Church Cliques, Lego Blocks and Making Room for Love

Church Cliques, Lego Blocks, and Making Room for LoveWhen we got back to America, all I wanted was to find a church.

We had been in China for a year teaching English. The town we lived in was far enough away from the Big City to make our foreign faces new and jarring to the local community.

Wherever I walked, people gawked or took pictures or grabbed my grocery list to examine my sloppy cursive.

It was an entire year of halting small talk in broken, simple phrases – a strange cocktail party where I was both dignitary and circus performer. Always talking, never connecting. Unable to disappear but never really seen at that soul level that I craved.

The whole thing had left me a little gray-tinged and hollow.

But we were back in the country now, new to town, still unpacking the boxes in our cute one-bedroom apartment.

We were starting over, starting out, and I felt a little bit like if I could just get to the right church, everything would be okay.

I’d been lonely like this before, after all. Once upon a time, I’d walked into the church youth group alone and awkward and 13 years old, and they’d taken me straight in. This kind of instant love leaves a mark, subtle and powerful, and you find yourself searching subconsciously for that kind of belonging all the rest of your days.

*

We go to the little white church for the first time one sunny fall morning, and the light streaks in as we stand there singing and then turn to greet our neighbors.

We say hello and smile. People shake our hands warmly but do not ask our names.

The room quiets, and a woman comes to the front to tell a bit of her story. A little pre-sermon thought. An anecdote. An antidote.

It’s a story about loneliness and friendship. It’s the story of how she and her husband struggled so mightily to connect at church, how they joined things, how they “plugged in,” how they never seemed to be able to cultivate the friendships they really wanted.

I don’t remember the details of her story. But I remember the conclusion. The metaphor. The epiphany.

“What I discovered,” she says, “is that people are like Lego blocks. Some of us have lots of connector spots, and some of us are those little square ones with only four spots, and it’s not personal. You just only have a certain amount of space for friendship.”

The whole place seems to be nodding in tandem, and she says, “I discovered that people weren’t intentionally trying to exclude me. It’s just that all their Lego connector spots were full.”

And of course, it made all the sense in the world.

But I was lonely. I was waiting for the church people to take us straight in like they did all those years before. I needed love and belonging and an invitation to lunch.

But they were Lego blocks filled up, connected and connecting, already built into what they wanted to be.

*

I’ve always been an introvert. From my earliest childhood, I was a one-best-friend kind of person…which I suppose makes me even worse than one of those four-pronged square Legos. I’m like a Lego dot.

I am acutely aware of my own limitations when it comes to friendship and connection. Too many dinner/coffee/drinks dates in a row, and I get crabby and claustrophobic. Too many toddlers up in my business, and I turn into Wacko Yelling Mom.

I believe that God did not build us to be BFFs with every person to cross our paths. We are limited. We are meant to be limited.

And yet, at the heart of the gospel is this idea of more than enough – more than enough love to cover our hate, more than enough grace to cover our brokenness, more than enough Light to dispel our darkness.

There is a story in the Bible about a boy who gives what he has – a couple of fish, a few loaves of bread. And Jesus takes it and blesses it, and somehow, it feeds a whole hungry crowd of five thousand.

What is clearly not enough becomes enough. Becomes more than enough.

And I think about this when I think about relationships and church and plugging in. When I think about the lonely ones who are in between homes. Who are in transition, who are looking for their people, who are not sure they’ll ever find them.

If we believe we are Lego blocks, plastic and unyielding with no spaces available, we will end up living that way.

We’ll exclude one another unintentionally; we’ll live blind to the need around us, to the new face that appears and disappears before we can ever learn a name. We become cliquey and ingrown and sharp at the edges.

We can’t be everything to everyone. But we will be something to everyone. We can choose to live in the generosity of God’s love or in the poverty of our limitations, and it matters what we choose.

So what if you can’t go out to coffee with her every week?

That’s fine.

Go once. Listen. Ask questions.

Maybe you won’t end up sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with that couple in the lobby, but ask them about their kids. Remember their names. Write them down if you have to.

Look at the prom photos of her grandkids that she carries in her purse. Ask about his job and really listen when he talks about it. These small moments matter too.

In the end, there is a difference between nice and kind, and more and more I am convinced that “community” is not formed by telling everything to everybody but by these simple, strong threads of love.

And it’s both: we are limited, and we are not.

We are not Lego blocks, plastic and immovable. We give the last crust we have and trust God to make it enough.

We grow. We expand. We choose to take each other in.

33 thoughts on “Church Cliques, Lego Blocks and Making Room for Love

  1. Thank you for this, Addie. Trusting in the sufficiency of Christ will never disappoint. But you have added a new angle on this for me– I love the thought of offering what I have and trusting him to make it count. Sunday mornings are taxing for me, between music team responsibilities and sometimes teaching. By the time it is all over all I want to do is crawl under the covers and hide. The thoughts expressed in this post encourage me to give out the last vestiges of strength and trust Him to use it for His glory. I love it. Then I’ll crawl under the covers.

    1. I don’t blame you for wanting to hide after Sunday morning. If I were serving in those ways, I’d be cooked too. Grateful that God can use even the crumbs.

  2. Oh how this resonates this morning. While living in a remote town is not the same as China, it certainly left me with similar feelings and a similar longing for church – because we thought we had found church there only to have it snatched away from us and wound us.

    What beautiful advice, to give God our last bit and trust God to make it enough. Hoping this introvert can put it into practice.

    1. So sorry you’re finding yourself in a hard place right now. Lord knows I’ve been there. Hang in there, introvert friend.

  3. I like this – I am an introvert longing for connection but unwilling to commit, which makes me THE WORST…so I prayed for friends – I prayed long and hard. And then someone called. Not the people I wanted to call and not the people I ever imagined would call, but it didn’t matter – they called – they met us and all of our wild kids in a loud, obnoxious place that they would never have gone to otherwise and they spent time with us and right then I realized that my prayers get answered, I just don’t always see it for what it is.

    1. What a beautiful story. I’m always grateful for the unexpected people who meet me in the chaos of my life. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. We can’t be everything to everyone. But we will be something to everyone. We can choose to live in the generosity of God’s love or in the poverty of our limitations, and it matters what we choose.
    Well written and much needed. And, trusting God to take that last crust & make it enough. His generosity & grace sustains me, even in these dark and in-between times.He is teaching me how, when I make it through, to be more attuned to be the something.
    Thank you for this, beautiful as always.

  5. I am an introvert by nature, too, but I long for connectedness. I love your idea, of being friendly, even if you can’t be life long friends. I hope you found your connection, even if it didn’t happen on that Sunday!

    1. Thanks Rachael, and yes, finding connection now in so many unexpected and beautiful ways. So grateful

  6. Having grown up in North Dakota and Minnesota, I often heard people take pride in being known as the nicest people in the world. But there is a difference between being nice and kind, as you said. I talked to a pastor’s wife to moved to MN from New York, and she said it was much more difficult to make friends in the Midwest because everyone had their cliques, and it was hard to break into groups of people who are old friends. I was surprised to hear her point of view, but when I moved to city where there were lots of new people always moving in, I realized how right she was. Suddenly, I found myself making friends more easily, because everyone was open to making new friends. No one had a longstanding group of friends nearby to fall back on that would prevent them from making the effort to make a new friend.

    I am an introvert who tends to have one or two close friends. But I don’t feel like I have a limited set of connector pieces, and I don’t think it’s a very true analogy. I think people just get comfortable and don’t make the effort to to be open to new relationships.

    1. Well said. (And I agree with you about the Midwest). This particularly struck me: “I think people just get comfortable and don’t make the effort to to be open to new relationships.” Yes. May we have the grace to be open even when we feel too busy or comfortable.

  7. I have been a lego block looking for a lego block with an open spot. I have moved several times. I have stood in church after church wondering when someone would notice I could be a good friend.
    My lego block always has room for one more. I trust God to help me.
    I thought your analogy was very accurate.

  8. “We can’t be everything to everyone. But we will be something to everyone. We can choose to live in the generosity of God’s love or in the poverty of our limitations, and it matters what we choose.” I love this!

    As a pastor I so desperately want to cultivate real community and have done a ton of thinking and praying. Here is the reality. Hurting people come to a church to find people who will help them heal. What they find when they get there is that the people already there are hurting too. Hurting people are selfish! We are all so freaking selfish. If we are looking for a church that won’t hurt us, we will never find it. We need to approach it differently. Abundance of grace where we get to hurt all over each other and never stop loving anyway. Then, we go on mission to find more hurting people to hurt with us! It’s messy, but it’s bigger, and the bigger is what pulls us out of selfishness as into real community.

    Love you cous, keep doin work!

    1. “It’s messy, but it’s bigger, and the bigger is what pulls us out of selfishness as into real community.” Love that. Thanks.

  9. Two thoughts:

    1. When I saw where you were going with the Lego idea I thought, “OH CRAP! I’m a Lego with one prong!” And then I felt like a wierdo because THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO CAN ACTUALLY SUPPORT 4 PRONGS? I don’t even want to talk about those huge Legos. So I felt much better when you said the same about yourself. Thanks, buddy.

    2. This post is the first post from you where I feel like you’re talking a little from the church side of things instead of just the visitor side. I mean, not completely, but it feels like you’re a little more comfortable talking about the issue from the side of those who are a part of it instead of those who are looking in. Or like you’re speaking from that in-between place that you’ve been writing about. (I’m a little afraid this is sounding negative, but I don’t mean it to.) Anyway, it sounded true and comfortable and useful.

    1. Thanks Janice. (And that didn’t sound negative at all!) Probably it’s because I’m starting to find a place in a church, but I also don’t want to forget what it felt like to be the searching one, the lost one, the cynic needing connection.

      I think the way we structure church and just…American LIFE…these days make it easy to feel filled up. To be overcommitted to a lot of REALLY GOOD THINGS. But I want to be a person who makes space. Even if it’s just a little.

  10. mercy, that lego metaphor is truly abysmal. i am FILLED with Christ’s love! to filled, in fact, to love *anyone* else at all. welp, sorry-i’m-not-sorry!

    such a big difference between nice and kind. timely challenge here, A.

  11. Addie,

    This is your best one yet, you nailed it!

    Thank you, the world needs to hear this message, our families and those around us need it too.

  12. So many things I would echo here. And at the same time, I understand the tendency to use the Lego block analogy because it some ways it seems like it is the same mindset, the one saying you have to be “plugged in” and overcommitted, that makes me shy away from adding any additional hypothetical lego blocks because I don’t have time for that kind of commitment.

    I also don’t have time for the kind of commitment that most churches want me to have in order to matter in their eyes, to be useful and to be “plugged in.” I have a job. I have hobbies. I have friends. I have a full life that I’m not willing to sacrifice to meet someone else’s standards for commitment. But I do have time to be present and hospitable to the people in front of me, even if and when I don’t have time to make them ongoing projects, which is what so many churches seem to want.

    I also have issues with the whole “plugged in/get in community” mindset because it seems to blame the “victims” in a sense. It puts the burden of making friendships on the lonely and on those who already may feel like outsiders… which pretty quickly devolves into “if you’re lonely/excluded/outside it’s your own fault, we’ve tried to woo you with our programs and small groups.” Ugh.

    1. This is so well said. Especially this: “But I do have time to be present and hospitable to the people in front of me, even if and when I don’t have time to make them ongoing projects, which is what so many churches seem to want.”

      I too have trouble with the “plugged in” stuff. It makes me a little crazy.

  13. I am a small LEGO block, but nevertheless most of my life, I had open spots to fill. So lonely. As I am growing and maturing my “spots” have made connections – blessed and redeemed!
    The dilemma for me now, is in seeing a world of faces (in and out of my church) – people looking for community, for real depth – as I was for many years. And I yearn to be something to them, but I feel spent much of the time.

    Thanks for the encouragement to be something meaningful – even if not deep – to everyone. Great words.

    1. I feel like I’m in this spot too Jennifer: “I yearn to be something to them, but I feel spent much of the time.” Yes. Such a struggle to know how and where to invest that time and depth. Thanks be to God, who makes it Enough.

  14. I don’t believe I could have said this any better. I am church homeless due to lack of presenting the word of God in it’s fullness, making God Center, seeker sensitive churches who spend way too much time on entertainment and less time on teaching sin, judgement repentance and the holiness of God and how to live a Christ minded centered life, cliques, plastic people and many other harsh realities of what’s going on within the confines of modern churches today…I yearn for a belonging, an opportunity to serve our awesome God…but i will only serve in a church crying out to God and praising Him and only him. If you speak up, your are labeled and outcast…I have been to just about every church in my area…we are most certainly in the days of Apostasy, and sadly, I believe it starts with L(ego)’s people. I wanted only to be embraced, encouraged, loved..far too many are just going through the motions. Standing in the coffee line one morning I heard..how do you take your coffee? Then it hit me !…Look at all these people in line for coffee…I began my journey of “Dig Deeper”…We need more God ! More people eating meat…not drinking coffee…we need more people crying out to God..with Godly sorrow and tears..more handshakes and hugs…more fellowship with our brothers and sisters after we hear the word of God …sharing a meal together instead of racing home to watch the football game…It’s sad how alone one can feel at a Mega-Church filled with plastic people…Thank you for this article…Josey

  15. This is how I feel. Church people seem to be the most standoffish. It is so hard to find the community and get connected. They already have there people. But i also remember that I am one of those church people. 🙂

  16. Addie, can you share some real life examples of what your youth group did that made you feel like “they’d taken you straight in”? That’s a powerful testimony and something I’d love to try to put into practice!

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