Here is wisdom from an African proverb: “If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”
DEFINING A “TRIBE”
Are you traveling by yourself or with other people? Do you know who is in your tribe? In our polarized and divided culture where everyone wants to choose sides, huddle up with their own, and attack others who do not think or believe as they do, “tribe” can be a loaded word. A word that separates people into different groups and categories and pits them against each other. THAT IS NOT THE KIND OF TRIBE I AM DESCRIBING TODAY. We see far too much of that on the news with each tribe clamoring for who can shout the loudest, get the most press, or use any outrageous method to force their agenda.
No. No. No. We are seeking a different kind of tribe.
The kind of tribe I am talking about is a community that connects, joins, and unites us through authenticity and transparency. It is being part of a group of people who mutually support, encourage, and inspire us. Sharing the values of gratitude, reciprocity, and investment, a tribe is made up of people who are committed to seeing the best in us and helping us get there. It is a place of belonging where your true self is seen, heard, and accepted without judgment or criticism.
FINDING YOUR TRIBE
Before my wilderness experience that culminated in 2018, I wrote and spoke often about connection and the value of authentic friendship. I started this blog over six years to not only connect my faith and my life but to connect to like-minded people and find kindred spirits. I thought I knew who was in my tribe and who I could count on to stand with me during the dark times. Although it is an overused cliche, it still rings true:
You never know who your real friends are until you are in need. You will be surprised at who shows up and who doesn’t.”
I was forced to confront my assumptions and expectations about who was in my tribe and how they would be there for me when I hit rock bottom during my wandering in the wasteland. Truthfully, it was one of the most painful yet eye-opening lessons God taught me in the wilderness.
RUTH & NAOMI: AN UNLIKELY TRIBE
When I think of friendship, kindred spirits, and finding one’s tribe, my mind immediately goes to the story of Ruth and Naomi. If you haven’t read the whole Book of Ruth, I highly recommend it! In just four short chapters, a beautiful story of love, sacrifice, and loyalty unfolds between Ruth, the Moabitess, and her mother-in-law, Naomi. Here is a super brief synopsis: Ruth marries Naomi’s son, he dies, Naomi decides to leave Moab and return her people in Israel, she tells Ruth to stay with her people in Moab, Ruth protests, begging to go with Naomi. They build a relationship stronger than just a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law bond as they help each other overcome challenges and celebrate God’s redeeming faithfulness.
The most well-known verse in the book of Ruth is most often read during wedding ceremonies:
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Ruth 1:16-17 (ESV)
However, we must remember these words were spoken from a daughter-in-law to a mother-in-law. Traditionally, not always the easiest of family relationships, right? Yet, we can find core principles of how strong and authentic relationships are formed and sustained from this one verse.
HOW TO KNOW WHO IS IN YOUR TRIBE
If we break down this verse, we can find three simple tests to help us determine if someone is in our tribe.
1) SOMEONE WHO IS IN YOUR TRIBE SACRIFICES FOR YOU AND WILL GO THE DISTANCE WITH YOU.
“For where you go I will go…”
The death of Naomi’s sons left her bitter, broken, defenseless, and alone. Because she had neither food nor money to support both of her daughters-in-law (Ruth and Orpah), Naomi chose to return to her homeland, Bethlehem. Initally, all three women set out on the journey together.
Why would they go with her? It is important to note that Naomi must have been a good mother-in-law. These women were not returning home as Naomi was, instead, they were leaving everything familiar behind their families, homes, and culture.
Naomi takes pity on the younger women and releases them to go and rebuild their lives in Moab. She realizes that it is unlikely that she will have more sons for them to marry, so she unselfishly tells them to go back home.
While Orpah decides to stay, Ruth pleads and begs to go with Naomi. Even though she has no obligation to do so, her love, generosity, and compassion make her fiercely loyal.
Someone who is in your tribe is in it not for what you can do for them but for what they can do for you. There is an unselfish, sacrificing quality to a person who says, “I am not going anywhere no matter how bad things get. I am here to stay and will go the distance with you.”
Here is how Brene Brown describes these kinds of friends:
“I’m looking for the person who loves me not despite my vulnerability and imperfection, but because of it. I’m looking for what I call my ‘move the body’ friends. I’m looking for the folks who are going to show up and wade through the deep with me…
Brene Brown, Interview with Oprah Winfrey
2) SOMEONE WHO IS IN YOUR TRIBE ENTERS IN YOUR WORLD AND EMBRACES YOU WITH ACCEPTANCE AND EMPATHY.
“Your people shall be my people.”
Other than both being widows, Naomi and Ruth had very little in common. These two women were of different ages, races, and religions. Somehow, they built a strong connection that went much deeper than a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law bond. They were truly there for each other. How? They began by taking actions that started the movement of love.
What does the movement of love look like?
GIVE UP * GO TO * BE WITH
Ruth GAVE UP everything she had and knew, to GO WITH Naomi back to a foreign land and people that may or may not accept her, to BE WITH Naomi and start a new life together.
A person in your tribe will do the same for you. After my surgery, I had a long, agonizing night in recovery. Although my husband could stay with me, he was exhausted and needed to get back home to our children. A dear friend GAVE UP the comfort of her home, a warm bed, and sleep to GO TO that small cramped recovery room with only a hard-backed chair to BE WITH me and hold my hand throughout the painstaking hours as I struggled with the pain, fear, and anxiety of waking up after surgery.
3) SOMEONE WHO IS IN YOUR TRIBE POINTS YOU TO THE TRUTH AND BRINGS YOU CLOSER TO GOD.
“Your God will be my God.”
Even though Naomi has a crisis of faith and feels punished by God, Ruth still wants to follow Naomi’s faith and join her on her journey. This is so interesting to me because it tells us a lot about what kind of mother-in-law Naomi was before disaster struck her life. Naomi must have been faithful and consistent in showing God’s love to Ruth in order for Ruth to take such a huge risk in leaving Moab to follow a foreign religion. Naomi’s life and actions pointed Ruth to the truth about who God was and how much he loved her.
A person in your tribe will always point you to the truth, with love and grace, and push you closer to God. Even when you may be too broken, bruised, or bitter to really hear or see it. By being the hands and feet of Jesus in your life in real and practical ways, your tribe will demonstrate the love of Christ through words and deeds and give you hope and faith to believe again.
As you review these characteristics on this Mindful Monday, take some time to assess yourself as well. Are you being the kind of person you want those in your tribe to be to you? Are you sacrificing, empathizing, and speaking the truth? Are you willing to be vulnerable and go the distance?
And for those people who you thought were in your tribe, but now you realize may not be. Love them and let them go. They can still be a part of your life. Just make sure you know who is in your tribe!
When not teaching, speaking, or writing, Carla Gasser is most herself as a wife and mom living in Ohio with her four very active (and hilarious!) children (ages 22, 21, 18, & 15). She has been married over 28 years and is thankful for being able to do life with such a supportive and loving partner. She writes and speaks about the messy, ordinary, and unexpected ways her life and her faith intersect. Her passion is connection: encouraging others to seek God at the place of connection, serve their families and others on the path and connection, and support each other within the context of a caring and committed community as they strive to become people of connection.