Restarting Relationships: Being Brave by Leaning In

By Jennifer J. Howe

God's Brave Women - Jennifer's Story

A voice whispered, “Lean in. Choose the brave thing. Be who I made you to be.”

I couldn’t possibly, could I?

It started with the Q word. I knew what the word meant in the dictionary sense, but I didn’t know anyone who’d experienced it. I remember a mom of several children told me she would be keeping everyone home until the chicken pox made its way through the family. The idea of quarantine was just an idea. Out there. Somewhere. Something other people endured.

And then—the virus.

Patterns Transform

I’m an introvert who thinks and writes about relationship, and the last few months are not lost on me—I’ve learned more about my tendency toward social paralysis under stress, my unspoken core needs, and the relational patterns this quarantine established and etched into life. Add the social unrest in progress, and now I’m thinking about others’ needs more than before. I see people differently, and I’m deeply affected. I’m not sure who wouldn’t be.

The life patterns I’ve become accustomed to created habits, even transformed the way I move about and engage others. An allergy sufferer sheepishly explains a string of sneezes or coughs, and I try to gift a knowing look. A hug or any kind of physical touch is practically banned from personal interactions without expressed permission. Most of the time it just feels awkward. My circles of friends in conversation take up much more space than before. I remember to check for face covering requirements. The latest virus and social news arrests my attention.

These patterns stretched beyond days or weeks. Months make a difference.

Restarting Takes Time and Intentionality

The first time I realized the shift was startling. My church began offering carefully constructed gatherings, but I wasn’t as interested as I thought I’d be. After all this time nursing the wounds of my disconnection, why in the world wouldn’t I run to the in-person opportunities? Leaning into them is the brave thing to do.

I realize the time it takes to restart relationships is carved out—but carved out of what? When my days have no structure, I don’t know how to use my time. I tend to overlook important things for impulsive things, and that creates different stress. So first, I need to order my days with priorities and people in mind.


"When my days have no structure, I don’t know how to use my time. I tend to overlook important things for impulsive things, and that creates different stress. So first, I need to order my days with priorities and people in mind."

That leads to intentionality. I get to choose the things I prioritize, but how I choose them says so much. Do I choose things that preserve my own comfort, resources, or deeply held core beliefs? Or, will I choose a set of priorities that are countercultural, sacrificial, and loving? Who or what will be at the top of my list and set the tone for the whole list? I want to be intentional about every choice I make because I know it matters to God, myself, and others. It’s often harder than I want to admit.

Authenticity

I have been hiding behind a mask for months. I was casually observed in day to day activities at times, but there’s a story I’ve been telling myself: no one really sees me, and I don’t really see them. My “authenticity” was behind the bandana wall. How authentic is that? A few pressed in to read the expression in the top four inches of my face. But you know what? I rarely pressed in to read others’ eyes and brows. It took a long time to consciously choose eye contact. It was the only expression anyone had left, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Was I willing to show my eyes and search others’? I had to bravely admit my fears and choose to lean into practicing gentle eye contact.


"My “authenticity” was behind the bandana wall... A few pressed in to read the expression in the top four inches of my face. But you know what? I rarely pressed in to read others’ eyes and brows. It took a long time to consciously choose eye contact."

Social media revealed so many authentic, unfiltered thoughts. I didn’t know how to be authentically me as I watched tensions rise. I posted lots of puppy pictures because—everyone loves puppies! I didn’t join many conversations about the virus, the economy, or the social unrest. The “old” me would have reasoned and wrestled in those threads. I identified other masks I wore on social, and I didn’t like them.

When I thought about restarting relationships, it seemed impossible. I found myself overthinking (I’ve got a master’s level degree in that!). I knew there were steps to take, and I was sure Jesus was asking me to enter into relationships and community again—with big changes.

Love God and Love Others

I won’t pretend I know how to navigate the complexities of reentering community and relationship after quarantine and after social unrest like my nation has seen. I just know I’ve been given these words—do this, Jen:

He [Jesus] answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27 CSB

For me, loving God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind means humbly bringing my whole authentic self to Him for instruction in truth, love, grace, and godliness. He has loved me so well, and there is only one response to that—to love Him well! As I embrace His priorities and live in a way that honors His heart and wisdom, I am changed. How could I not be?


"Bear with me because I’ve learned a hard lesson of late: loving my neighbor depends more on how she needs to be loved than how I think she should be loved. I’ve read this scripture with a little personal “spin” for too long. If I choose the way I like to receive love, and that is not how she receives it, wants it, or needs it, what kind of love is that?"

Bear with me because I’ve learned a hard lesson of late: loving my neighbor depends more on how she needs to be loved than how I think she should be loved. I’ve read this scripture with a little personal “spin” for too long. If I choose the way I like to receive love, and that is not how she receives it, wants it, or needs it, what kind of love is that? Rather than looking at my neighbor’s needs through my own filter, I’ll be listening carefully, asking gentle questions, praying, and listening some more. I hope that kind of conversation meets real needs rather than the ones I imagine she has.

It’s time. Time for me to lean in, choose the brave thing, and be who He made me to be—His ambassador, a bringer of truth, love, grace, relational balm, and authenticity into a very isolated world.

If you see me, ask how it’s going. It might be a great conversation!


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About Jennifer


Jennifer Howe can be found at her site, jenniferjhowe.com, where she writes about story and relationship. She’s a founding member and contributor at facetsoffaith.com, where friends and guests write about life, faith, and friendship. She’s working on her personal story, White Wave Crashing, weaving story and powerful practices for healing from a traumatic past. When she’s not working on her own projects, she edits others’ good words. In front of the keyboard and red pen, she’s a wife, mom to two adult sons, and critter lover. You’ll find her in her favorite places and spaces—friendly, caffeinated hidey holes—hoping for deep, meaningful conversations! Connect more with her on Instagram and Facebook.

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© 2019 by Becky Beresford, Author