“What strikes me about Jesus is he is a remarkably true person. He never changes his personality to fit in with whatever crowd he finds himself. He is simply himself. He never plays to his audience.
Author, leader, and therapist, John Eldredge spoke with Robert Beeson and Kimberley Mitchell about the value of building a healthy core community. John emphasizes that Jesus chose to have a core community. He modeled its importance during his ministry on earth. We see this when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, the crucible of his life. He asked his disciples to be there with him and to stay with him. Then he invited three of them in even closer, to be part of his inner circle. Jesus’, God in human form, demonstrated the need to have a few people in our life with whom we can be our authentic selves.
Jesus provides this example but today it seems as if a close core community is hard to develop. John shares that we are busy, often isolated, and prioritizing the wrong things. Many relationships are impacted by social media. As a therapist for thirty years, John knows the value of face to face human connection. He emphasizes this in his new book, “Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad”, noting that 90% of communication is non-verbal and that we cannot underestimate the power of presence yet our online interactions continue to increase. Connection via social media meets a need but it is not comparable to face to face connection. It’s a band-aid.
Online connection can be useful to continue established relationships and can even be used to start new ones but in person connection is essential for our well-being. He shared that human beings are designed to need human touch at least three times a day. When God sent Jesus to earth in physical form, God demonstrated the value of being in the same space as humans, here with us. This is a testament to the importance of presence. With the current constraints of staying at home because of COVID-19, many of us are telecommuting, connecting via video calls, viewing church online, and using our social media accounts even more. We are adapting to the constraints of staying at home but we are also learning that we need to be together physically with other people. We need a core community around us.
What gets in the way of having a healthy, core community for you?
One of the key elements in developing a core community is starting with a healthy view of ourselves as we relate to God and others. John Eldredge uses the term “benevolent detachment” to talk about how we can do this even as single parents. The burden of solo parenting includes the reality that we can be “mom” or “dad” but we can’t be both. He says, that “benevolent detachment is the loving act of releasing everyone you care about on a daily basis to God.” This means letting go of the burden of control and the weight of trying to be too much for those we love, especially our kids and those closest to us. Detaching kindly is “enormously healthy” and ‘immensely freeing” but it doesn’t come naturally. It is something that must be practiced. John shared his ability to do this came about through prayer as God nudged him to “give everyone and everything to Me”. John began doing that every day by pausing intentionally to live out 1 Peter 5:7 which says, “Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you.”
In the world we live in today, people are on their phones five to seven hours a day. With constant access to social media and technology, we are always “plugged in”. We can know what is happening all around the world as well as in our friends’ lives with a few simple searches on our devices. As a therapist, John Eldredge says, this knowledge is “madness”. We never before had access to so much knowledge and we were never meant to carry the burdens of the world. Benevolent detachment allows us to put healthy emotional boundaries in place. It’s a practice of giving our cares to God as we kindly detach from the cares and concerns all around us. This is necessary especially as we raise kids as single parents. If we neglect to detach and use healthy boundaries, we end up not taking care of ourselves and not having any capacity to connect with God and with others.
Where are you at with “benevolent detachment”? How are you doing with the practice of giving your cares to God? Are you carrying your burdens alone or regularly “giving everyone and everything you love” to God?
Having God at the center of our lives is the key to having a healthy core community. John says the way we do that is by coming back to the things we love because that is where God is found. God is in the things that romance your heart. He loves us by nourishing our heart with the things we love and enjoy. John shares that during a stressful season, he felt God calling him to go to the river, a place he is refreshed and recharged. God didn’t call him to do more devotionals or to check off a list, He called him to do something restful and life-giving, for him, being in nature at the river. Getting away during that busy time seemed almost irresponsible but in following that nudge to something he loved, God called John to keep Him at the center of his life and in doing that He filled up his heart.
John shared that we all need that connection to God as the foundation of our core community. This is the first stage…letting God romance your heart. It’s paying attention to the way He loves you and making room for the particular way He cares for you and fills you up. Eldredge says letting God nourish you, letting yourself receive from Him, isn’t selfish. It is an act of humility that says, “I am a human being. I have limited capabilities. I regularly need to be nourished by God and by the things God brings into my life, whether it’s music or flowers or whatever is your particular thing.” Too often the things God uses to romance us are the first to go in our busy, demanding lives, but we need to guard those things and make them a priority. It’s easy to say we don’t have time but staying filled up is how we are able to love the people in our lives. When we are tapped out, we cannot love those around us. We can’t love ourselves, our kids, or anyone else when we neglect the nourishment of our hearts. We just aren’t good to be around when we aren’t taking care of our hearts. We can’t build a healthy core community without being nourished by God first.
How does God romance your heart? What things do you love and enjoy that God uses to nourish your heart?
The second stage of building a core community is having one or two people in your life who understand that need to take care of your heart and who champion it for you. Authentic community is built around the life of our hearts. We need people in our lives who ask, “how is your heart?”, and who remind us to make nourishing it a priority. John shares that the average pace of human life for thousands of years was three miles an hour because people walked everywhere. Now we live at an insane pace and we think it’s normal. He says, “A couple of times a day we need to implement a 60-second pause. We need to give our souls a moment’s grace and sit in quiet. When we do this, it starts draining the cortisol from your body. It’s a mental reset. You come out of it with greater attention and focus.”
Stopping to rest is good for your soul but sometimes we feel guilty about pausing our busy lives. Our culture drives us to keep going. Often fear prevents us from pausing. We start asking, “But who will do it if I don’t?” We are afraid that if we stop pedaling, it will all come falling down. But it won’t! The opposite is true. If we don’t stop to rest and nourish our souls, we will fall apart. We were designed to have safe, nourishing, authentic connection, first with God and then with others, not just once in a while but regularly.
Do you have people in your life who will ask you about your heart? Are you taking time to regularly stop and rest as a way of letting God care for you so you can care for others?
In addition to letting God care for your heart and letting others into your circle who care about your heart too, John also talked about what to look for in a core community. First, he said, “Take the pressure off that it has to be amazing. It’s rarely amazing. People are quirky and odd and annoying. Nobody has idyllic community. And it doesn’t have to be a dozen. It’s probably going to be two or three or a handful. You want people in your life who want what you want. You don’t want people in your life who are draining.” John shares that in your core community you want people who are seeking a place of connection, mutual respect, and care. You want people who will ask you about your heart. This shows you they are caring for their own and making it a priority too. John also notes you are not looking for those who help you be more productive, efficient, or successful. Those can be other relationships in your work environment, but in your core community, you want a safe place where your heart can breathe and be embraced. Like our connection with God, we want a healthy core community that will nourish us in this busy, crazy world, especially as single parents. We can care for our kids and those we love better when we let ourselves be cared for by God and by others.
How is God nudging you about developing a healthy core community? Have you downloaded the Solo Parent app and started using Sound Mind Set daily reflection tool?
For more insight from John about how to care for your heart, check out his latest book, “Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad.” You can find other resources at www.wildatheart.org.
As you seek a healthy, core community, we would love to be part of your support network. Join our Solo Parent Society community by participating in one of our online groups meeting every week. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@soloparentsociety). Subscribe to our weekly podcast via AccessMore or wherever you get your podcasts, and download our Solo Parent app FREE in the app store. We love to connect single parents to resources that offer hope and help. If you want to donate so we can reach more single parent families, go to www.soloparentsociety.com. Questions? Email us at email@example.com.