Fellowship is a significant part of life in the Body of Christ. It’s the natural part of people who enjoy being with each other and the means by which we encourage and exhort each other outside of the sermon and hold each other accountable. It’s the primary method the Holy Spirit uses to work out our sanctification.
So when does a typical church enjoy this necessary fellowship? It doesn’t happen during a worship service. Unless your Sunday School or Bible Study class is merely social it doesn’t happen during that time. Unless there is a special time set aside, churches only fellowship before or after services or classes. People might develop deeper relationships and meet somewhere outside of church for that fellowship we all need. If you can’t develop those kinds of relationships, you never get the fellowship you need to grow effectively as a Christian.
So let’s take Sunday morning for example. Those short before and after times are filled with most people giving courtesy checks:
“How’s it going?”
Most people don’t expect, or likely they don’t hope, others to actually have any problems. What would someone say if they asked someone how they were doing and they got this answer:
“Well, not too good. I don’t think I have any friends.”
I imagine they might respond, “Well, uh, sorry to hear that. Let me know if I can do anything.” All the while they are really thinking how they could get out of talking to this person any more. So let’s imagine a typical Sunday after church or even a special fellowship event…
I arrive and look around to see if anyone notices me. No one does. So I look for someone.
I see someone I know talking to someone else. Maybe I’ll try saying hello. So I walk up and neither notice me right away. So I stand there. Someone else comes by and says hello and immediately walks away after I return their hello. Realizing that no one is particularly interested in me, I go and hang out in a corner to see if anyone comes up. A few people pass by and say hello, but no one cares to stop.
Suddenly, someone comes up and says hello. I practice what I’ve read about in good conversationalism and ask him something about himself. So he launches into a lengthy monolog about something that interests him. I pay attention, but have no ability to interject other than a simple, “Uh-huh…sure…no kidding…that’s something else…”
Otherwise, I just hang out there alone. Someone sees me and tries to talk. They ask a question that I know they really don’t want me spending all day answering, but I start to talk anyway. Before a couple of sentences are finished someone else comes up and the person I’m with is obviously glad to have someone else to talk to for a while.
I've been advised by my counselor, who wouldn't give me the time of day were it not her job, to "just put yourself out there." The method for doing such a thing effectively eludes me.
A couple of times a year, perhaps, someone will engage me with a fruitful conversation or actually spend some time together at some event. It doesn't end up as a deeper long-lasting friendship however. So this is my depressing social life.
What shall I make of this in light of what we are supposed to be as the Body of Christ? Some may be tempted to shake their fist at God and lose faith. But if God wanted me to have a friend he would give me one. Since he hasn't, then I can only conclude that God doesn't want me to have a deep friendship with someone. That's his prerogative. My fate is to deal with the fallout of exacerbated depression in light of a few individuals who unwittingly patronize me with disingenuous concern. Now I could let my heart grow cold and hard against people, but I want to honestly love them with the love of Christ. So I bear their ignorance toward my condition.
If you suffer from depression and are similarly awkward socially and relatively unable to develop deep and lasting relationships, I urge you to strive diligently not to blame people for their ignorance and unconcern. Forgive them and accept God's lonely purpose in your life.
If you don't suffer from depression, but know someone who does and is socially awkward, then my advice is to not be disingenuous toward them. If you don't love them in Christ enough to try to care for them, then don't pretend that you do. Don't also pretend that it's okay not to love your brother or sister in need. Pray that God warms your heart because your heart is cold.
If, on the other hand, you do love your brother or sister who suffers from depression, then by all means, a) adopt them as your own friend and b) strive sacrificially to help them learn to behave less awkwardly. People like me need people like you because frankly most people really don't love us that much - and that's depressing.