Here I am: a wife and mother in a self-sustained family, with wonderful friends and family both near and far, yet simultaneously feeling a lack of connectedness at times. It's an interesting paradox to feel both connected and disconnected in the same moment. Maybe you have found yourself in the same state?
Connectedness, while meaning quite literally, "connected or linked," also means, "a feeling of belonging to or having affinity with a particular person or group." We can be connected to someone while not being connected at all. How confusing, right?
I'll be honest; I am just working this out in my own life. "How can I feel lonely and surrounded at the same time?" It's a question I have found myself asking a number of times over the last decade. Sure, I have moved three times in that period and deep, meaningful relationships take time and effort, but I believe there is more to it than just that. The other day I found myself thinking back to an experience I had on the Solomon Islands.
Even though it was only a little over a decade ago, it seems like another lifetime that I found myself living among the people of the Solomon Islands. And it was only for a handful of months, but the immersive experience has forever shaped me.
The Solomon Islands is a nation of 6 main islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean situated just northeast of Australia. At that time in my life, I called Australia home and so I was very accustomed to meeting people from all sorts of Island nations, but there is nothing quite like going and living amongst these people in their own homeland. I've been fortunate to visit many countries, but this was by far one of the most uniquely beautiful experiences I have yet to have.
The journey to get to our village was an epic adventure itself. We flew into Guadalcanal and took an island hopper plane that landed on a field on the island of Malaita. From there, we walked to the waters edge, hired a fishing boat, and watched as we motored by all the many smaller islands–filled with little villages full of people with their own stories that were likely incredibly different from mine. I remember pulling up to our village that afternoon. All the homes were situated in a valley on the thin peninsula and were held up high on stilts to protect their integrity when the high tide would roll in through the valley each day. Canoes were tied up to each home so the villagers could move freely despite the intruding waters.
We stayed with a multi-generational family in their home right next to the water's edge. The night was spent on the floor and the days were spent partaking in the daily activities of our host family and their friends. We walked or boated everywhere. It was very different from home and anything that was familiar. There were no phones, no TVs, and we struggled to find the one battery operated radio, which my Australian-Yemenese friend would hold up to the air to get a signal to the world beyond our island. As a woman, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen hut, shaving coconut and helping make food over the fire or in the oven fashioned from giant leaves.
I think back on my time spent with these people and remember so fondly how they interacted with one another. Their community meant everything–they were literally all each other had. They worked together, ate together, played together; I even witnessed my host family raising a baby girl from another family in the village. They were such a connected body of people and I sometimes find myself aching for that same sense of streamlined connection and community they had.
When I flashback to my time spent on that tiny island village, there is something that I can’t shake. At the root, it was a sense of vulnerability and trust lived out so fluidly, and it’s something that took me years to pinpoint. These people depended on each other. They worked together, trusting one another with their kids, their home, their village structure, and their daily food provisions. They were all each other had and they needed each other for survival.
No matter what your family income is, even just living in America gives you access to more than one could ever need. While it is a wonderful thing, it can also, if not careful, be the downside of connectedness and trusting others in your daily lives for basic needs and desires. Quite frankly, unless we are met with tragedy that forces us outside of ourselves, we can do a great percentage of our lives for ourselves, and by ourselves. I don't have any plans of moving to an island off the coast of who-knows-where, so I must learn to marry culture and vulnerability in an ever-increasing tension filled union.
Mary Pipher said, “Social change is a million individual acts of kindness, cultural change is a million subversive acts of resistance.” An increasingly connected/disconnected culture can indeed shift around you. If you, like I, have ached for that kind of community I spoke of, we have to start taking all the tiny little steps of resisting the tendencies that feel good, but lead us away from people. The instant gratification of "connecting" with my friends on Instagram while urging my 2-year-old daughter to play quietly next to me only further alienates me from that rich depth of connection to her that I desire.
I always seem to come back to that verse that sounds as confusing as my thoughts feel jumbled in my mind at times, Romans 7:15-20:
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. [a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Why is it that I pull away from the very thing that I desire by chasing after something easier and quicker that only leads me further from what I truly want? As I said above, I am merely opening up the discussion because I don't have all the answers. I do know though, that to change that culture that I get stuck in–the culture of relying on self and choosing instant gratification over the hard work of trusting, being vulnerable and giving relationships time–it will take a million tiny acts of resistance. For me it may mean checking myself when I pick up my phone when I am out to eat with friends or resisting saying no to a good opportunity because I am too afraid to ask my friend to watch my daughter. Maybe for you, it may mean choosing to call your sister when you are tempted to hide your feelings in a journal. Maybe it is not binge watching that show but rather taking the time to mow your neighbor’s lawn because you know they had to work extra shifts all week to make ends meet. Maybe it is resisting posting that article on Facebook hoping a particular person will see it but rather sitting down and having a healthy face-to-face discussion.
This shift looks different to different people, but there comes a time where we have to say to ourselves, enough is enough, and in grace, start making those small choices to choose what may be harder in the short term, but better in the long run.
Mary Kate is farm girl from Pennsylvania who found herself living in Australia and Colorado before settling down in Nashville with her husband, Dustin. In addition to parenting a spirited toddler, they run Plaid Owl Creative. mK is a family girl at heart - she loves to adventure with her family and invest in the lives of families of Creatives. When she's not traveling or hosting, you can find mK curled up in front of a movie with chocolate & popcorn!