The word gather brings up so many thoughts about friends and community and reaching out and pulling in. Seems like I’m noticing this theme all over the place recently.

On the surface gather feels like such a beautiful, connecting thing. Yes, let’s gather together. All of us together. But after the fleeting initial reaction of how nice that sounds, I find myself plunged into sorrow and shame.

I have so few people to gather.

Meeting people is hard. Connecting with people is terrifying. The risk. The vulnerability. I have a huge fear of rejection (don’t we all). More specifically, I’m extremely afraid of being annoying.

So I keep to myself and enjoy my quiet. I say everyone else is too busy and if they want to make time to hang out I’m right here. I make excuses that no one really understands me. How can we connect—we’re just not in the same place. Nevermind how much I’m hiding myself away, not willing to risk without a guarantee I’ll be accepted.

But connection doesn’t work that way.

The point is not to gather all the precious parts of me and guard them tightly. The gathering is not about protection or safety. Gathering cannot be about avoiding pain…not unless we want to shut out all the joy too.

Gathering, instead, is also about spreading. As I try to gather people close, I have to spread myself out where I can be seen, heard, touched.

We can’t connect with something guarded.

There are two ways we gather people around us. We can clutch them tight out of fear—protecting what we have against all we have to lose. Or we can expand—connecting and stretching ever-outward to know and be known.

It’s so easy to clutch the things dearest to my heart close and hide them away from the people who might not understand. It’s so easy to try to gather my few people in tight and keep them as I expect them to be. It’s so easy to turn my back against everyone else for fear they might steal the little I have away.

But then I’m not truly gathering—I’m herding.

True gathering requires us to put something of ourselves out there in a place of vulnerability before we can draw someone into the closeness of connection.

And sometimes we will be rejected.

Gathering is not a barter system. It isn’t a straightforward offering of vulnerability in exchange for companionship. Instead it’s a spreading. Reaching out to more and more people, hoping some will choose to gather with me.

Gathering cannot be forced. When we gather we are free to come and free to go. There will be loss. There will be hurt. But when we are willing to spread our hands out in vulnerability sometimes we will find ourselves gathered close to another’s heart.