Tag Archives: Friendship

Playing Small Doesn’t Serve Anyone

Change the World - ChristinaNoelI was at an event last week, and I met a woman who looked incredibly familiar. We gave each other that knowing glance and simultaneously asked, “How do I know you?” It quickly became obvious that we share many acquaintances in common – for such a big city, the Catholic community in Chicago is a very small world! We have a number of similar interests, and as we played the name game, we naturally began talking about our careers.

I asked what kind of work she did, and there was a long pause followed by a deep sigh. It would be an understatement to say that she is not pleased with her current employer. We made light of challenging work situations, until she finally asked about me. And what do you do?  I laughed.

Typically in these types of settings, where networking opportunities are at a premium, I try to paint my situation in the best possible light. I usually say that I’m in transition between full-time jobs. I talk about freelance writing projects, working from home, and pursuing new full-time opportunities.

Until this point in the evening, it had been such a casual and candid conversation. So, I simply said, “Well, I’m actually unemployed!”  We both laughed!

Upon overhearing all of this self-deprecating banter, a mutual friend inserted herself into the conversation. “Hold on just a minute ladies! Let’s try this again. You two obviously don’t know each other very well!” She then proceeded to re-introduce us to one another.

She began, “First, I’d like to introduce my friend Beth, a two time author, who holds a M.Div. from Catholic Theological Union, and who is an amazing young adult minister. Second, I’d like to introduce my other friend, an inspiring individual who cares deeply about education, international development, and is the founder of her own non-profit organization.”

Wow!! If there was ever a moment where two women were caught in the act of selling themselves short, this was it!  If our mutual friend had not stepped into the conversation, I would have gone home early only knowing one more Millennial who is frustrated with her 9-to-5 office job. And she would have left only knowing me as one more Gen X-er in search of full-time work.

I used to keep a clip from Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love” posted above my desk. I need this reminder, sometimes multiple times a day!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

A while back, one of my best friends shared this article about how we introduce our friends at parties.  The author says it perfectly, “Introducing your friends for who they are rather than focusing on what they do will remind them they are loved before and beyond their titles. It’s an easy way to remind them that you see them for their hearts instead of their accomplishments.”

It’s hard to carry on a conversation without talking about the things that keep us busy for most of our waking hours! How do you introduce yourself without referencing your resume for talking points?  Several years ago I went away on a weekend retreat because I needed a couple of days of prayer with an intentional community of faith.  I was not going there looking to make friends or find a date or network over similar career paths. As a matter of fact, I made a point of not talking about my job or introducing myself by my role at work.

When people asked, “Where are you from?” I mentioned where I lived, how long I’ve been there, and why I loved my neighborhood. When people asked, “What do you do?” I told them about how much time I spend in my garden, my volunteer commitments, the ways I spoil my nieces and nephews, and my role on the condo association board.

I’m pretty sure it drove some people crazy! One person finally asked me point blank, “What kind of work do you do?” Sensing their frustration with my vague answers, I simply said, “I work really hard five days a week, and I’d rather spend my weekends not talking about my job.”

It takes a certain confidence to be the kind of person who always has something interesting to talk about. I can think of one friend in particular who does impeccable work, at a prestigious organization, and works with influential people every day. But she rarely talks about her job.

In addition to the work she gets paid to do – she is also an athlete, she travels, she loves the theatre, she belongs to a book club, she’s involved with her church, and many other things. There is always something else to talk about!

Isn’t it time that we start defining ourselves by our passions …. by the things that give us life and bring us joy … and not just the activities that help us pay the rent?  I was grateful to be reminded of this again last week.

I need to be more conscious of how I introduce myself, how I refer to my friends, and to keep a handful of questions in my back pocket that open up the conversation beyond the daily grind.  Playing small doesn’t serve anyone.

(Photo by Christina Noel photography)

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My Single Valentine

The closest I’ve ever come to celebrating a traditional Valentine’s Day was the year I had a crush on Dominick.  We were in kindergarten.  He gave me two pieces of gum, while everyone else got just one.  Ah … the blissful days of innocent love.

I don’t care to count the Valentine’s Days that have come and gone.  There were the infatuated obsessions that marked my middle school years.  As a college sophomore, I wore all black in protest of the love-struck holiday.  A short-lived office romance defined my dating life as a 20-something.  In recent years, I’ve made a point to send care packages filled with chocolate kisses to my nieces and nephews – smothering them with sugar to the dismay of their loving parents!

Several years ago, I gave up dating all together – a decision over which I have no regrets.  I will be single for Valentine’s Day again this year.  And it will be glorious!  I’m not waiting to get married, not hoping to get hitched, not on the prowl for someone else to satisfy my needs.

I don’t miss the days of being absorbed in a never-ending pursuit of a life partner.  My best friend has an on-again-off-again relationship with eHarmony.  She subscribes for a few months, goes out on a handful of dates, becomes frustrated with the process and the prospects, then suspends her subscription.  A few months later, as her social life wanes, she invariably signs up again.  When did we become convinced that finding “our-other-half” would complete the picture of happiness?

I believe that being single can be incredibly fulfilling.  My life is filled with the love of friends, the admiration of my students, the fellowship of colleagues, and the fidelity of a large extended family.  My life is not lacking in any way.  I spend my free time writing, reading, hanging out with friends.  I have season tickets to the theatre.  I go to the gym.  I sometimes wonder if I’m too busy for a boyfriend!

Sure, it would be nice to have someone to cuddle under the covers with on a cold winter night.  Being single certainly is not without its lonely moments.  But I also believe that the single life is not without love.

Last weekend, I dropped by a birthday party for a friend.  I arrived late and stayed well past my bedtime.  As we cleared the table of crusty salsa and stale cupcakes, my friend shared her most recent resentments against her mother.  I talked about my latest go-around with a coworker.  We grappled with the challenges of forgiveness and the necessity of making amends.  Together we made meaning out of the darker moments of life.  As I stood at the threshold of her apartment, coat in hand, ready to leave, we embraced and exchanged a genuine “I love you, friend”.

For me, that is the definition of intimacy, the marker of true love.  Who is that special someone that knows you like no one else, and accepts you for who you are?  Who holds onto your darkest secrets and deepest hurts, embraces your greatest longings and most daunting fears, shares your most abundant joy, and creates moments that make you laugh and cry at the same time?

Love arrives in many different packages.  My love finds its way into the world as a single woman in the presence of her friends.  Discovering the joy of being single is a Valentine’s Day truly worth celebrating.


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An Abundant Single Life

I feel like I’ve spent more time this week talking about the single life project than actually writing about it!  I had a great conversation yesterday with a student who is doing on paper on the sociology of dating.  Earlier in the week, I gave a presentation with the Chicago Area Vocations Association (CAVA) on the vocation to the single life.  Interestingly, in both conversations, I referenced these three principles as keys to living an abundant single life:


It is enough to yourself and not someone else!  There is something very attractive about people who are comfortable in their own skin.  When we become who we are in the eyes of God, we become like no one else in the entire world. This humble confidence (to be who we are and not who we aren’t) gives us the courage to live fully as single people.


We live in such a noisy, busy world that many of us have an aversion to silence and an uneasiness being alone. Yet, there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.  Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone.  It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.”  Solitude is not about fleeing from the world, from our relationships, or our problems.  In the silence, when all else is stripped away, we are left with our whole selves.  All of the blessedness and the woundedness of our souls is there to behold.  A regular discipline of solitude exposes us to the mystery of God’s divine goodness, and it keeps us connected to God as our source of strength.


At some point, all of us ask the question, “Who do I want to be with?”  I hope we all experience the joy of falling in love. After all, it is our call as Christians to love one another!  We are all called to be in relationship, whether that is through the joy of good friendships, the companionship of a spouse, the loyalty we experience among our family, or the support of co-workers and community members.  How can I best share God’s love with others through the many relationships in my life?

What are your keys to living a happy and healthy single life?

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