small. If these ideas seem overwhelming, just invite a friend to lunch. Unfortunately, no one can make friends for you. It can be intimidating to reach out, but it is worth the risk.
  10. And above all, cherish your parents while they are still alive. Today I sat with a patient who was deeply asleep. There was nothing I could do to wake her no matter what I tried. Then her daughter walked into the room, and before her daughter even reached the bed, she became fully awake and engaged. Love them while you can. They won’t be here forever.

How have you made friendships that last? Share any ideas you have for developing and nurturing relationships.

 

Photos: Plant through pavement, perennial, annuals, Rocky — mine.