photo by Priscilla du Preez via Unsplash
A Different Kind of Nutrient
by steph smith
I habitually visit coffee shops around Billings to write, read, or meet up with friends. No matter which one I settle into, one resounding theme carries through all. It’s not the inviting scent of roasted coffee or the voices chatting over the perfect background music. It’s not the friendly staff serving energy-in-a-cup or the swirl of people buzzing in and out the doors. The steady theme I recognize is the look in the people's eyes behind the counter, standing in line, and sitting at nearby tables. I see men and women (of all ages) conducting business or exchanging conversation with a well-rehearsed tone of "I'm okay" or "It's all good," while their eyes and body language often tell a different story. Underneath the surface, they possess hidden pain and deep longing for authentic community.
We all wear masks to cover up our loneliness. Whether we belong to several social groups within our community or have a large social media following, we manage to put on a good face while trying to prove that we can do life alone. We falsely project that we have no genuine need for help or support. We may not even be aware that we are relationally starved since we are so accustomed to doing things independently—a.k.a. pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Society tells us we can do anything we put our minds to, evidenced by the growth of small businesses and an increasing number of entrepreneurs within our community. I 100% support the American Dream, yet underneath our can-do grit-my-teeth outlook on life rests pain and loneliness that penetrates deep down to our souls. We may wonder, “Does anyone really see me? Does anyone even care?”
If you doubt my theory, let me make it more personal, set aside the distractions of the present moment to ask yourself this question:
How IS my emotional health? How am I REALLY doing?
We act as if we don't need anyone. We have shallow friendships and compare ourselves to others' perfect lives, as displayed on social media. At times, we attempt to out-hustle each other in an unhealthy way, leading to pride instead of humility. We act this way while pretending we're "okay," but deep down in our souls, we are hurting. We are broken. It is not "all good."
Leadership consultant, author, and psychologist Dr. John Townsend says in his book People Fuel, there are 22 relational nutrients essential for leading a healthy and prosperous life. Note the word essential, which signifies "necessary for life and growth." God did not create us and then leave us to ourselves—He intended us to live in a close relational community. This need for relational nutrients is woven into our genetic code. When these needs are met, we experience wholeness, peace, and joy amid a busted-up and broken world.
Shift your focus to the word "relational." We are inherently designed to need other people in our lives. Think about how you felt in February/March 2020 and the months following when the world "shut down," and you were isolated. Certainly, the introverts managed better than the extroverts, but we all need to cultivate meaningful relationships. Yes, even the most introverted introvert needs a handful of meaningful relationships!
To be in a relationship with another person means more than having their physical presence in our lives. Townsend's word nutrients in the relational context suggests that we all possess the ability to learn how to offer each other fuel when facing both good and challenging circumstances. Your cousin or friend is airing her grievances about her ex-boyfriend and may need you to listen and accept her without judgment. Your employee or client may need you to validate him and see things from his perspective. Your business partner or spouse needs you to affirm their ideas. Your sister or neighbor needs you to give her a reality check with grace and kindness.
I am willing to bet the bacon I plan to eat for breakfast; you can identify with the need for encouragement, affirmation, validation, or another relational nutrient without judgment. I am hurting, you are hurting, and we need each other to be honest, genuine, and relationally available. We weren't created to pretend that life is good all the time or to have surface-level relationships.
Immeasurable value lies within allowing your true and exposed self to be authentic in community with others. You are not alone. God did not create you to celebrate or struggle by yourself. In turn, you have much to offer others. I challenge you to stop being shallow and self-sufficient and start looking at every conversation you have as an opportunity to fill someone's relational tank. Ask for a relational need of yours to be met. Get out there and be intentional with your relationships. Find a few safe people with whom to conduct regular relational check-ins, sip some coffee or tea together, and allow them to see you. You will not regret it! Now I wonder—do any Billings coffee shops serve just strips of bacon? If so, tag me in a post on Instagram @stephielex7.
Steph’s reading suggestions: People Fuel by Dr. John Townsend, Safe People by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, The Bible (NLT, NIV, ESV, etc.).
Originally printed in the April 2022 issue of Simply Local Magazine
Never miss an issue, check out SLM's digital editions here!
Steph Smith lives in Billings with her two young children, Charlotte and McCoy. Steph is an assistant varsity volleyball coach at Billings Senior High, and when she’s not homeschooling or writing, Steph enjoys CrossFit, reading, camping, and hiking. If she didn’t experience motion sickness, Steph would become an astronaut and work for NASA.