I loved this beautiful and honest conversation about friendship with Jennie Allen, bestselling author of Find Your People and founder of IF:Gathering. She shares candidly about a painful season where she felt alone and how she’s learned to lean into deep community, even when it's messy.
If you’ve ever struggled with feeling lonely, misunderstood, or like it’s hard t, the bestselling author of Find Your People and founder of IF:Gathering, o trust other people, please listen to this episode. There are so many gems in it, including:
1. Our greatest fear in friendship
2. How to say “that hurt” to a friend
3. What prompted Jennie to close off to friendship for a season
4. How she found her way into trusting relationships again
5. The healing power of knowing others & being known by them
Do you have questions for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
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While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Find Your People by Jennie Allen
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
The Center for Being Known Website
Related Podcast Episodes:
Episode 58: How to Find Friends Who Bring out the Best of You, Why it Matters, and How a Good Friend Can Transform Your Life
Episode 33: People Pleasing & Developing Your Own Inner Compass: Thoughts on Depression, Mental Health & the Church, and Finding Hope in Dark Places
Episode 17: What is Church Hurt and How do I Heal?
Episode 27: 7 Ways We Manage Perceptions Instead of Forging Real Connections
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook with Guest Jennie Allen
Episode 59: Friends on Friendships
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Hey, everyone, I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out The Best of You. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn, together, how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast. I'm so glad you're here, and I am so excited for this new series, Friends on Friendship. If you have questions about friendship, during this series, check out The Best of You Question Doc, we'll link to it in the show notes. I am going to devote the last episode of this series, to answering a few of your questions.
So I want to know what questions you have about friendship, about making new friends, about drawing new boundary lines, in older friendships. How to sustain friendships over time? Whatever your questions are, let me know, I'm going to devote the last episode, in this series, to responding to your questions. So find that doc in the show notes, The Best of You Question Doc, it's also on my website dralisoncook.com. So check the episode show notes for that link.
Listen, if you want to check out all the past series that we've done, you can go to our page on YouTube. It's on YouTube at Best of You Podcast, that's where you find it. So go to YouTube/atbestofyoupodcast and you'll see we've set up playlists for each series.
So if you want to check out, for example, the series we did on Psychology Buzzwords. Where we covered narcissism, and gaslighting, and some of the buzzwords, or if you want to check out the series we did on Boundaries for Your Soul, which is the Christian adaptation of Internal Family Systems. You can find all of those series over there on YouTube. It's a quick way to find a whole cluster of episodes that you might want to go back and listen to.
All right, so in last week's episode, Curt Thompson talked about confessional communities. These are these intentional groups of just a few individuals who commit to a structured way of meeting together, regularly, in an intentional way. The goal is to go deep. Where you really find a place to be seen, and heard, and known by other people who can really enter into life with you. And you can learn more about those groups over at Curt's website thecbk.org, we'll link to that in the show notes.
So, for today's episode, I wanted to talk to a new friend of mine and someone you all know, very well. Who's been a part of one of these intentional friendship communities. Where she has learned to take existing friendships and go even deeper. She's going to talk to us, today, about her experience being in an intentional friend group, and how it's changed her experience of friendship. There's so much to unpack in this episode, and I'm so thrilled to bring you my conversation today with Jennie Allen.
Jennie is a Bible teacher, she's an author. She's the founder and visionary of the IF Gathering, and she's the New York Times bestselling author of the book Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World. I'm so excited to bring you this conversation, today, on friendship with Jennie Allen.
Thank you so much for being with us, today, Jennie.
Jennie: So good to see you. It's so good to be here, Alison, thank you for having me.
Alison: It's so good to be with you. I loved being at the IF Gathering this year, and I saw you just doing such an amazing job managing that event. Traversing that landscape of seeing your friends, of being in charge of the whole thing, and it was just really neat to get to be there with you. So thanks for having me.
Jennie: It's great to be here. I'm glad you were there, too, that was fun to have you. Everybody was happy you were there. I hope you didn't get stuck in corners having to give free counseling to people.
Alison: No, it was a really powerful event. I actually took some time, there was a lot of withness in it that was beautiful. And then I would take some time, and I went up, and I sat at the back of that beautiful church, we don't have churches like that where I am, here in Boston. So that whole church was just so beautiful, and I go sit up by myself, in the back, to just try to take the whole thing in. It was really powerful, just the whole experience of it.
So we're in a series, right now, on friendship, and we are just coming at it from all different angles. Last week we had our mutual friend Curt Thompson on, talking a little bit about friendship in his own life. We actually had a couple of his friends come on and join us.
Jennie: Cute, I can't wait to hear that.
Alison: It was hysterical, basically, they just gave him a hard time the whole time.
Jennie: I love that. Yes, oh, that's so great.
Alison: It was really fun because he talks so much and he teaches so much, but it was fun to get that little window into his-
Jennie: Well, I will be listening and sharing that, for sure, with people.
Alison: Yes, and he talked to us a little bit about intentional friendship and what he calls these Confessional Communities. And, so, I wanted to have you on because, number one, you wrote a book on friendship. But number two, I know that you're a part of one of those confessional communities. I was so interested, as I've read your books, and as I've learned about these Confessional Communities, and I'm piecing together the dots as I try to get to know who you are as a person.
You write, in Find Your People, about how being vulnerable with other people is a little bit hard for you. And, then, I know that in these past couple of years, you've been a part of one of these Confessional Communities. So I'm so curious how that's worked for you. So to start off, tell us a little bit about the Confessional Community and what that's been like for you.
Jennie: Sure, yes, you definitely are sensing the correct tension. Because when I wrote Find Your People, I was not yet in the confessional community. That came shortly after I wrote it, but before, I believe, I released the book. So it has been a crazy two years with them. We have grown deeply together.
In fact, the book I'm about to be finished with right now, writing, largely will come out of that group and what I've learned with them, together and a lot of what I've learned from Dr. Thompson, too. Which I never call him that, but it feels appropriate when I'm talking about him as my teacher, and counselor, it feels great to call him that.
Alison: I can only imagine his face.
Jennie: He is just Curt to all of us. He's the lone boy in our group, and he has just been such a phenomenal leader. Pressing, really, that issue into my life of this is not an optional way to live. You have to be, one, in touch with what you are feeling and two, seen, known, loved, in those places in your life. Not just as a human, over dinner, that you have some people to hang out with, but that you actually share with them these parts that you're scared to say out loud. That you're scared to even admit to yourself.
And, so, he laughs at me a lot. He laughs at me a lot because he just sees me trying so hard, but also very resistant in that process because it isn't natural. I grew up in Midwestern. My mother was Midwestern, and my father had grown up in the military. So military dad, Midwestern mom, there weren't a lot of feelings in our house.
In fact, I was just with my parents this weekend and I was asking him questions, because the book I'm working on now is about our emotions and about our feelings. And, so, I asked him, I said, "Dad, am I right that I didn't have a lot of emotion as a kid?"
They were like, "No, you never had emotion. You're right, you didn't have a lot of emotion. You were a really thoughtful kid.
You were always thinking, and daydreaming, and probably creating," in my mind is what I remember as a kid. "And processing everything in great detail, but not feeling or a lot of emotions." And I just don't think they were modeled for me.
So, then, you meet Curt Thompson, who's all about feeling your feelings, and he presses you into a group of people that are very emotional, and longing to hear all my feelings. And, so, I was stuck, I didn't have an option. If I was going to be in this group, I had to show up, in that way, and it was scary. It's hysterical because, by that point, I'd already written the book. So I would say I had a steely focus about it, I wanted to do it, but it wasn't easy. It still wasn't easy.
Alison: That's a great way to say it, "I had a steely focus, I was going to be vulnerable, by golly."
Jennie: "Dang it, I'm going to do it." And that's kind of how I am, and in this book I wrote that story of just "I'm going to show up, and I'm going to do this thing, and I'm going to win it. I'm going to win it. I'm going to be so vulnerable." And I would say that has served me really well, of treating it as something to be intentional with, to choose to do it.
I think we wait, sometimes, to feel like sharing, or to feel like being known, or to feel safe enough that we can say everything, and that's not how it goes. I mean, honestly, the first time I really shared my story with them I got really mad at them, and I had my feelings hurt because the way they responded really hurt me. That's the first time I ever let down my guard and really did the work with them.
But what Dr. Thompson saw and knew was, "Jennie, what are you feeling right now?" And he could tell I was not happy with how they'd responded and, at that moment, I had a choice. I had to decide, "Am I going to say what I really feel? Which is that I'm mad and hurt." Or "Am I going to act like it was okay?" Because that's, typically, how we all function in life and, I think, that moment was a big turning point for me.
Alison: I love that. I want to circle back to that, you said a couple of things, one, about structuring. I look at it a lot as structuring your support and I'm a big believer in that, especially, for women. Where a lot of my listeners, I relate to this, Jennie, it's I'm not the friend that will pick up the phone and be like, "I'm having a hard time." I think there are some folks who do that, that is not me.
So I have to have it on the calendar. And I tell people this, "I have to have it on the calendar, I have to have it scheduled, because I will meet a schedule, I will show up for an appointment, whether it's with a friend or whatever." And then when they say, "How are you?" It forces me to practice that discipline.
So that's a little bit of what I hear what you're saying and, I think, for everybody, that's really important. What's interesting, to me, is it almost sounds like you're saying, and again, I'm piecing this together, you're someone who pours out. You're not someone who would ever, and you talk about this in Find Your People, too. I hear you talk about you are the person, you will open up your door if someone else were to call you in the middle of the night.
But for you to be the one to show up with your need is far more challenging, far more difficult, and, frankly, it sounds like far more vulnerable. There's a reason there's that protective up. It's you want to be handled correctly. It's hurtful if someone doesn't get you, or doesn't quite understand what you're saying, or projects on you, that doesn't go over very well. That's hard, that's painful. It's not because you don't want that, it's because it's almost like you need them to get it right or it's going to be too hard. Is that fair to say?
Jennie: Absolutely. I think one of my greatest fears and it, certainly, happened many times, in all of our lives, is being misunderstood. And that was something I really had to die to, to be able to do community in a deep way. I couldn't do what God was calling me to do, and that be my primary goal because it's not going to always happen. There's going to be, certainly, misunderstandings, in general, in any relationship that we have.
And, so, part of what Curt does with the Cohort that everyone can do, if they just do the work and choose to do it, is he really has us deal with not just what's going on inside of us, but what's happening in the room.
So in that moment, with me, when I was recoiling and he's giving me a chance to say what I felt, we began a conversation that was very different than the one we were having. Which was about my soul, it was about my being, it moved to about our relationships. And that's the place that we rarely move in relationships because if we move there, there's more at stake, it could really escalate. It could get worse. If you say, "You just hurt me."
Now, one, you're already hurt. Now, you're even being more vulnerable, you're going deeper in, and you're saying, "What you just did really hurt me." And you're entrusting them with something sacred because now they have the chance to hurt you more. So why do that apart from this is how it was supposed to be?
When you look at the Scriptures. When you look at the "One another" verses, and you look at the "Mourn with those who mourn."
"You are to confess sin to one another."
"You are to admonish one another." That's a really pretty word that's not fun to live out. When you really look at these verses, "To bear with one another." These are messy practices. These are saying things like, "I will entrust you with that misunderstanding and that fear."
"I will bear with you with your difficulty and not leave the room."
"I will pour out the thing that I see that is hurting me and you might run."
It's making choices that are not easy and that's all through Scriptures. So it's supposed to be messy. A lot of what I talk about in Find Your People is this village mentality of, "This is how every generation has lived prior to the Industrial Revolution." Until the Industrial Revolution, every generation on Earth lived in a village, and even now, 80% of the world lives in villages.
So this is the way it really was built for us on Earth to be. We need each other. And, so, you have agricultural needs, you have protection needs, you have schooling and educational needs that define a village, and that usually was about 150 people, tops, many times smaller. And then a new village would form because those needs would become too big for that village, and a new village would start. But you'd rarely leave within 20 miles, you'd never even travel further than that. So people had to work out their stuff.
Alison: You're stuck.
Jennie: You got to figure it out. You got to live together for your whole life, and we don't have that problem anymore. We can quit people like that. We can walk away from anything that's hard. And that commitment to stay, and the commitment to choose each other again and again, in spite of the mess. In fact, because of the mess, I think, that's what the Cohort has taught me more than anything is they aren't afraid of my hurt, or fear, or anger, or of my insecurity, or the thing that I'm saying that, definitely, doesn't look as good as Instagram looks, they're in.
One of the lines we say a lot to each other is we're not leaving the room. We're just not going to leave the room. So that really turns into pretty deep, safe work because when you don't leave the room, and you're talking about the deepest parts of yourself, and the hardest parts, you actually can start to take ground. But we miss that part because we're afraid of it.[00:16:38] < Music >
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Alison: What did friendship look like for you before this, even back in your 20s. You're a young mom, what did you think of friendship back then?
Jennie: I actually had it, I was very vulnerable. I remember when my husband's best friend met me, he told my husband, "I think I met your wife."
And the thing he said about me is, "She wears her heart on her sleeves." And I was that girl. I was the girl that was safe, and I wanted to be close to people. I shared everything, they shared it with me.
I look back at my relationships prior to a season, I'll tell you where it changed, but that girl was as vulnerable, and passionate, and safe as she could. But, then, nobody will be surprised by this, it was being a pastor's wife.
All of a sudden, many of the things I would share would be used against me, and would be spread to other people, and I just learned there's very few people I can trust. And in that way, I think, all of us, probably, hit that point in our life, at some point, sometimes, sadly, very young and I just closed up. And not that I never opened up to anybody, but I was just so careful and it was easier to just help other people.
And, so, we walked through really dark season, around 2014. Where every part of our lives was caving in, every single part. And I look back at that, and I think one of the reasons it was so hard is because I didn't tell people. Zac was pastoring, I didn't know how to tell people. And it wasn't one thing, it was every part of our lives.
And, so, I look back at that and I feel so sorry for her. I feel so sorry for her because she was doing everything she could to keep her family intact, and take care of a new child that we had home, a four years old, from Rwanda, it was just too much. And I didn't know how to ask for help, at that point. And I think that we all go through those seasons where, for some reason, we decide we can't trust people.
Alison: Yes, I hear it so often. Just everything you're saying, I'm like, "Yes." Every woman who comes through my practice, there's this similar theme of some point in time, where it was just... and when you said pastor's wife, I just thought, "Oh, gosh, have I heard..."
Again, that village, when that village of which you're a part, whether it's a church or whatever it is, whatever village where you get hurt and it is too painful. And I love what you said, it was so true and so powerful, what we do is we just hide. We hide our own pain and focus on helping others.
This is everything I do when I'm working with women. We hide behind that mask of "I'll just help others." Which works for a while, but until you just can't do it anymore and you need help. And, so, I appreciate so much for sharing that. What did you do? How did you change that? How did you come out from underneath that?
Jennie: Well, I still am, candidly, and one thing that I write a lot about in Find Your People is the great friends God gave me in the last season of my life, and it wasn't just the Cohort. But before that, it was a few friends here and one of them is named Lindsay, and she just would not have it.
I mean, we could not be together for two hours and her share about her life, and I not share about mine. She was going to pull it out of me, and she would not settle to hear that everything was fine.
She was going to fight for what was really there. And I think having someone that really saw me, that wasn't going to settle for that was, certainly, helpful and the precursor to that, and I know not everybody has that.
To some degree, we all have to choose and be that person if we want it in our lives. There's very few Lindsays in the world. There's very few people that will pursue you that ferociously because she really did, and I'm grateful for that. Because I really needed that in that moment, in my life, because I had felt so unsafe and that helped me.
But I do think at some point it had to become a choice, and I had to just start to be honest with myself and, candidly, when I first started telling them about the hard parts of my life, it just felt like complaining. I really didn't see anything positive that could come from it. It just felt like, "I'm going to vent to you; and you're going to walk home, and do your bit, and I don't see the purpose." I do not feel that way at all anymore, today.
I mean, years later, now, I see that all the things that you are feeling that you're not allowing to surface and to be known in community with other people, all of it is there. You can say you're fine but you're not fine, it's all sitting right there.
And, so, just learning the power and the freedom that comes from just getting it out and, sometimes, that doesn't go well, and I've learned that's okay, too. Part of the joy for me, and the freedom for me, is just to say it, to not hold it in. And I can even handle it being misunderstood now, and it hurting because the value, to me, has gone so far up that I don't want to miss it because a few people can't handle it or handle it wrongly.
Alison: Yes, that's part of the fruit. As you learn how to let people in and you find a couple of safe people where it goes well, you build that tolerance. You build the reserve for the times when it doesn't go well. The thing about venting that's so interesting, as you find safety it's not venting, it's a quality you have to experience. It's a quality until you know it, but I want to name it for folks who are listening.
When you vent to someone and it's the unhealthy kind of venting, they join with you in it, and it just goes a negative spiral down. They're joining you going, "Yes." And we're becoming, I call it, we become common enemies, we hate the same things. That is not good for your nervous system, it's not good for your mind.
What you're talking about, and it's so true, is when you unload and you say, "This is what I'm really feeling." In that safe place, with that person who says, "I'm with you, I hear you, I see you. There's no judgment, there's no shame, I'm with you. I'm not going to try to fix you or solve it for you, necessarily. I'm also not going to join with you and go down the negativity."
There's this way in which when you're witnessed, in that way, and then you do that for another friend, that all that stuff is released, and it creates a virtuous cycle. A cycle of positivity where we both feel better, we have better creativity, we know better.
Our nervous system is more in that calm, clear state where we actually make wiser decisions it doesn't descend. And we can experience that, too, sometimes, and now you know the difference. You're like, "Oh, wait a minute, I just shared and that person wanted to go all the way negative with me. That's not actually what's helpful to me, I'll scale it back next time with that person. But I know what it feels like when it's life-giving." And some of that is trial and error, that's what you mean by messy.
Some of that is figuring it out and, then, as you have those positive experiences, you build those reserves, you build that muscle that says, "Okay, I understand." Wisdom, really, it's the beginning of wisdom that only comes through checking it out. I want to pause on, you talked about how Lindsay, a friend, came into your life, and pursued you, and taught you that. And now you can look back and go, "That's what was happening."
Sometimes when women come to me and they're really stuck, and they're in it, I will say "You might need to reach out to a professional to get support." Whether that's a therapist, whether that's a spiritual director, whether that's a pastor, where you are getting that back to baseline enough. So that you have that tolerance to do the messy work of trying to find friends.
I don't view therapy as a replacement for friendship and, sometimes, I think that can happen. I was just curious, I wanted to ask you about that because there's two things going on. I'm a big believer in structuring your support, having those professionals as you need them, especially, if you're working to build up your friendship muscle because it takes time and it's messy. And also for other things in life, it's just healthy to have those.
And I also get concerned, and I'm saying this as a therapist, I've heard about this, I said, really, our job is to work ourselves out of jobs, in a way. Because the more people are in these really intentional communities, the less they need us, we're just the stopgap. Trying to get people back into healthy communities, that's where the joy is, that's what God wants. Our job is to have you all need less of us.
That being said, we need the experts. We need that safe place that therapy provides, that other disciplines provide. But really what we need is to find our way into these healthy friendships, so there is a tension there. I'm just curious, your experience with that. Have you, at times, needed to go outside of the friendship group to get yourself to a place where you could; do you resonate with what I'm saying? Does that make sense to you?
Jennie: Yes, you know what it makes me think of is when we're children and how much we are learning about relationships. And how much we are learning about how to conflict, and how to make a friend, and how to ask for help, and how to be needy and not too needy.
All those things are really supposed to be learned in a really healthy family structure. Which I know I'm preaching, literally, to the person who writes the books about this. But how many people, I more speak from a place of ministry, similar to you, in a way, because there is, certainly, lots of people are talking to me as if I'm a counselor. They're coming to me with their problems.
And, so, I'm getting insight and glimpses into so many people's lives. And I would just say how I discern that for someone else is when I see that there is a big breakdown from childhood or a big breakdown in life. Where it's like what you do is you pay for a friend. You pay for someone to help you learn to do those things that you didn't really learn in childhood. And, so, it's hard and sometimes, it's so sad because the number of emails I get and the number of conversations I have with people. Who just will say, "I've tried 15 people."
"I've done this twelve times." They have given their life to trying to find deep community and they just can't. And that to me, is when you need to go, "Okay, maybe." And it's not even something to be frustrated with yourself about because that's not your fault. But the fact that you really didn't, it's not easy to be a friend or it seems to be that it's not being received by other people. It's probably a breakdown in just your own experience, that you haven't gotten to learn and mature in ways that maybe other people have.
And, so, again, you're so good about this, of just the compassion to have for that part of yourself that didn't learn that and then to choose to learn it. And, so, for me, I would say I was blessed with a pretty healthy family. Certainly, like everyone, we had some pretty big breakdowns, in our family, that I've had to work through, but that is a gift in itself.
I always tell my dad, he's hard on himself because I write sometimes about him and he's like, "Gosh, I feel like the bad guy in your stories." And I was like, "No, Dad, you are actually the one everybody relates to because you didn't parent perfectly. And you left room for me to need God and to have to find my own way, in a lot of places, and we're really healthy and good today."
And, so, we've just got to go, "Okay, we all have been given a different set of circumstances." And that's why I love counseling so much because it helps close the gap where maybe you feel a maturity lack in an area. I'm watching this with my kids right now, and it helps close that gap to where you don't feel confused when emotional things are happening in the room, and you don't know what to say, and you don't know how to handle them. If that's you, I would just say there's probably a little emotional maturity gap, somewhere you missed that class.
Alison: Emotional regulation is a skill you have to learn and if you didn't learn it, you got to learn it. And a lot of times you might need to learn it before you can be successful at it in a friendship.
Jennie: And, in my experience, unlearn some things, too, learn some things and unlearn some things. And I'm watching, it's really fascinating to see your kids do therapy. I mean, it's terrifying, and we always joke, "We're saving money for therapy." And when they got old enough, almost every one of them has taken us up on it and I love that. And they come home and they tell me what they're learning and it's like watching someone feel a lot of feelings. Move to someone who can articulate why, what they are, what they need, it is so beautiful, and it really does bring maturity.
So that has been a big part of my story, but I hope it's a part of everybody's story. I'm known for writing about, podcasting about this line right here, "Every person needs a counselor." I really believe that and, I think, it can come, just like you said, in many forms.
But we all need someone to help us see things in an honest way that we may not see about ourselves, and to help us see what we're missing. Because no one has arrived on the scene of perfect emotional health, or relational health, or spiritual health. So we all need voices to help garner that out of us.
And, so, sometimes, it might be a mentor and not a paid therapist. But for a lot of people, these days, with the mental health crisis, and where we are, sometimes, many times, it needs to be a paid therapist.
Alison: I love how I'm the therapist saying, "We really need friends." And you're the ministry [Inaudible 00:31:39] everyone needs-
Jennie: Needs a therapist.
Alison: One of the things that struck me at the IF Gathering, when I was there, it's the first time I've been to one live. And other than being from a part of the country where the whole thing was just like "How does this exist? Does this number of people...?" It's just a totally different kind of experience of gathering here in New England. But it was the way the body of Christ works together.
And, so, I was sitting there, and one of the things, and this is Jennie, I think, being in ministry, being a therapist, there are real overlaps. In the sense that as a therapist, when I'm at something people see me as a therapist, and I'm just a woman. I'm just a woman who's feeling shy, who's feeling awkward, who's like, "I don't know how to connect to people."
I have this huge protective ability because I can just make it all about you, and that's how I will cope. But, really, that's just a cover for "I don't know what to do in this group of women." Any more than what we were talking about when you're the pastor's wife and it's just easier to be the one pouring out to everybody else. Than acknowledging, "I don't trust anybody here." That kind of thing.
So, anyway, I was sitting there going, I was wrestling with all of that. And there was this amazing moment where all of these women came forward, it was unbelievable. It was this beautiful moment, all of these women came forward to have an encounter with God, with Jesus, and it was amazing. And the therapist part of me clicked in and I was like, "This is amazing."
I thought, "How are we going to get all these people counseling?"
Because when we, you and I both know this so well throughout the course of being on planet Earth, for a few decades. That we have these amazing, and I've been through it myself, and I've been through it with so many people. We have this amazing encounter with Jesus. We come to know Him, and we come to love Him and, then, I just know all too well, I'm like, "Oh, gosh, all that stuff we have to unlearn, all that baggage, all that pain." Then we go into churches, churches are filled with messy people.
And, so, much of how I see my work is to keep people going in that process. I was just talking to John Mark Comer about this. Where we're supposed to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Salvation can also be translated as wholeness, as healing, we have to work out our healing. It's not a one-time event, it's an ongoing process of working it out. And, so, that's what I see in that moment, and I was just struck with the body of Christ. I was like, "Oh, I can't do what Jennie does."
I mean, this gift that you have to gather these millions of women and to reach them with the gospel. But I do know what I can do, and that is I can get busy and keep putting out resources to help folks keep walking in community. We're all doing the same thing, we're just looking at it from different angles.
So that's a little bit of a segue, but I love that, and I just wanted to name that. That was a really beautiful moment, for me, because we can feel siloed from each other. There are folks in church ministry, there are folks pastoring, there are therapists, when we're really all about pouring into the body of Christ. That's what we're all trying to do from different angles.
Jennie: Well, let me say something about that because when you were saying that, even my life can feel siloed. I can feel like, "Well, why am I?" We're now working on a gathering that's different from IF Gathering, and it's costing me a lot of time and energy. And, yesterday, in the middle of a meeting about it, they looked at me and said, "Well, what is your new book about? Is it about this?"
And I was like, "No, it's about emotional health." And I started spiraling, and what am I doing, and, immediately, though, my brain went, "No, I'm doing the same thing." What you said about emotionally healthy people and it being messy, ultimately, we're all doing the same thing whatever we're doing.
We're trying our best to feel our way to God, together, that's what we're doing, and we're trying to go home. I mean, anyone that believes in heaven, and Jesus, and the story of the Bible, then we know that this life is short and that everything we do in it is meant to matter. Not because in its essence it's spiritual, but because everything matters because it's all going home to heaven.
And, so, when I look at Pilgrim's Progress, which is one of my favorite parables of what we're talking about. The guy becomes a Christian early on and he just falls into the Pit of Despondency, and the Castle of Doubt, and gets attracted to all the addiction stuff at Vanity Fair. And, so, you just see all these moments where you're going, "Come on, dude, get it together."
But then you look at your neighbor and you're like, "Come on, dude, get it together."
And then they look at you and they're like, "Come on, Jennie, get it together." So it's just rather than viewing life, I've just learned, rather than that being my mentality of like, "Let's just get it together." It's just like, "Well, let's just pilgrim well together."
"Let's progress well together."
"Let's just get on the road together with all of the people in the pit, and me in the doubt castle, and someone that I love addicted. Let's just crawl our way to each other and crawl our way to God."
And I think that is different than what we think it should be, which is running, perfectly, a straight line in life, with no problems, and straight to Jesus. As if that would help anyone, give me a break. Nobody even wants to hear that story. That's not even a good story, more or less someone that you would even like. We like the people that have struggled, that are struggling. We are drawn to the people that are vulnerable and admit their weakness.
I always think of Jennifer Lawrence because she's a real likable actor and actress, and when she falls... I mean, it was before anybody knew her, and it was one of her first award shows, and she falls up the stage, in her beautiful gown. And she gets up and she laughs and dances a little, and she wasn't a big star at the time.
But that was the moment the world fell in love with Jennifer Lawrence. It wasn't because she took that award gracefully and she said the perfect speech. It was because she fell and laughed at herself, and we just got to have more of that in our life. We got to have people that do that in our lives, and it just helps everything go together. It's like if we can simplify it all down, so we are feeling our way to Jesus together, feeling our way home, and helping other people do it, it makes everything simpler.[00:37:44] < Music >
Alison: This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. It's so easy to get caught up in what everyone else needs from you and never take a moment to check in with yourself, let alone identify what you need from yourself. I know that in my own life, having a regular time to check in with someone else, who's going to ask me the hard questions. Ask me about my week, ask me about what I'm thinking, about, what priorities. What relationships might need to be realigned to create just a little bit more space for me to do my own work is so important.
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Alison: My husband always has this saying and I love it. He says, "We are all sitting at the children's table." And it's kind of true, we're all just sitting at the children's table try to muddle our way through.
But the point is, to use the phrase that you guys use, "Let's just not leave the table. Let's sit here together, and sometimes it's going to be fun and sometimes it's going to be super messy. Sometimes we're going to really help each other."
And, again, I think, this goes without saying, but I am going to say it because I know people will raise it. When there's toxicity, there's that piece I love in Pilgrim's Progress where they are harming him, that's not what we're talking about. We're not talking about when it's falling into toxicity, then, it's time to get up, and move, and get out of the line of fire.
We're not talking about shaming each other. We're talking about the messiness of being imperfect humans, trying to muddle our way through friendship and community together. And that being a lot of what it means that we're bringing heaven here on earth. We're not going to go up in the sky. I always think of N.T. Wright stuff; we're not going away in the sky to be disembodied spirits where we live in silos. We will be with each other for all eternity and it will, hopefully, be a lot easier and a lot lovelier.
And, so, part of that glimpse that we get now is braving the messiness of figuring out how to say, "That hurt me." To a friend or of figuring out how to say "I need you." To a friend. Or how to figure out how to pick up the phone and go "I am not doing okay." And having that friend maybe not handle it correctly but say, "Hey, I really need you to try to get this." That's the work of being a part of this body of Christ, of being in this together.
Jennie, what would you want your younger you, that you that got stuck and buried in your pain? What would you want her to know, now, based on what you've learned at this point in your life?
Jennie: Well, my therapy is about to show. I would have so much compassion on her, and I would just be so proud of her. If I could talk to her I would just say, "You know what, you are handling so much and you are doing it really well. And in this season you're having to be a Navy Seal, that's Navy Seal Jennie right there and she's having to survive because every single part of her life was broken, and it was not caused by her." And, so, I just think largely it wasn't. I just feel for her and I'm really proud of her.
And I would say, "It's okay to tell a few people that. It's okay to let that guard down with a few people, and if they don't work out, try a few more. I wish she wasn't so alone." It's interesting, some of my friends, today, are going through things, almost, to the T that I was going through at that time. And, again, I talk about some of these things. It's things like my husband was in such a deep depression that he couldn't work, he couldn't help. I was, basically, single parenting him and our kids for a season of life, and it was also a season that many difficulties were in our life.
And, so, I had to be okay. And I just feel really sad that she felt like she had to do that alone, and I would want her to have people. And it's been so fun to be able to be that friend to people that were me.
Alison: Yes, I love that.
Jennie: And they are so vulnerable and I feel sorry for that part of me, every time we're there for them because it's so helpful and it's so healing to them. And I'm sad that she didn't have that in the way that my friends have that, and it's, obviously, not just me. I'm not crying because I'm that good a friend, there's a lot of us around this person. But I wish I'd been brave enough to be honest about it because it really does change things. It really does help your heart, and your soul, and your nervous system, all of it. Your brain, it heals.
I saw this video, recently, I will send it to you, Alison, because if you haven't seen it, you'll love it. But it's a video of the neuropathways. It's two neuropathways finding each other and they're working so hard. But it'll just melt your heart because it's just a close-up, and it doesn't look like they're going to find each other and connect, but they do.
And anyone that's been listening for a while, I'm sure you have talked about this, that that actually heals our neuropathways, or Dr. Curt Thompson has because he teaches me this. Those little guys, actually, come back together, and work better, and places in our brain reconnect.
And, so, I really don't believe we are built in such a way to heal without people. We have to have people to heal, God built us that way. And, so, it's just the way it is. And, so, you can deny it, but you won't get more healthy. You can pretend it's okay, but you won't heal. When you are safe, and seen, and soothed with a group of people wherever and however you get it, it does begin to heal everything about us.
Alison: I love that. I love that your own compassion for that version of you that was alone is finding a sort of healing in, now, being able to show up for others. That's the beauty of when we let people into our pain, it's not just about us. We're also giving a gift to someone else other than-
Jennie: Yes, I feel the gift of it when I'm with my friends that are telling me what they're going through. It just feels like a privilege to be there and to hear it. I never get tired of it, I really don't. I really just feel the joy of being with someone in their suffering. There really is a joy in it, I can't explain it unless you've lived it.
Alison: It's holy ground, that's the only way I can put it. That's why the work of being a therapist like we get to walk into holy ground. There is something about that moment. And, again, it's not that you're happy that someone is going through this, it's painful. But there's something about where someone is being so honest and you're with them in that, that is really close to the heart of God. It's just sacred soil.
So I love that. I love that you're able to empathize with that part of you and allow her to be a part of changing that for others, that's so beautiful. Jennie, as we close today, I ask everybody this, what is bringing out the best of you, right now?
Jennie: I mean, I know this has been the theme of this show and our conversation, but it's that cohort, it really is. I think they have taught me to even enjoy the parts of me that I used to resent or feel ashamed of. And, so, when you say that the best parts of you, and I know, and I've read your work. I know that what's bringing out the best in me, right now, really, are those parts that I haven't loved and I haven't really shown many people on Earth. And the practice of doing that with people that are fighting for me to do that, has been life changing.
I would say, right now, too, and I'm going to turn this back on you. Because I would think, if I were listening to this, I would want what I have, what we're talking about, but I wouldn't know how to get it. And, so, I would just turn this back to you because I don't want anyone to leave and hear my story, and feel like it's not accessible to them.
Alison: Yes, how do we go about helping other people get into these types of friendships? What I always say to people is there is a five-pronged approach. Number one, if you're really hurting, and as you said, Jennie, is it's been so hard for you, get a therapist that's the best place to start. Because you're going to learn to work through why it's been hard for you to be in healthy relationships while you're in a healthy relationship. You can't learn it by yourself. You have to have someone that's what therapists are for.
So get a therapist, number one, to just anchor you in your goal. Make that your therapeutic goal, "I want to learn how to have healthy friendships with other people." And you can also get in other intentional relationships like that, that are more one way.
I always talk about one-way relationships. Where it's a therapeutic relationship, or a mentoring relationship, or a pastoring relationship where someone is pouring into you. The goal being, though, to learn how to have healthy two-way relationships, these two-way friendships. And then I am a big proponent of, and that's why I love these Confessional Communities, I think there are other ways to do them, of structuring them.
And, so, if you don't have, we've talked a little bit about Confessional Communities, what I do in my own life is I have different Zoom calls with different friends. I have a monthly Zoom call with my sister and my two childhood best friends. We don't live in the same part of the country. We have to have that on the calendar where we are regularly. We don't have a fancy structure for it. We know how to go deep together. So if you've got those friends, get it on the calendar, be intentional about it.
And then there's the whole middle ground of just naming things. Someone you like to walk with, someone you go to the grocery store with, naming, "Hey, could we be intentional about going a little bit deeper together? I'm reading this book or I listened to this podcast. Would you be willing to listen to it with me? Let's talk about it." Naming something with folks.
Because a lot of times we're sitting there talking to somebody and we're both shooting the breeze about things that don't matter, and we both are longing to go deeper and we don't know how to do it. So just be the one to name that. Share Find Your People, share this podcast, "I want to do this more intentionally." Just start talking about it, there's so many different ways to do it.
Jennie: Mh-hmm, I love that. Yes, and it's been so fun because the book has been out for about a year, Find Your People, has been. How many people became friends just by reading the book together. I think there is something so special and beautiful of just saying, "Hey, would you want to do this together?"
I love that one because, maybe, I pictured it after it was done, barely. But I wrote the book challenging people to go do this, not thinking that people would come around the very material and actually become friends, so you're right. I think, sometimes, we just need someone's help to start the conversation in a deeper way. And maybe that's where you and I can come in, then, with resources of "Here, do this, and it'll help you go deeper."
Alison: It'll help you. We'll link to the book, it's a great book. It has all sorts of practical tips on how to gather people, how to find friends, how to keep them. I have an article I will link to Seven Ways to Increase Your Support Network, that teaches you how to get a therapist, because that can be hard. All the way through just beefing up different ways of getting support, we'll link to all that. We're going to continue on in this series.
Jennie, thank you. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. Thank you for doing this work behind the scenes that informs everything you put in front of us. We are so grateful for you, thank you.
Jennie: So good to see you, Alison.
Alison: Thank you, Jennie.[00:10:43] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of The Best of You. It would mean so much if you'd take a moment to subscribe. You can go to Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, and click the Plus or Follow button. That will ensure you don't miss an episode and it helps get the word out to others. While you're there, I'd love it if you'd leave your five-star review. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday and remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.
Philippians 2:12 – "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
The Best of You Question Doc
Seven Ways to Increase Your Support Network
Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World by Jennie Allen
21st June 2023