Community Series Q&A: I grew up in a family that isolated us from others. How do I step out of this and learn to build community as an adult?

Question: I grew up in a family that isolated us from others. How do I step out of this and learn to build community as an adult? How do I engage and pursue others? How do I get past my tendency to isolate?
Answered by Allie de Graaf

Community is a miracle. Getting to experience Gospel-saturated relationships of knowing and being known, of loving and being loved, of sharing the ugly inside each of us and yet still being accepted and valued, that truly is a miracle. When I consider the culture I grew up in, my present community becomes even more of a miracle.

I grew up in an introverted, homeschooling family that lived 35 miles from the nearest city. My closest friends (except for my brother and sisters) were probably the pigs and chickens that we raised. If you visualize the stereotype that comes to mind when you hear homeschool, you’re probably pretty close to imagining the childhood version of me, long denim skirts and all.

My parents wanted to give us the best possible growing up experience. We had acres and acres to run and play, and were shielded from so much of the gore that the world contains, which also meant I felt like an outsider among anyone who knew anything about, say pop culture, or even just what a non-homeschooled life involved. Community as I know it now was certainly not a part of my life. We went to church every week, but it was more an event to attend and not a place to know and be known. While we did have a couple family friends, the expectation within my family was to put on your happy face and exude perfection. Painting a picture of reality was not something we did.

Describing my current community, I am overwhelmed. My close friends know my beautiful and my broken parts. The mentor couples that my husband and I walk with know about our fights, our dysfunctional places, and the areas where we each want to grow. Those who love me have seen me at my very worst—tears and angst and spite and despair. And yet, I know that I am deeply and profoundly loved. For those in my life, I seek to be a friend who asks thoughtful questions, listens to pain, and loves in brokenness. But how did the little girl on the prairie become a part of such sweet community?

Community has been a process for me. I remember in college learning to share pieces of my story with safe people I met 1,000 miles from home. They helped me process parts of my growing up that I had never explored, and they gave me a vocabulary for some of the things I had experienced. This provided a framework to understand myself better and to have hope for my life moving forward. The love that I experienced from these Jesus-filled people began to heal broken places in me and gave life to places in my heart I didn’t know existed.

These last few years, Jesus has brought me to a still deeper and richer place of community. After a painful breakup and other parts of my life falling to pieces, I felt rejected and abandoned. I had been known but was rejected. Then in my broken state, I encountered the unconditional love of Jesus in an incredibly personal way as I sought Him through my tears. He showed me that I am secure in Him, which prepared me to be open to the people of God at Westside Church. Westside loved me—truly loved me—when all I knew was pain. I was shown that Jesus would bring beauty to my ashes.

God’s people moved toward me, reached out, and embraced me even in the pain. It was through revealing my shattered places to community that healing came. Not only was I accepted and loved, but I came to realize that I had a role to play in the Body of Christ, that I matter. To isolate would rob me of experiencing the Gospel in community, and it would impoverish the church, since Christ made me for a purpose.

Learning to live in community continues to stretch me in beautiful, challenging ways. It still takes time for me to trust even safe people. I still second guess myself after being vulnerable. I have to fight against my insecurities that show up when a text is not returned or I overthink comments or I just feel insecure for no reason. I choose to believe the best about people’s hearts and intentions even when my insecurities would cast doubt. Thankfully, I have the gift of a kind-hearted husband who discerns safeness in people and encourages me to take the risk of pursuing friendship, of letting myself be known, even though I have no guarantee of the outcome. I’ve learned that community involves effort, putting myself out there, initiating, and taking risk. And sometimes being rejected. But as I have experienced in a way that has left me changed, it is so very worth it.

Allie loves exploring the Colorado mountains. She just said I do to forever with her handsome husband. When she's not having an adventure with him, she loves building community with her girlfriends at a cozy coffee shop over a chai latte.