The Miracle of Grown-Up Friendship

Friendship.

That word has been rolling around in my mind for months now.

Who is your best friend?

Hopefully, someone (or a few someones) immediately popped into your mind, along with flashes of all the amazing memories you’ve made together.

However, if you’re over the age of 30, I’d venture to guess you had to think for a minute. Maybe you’re still thinking.

Granted, I believe friendship changes as we get older; as we mature. Perhaps with age comes the diminished need for a large pool of friends, and possibly even distinguishing a BFF. Perhaps our needs and interests shift to cherishing deeper, more meaningful relationships, even if that means we enjoy fewer of them. Quality over quantity and all that.

I’m turning 40 later this year, and in so many ways I’m more comfortable in my own skin—in who I am as a person and a woman—than I ever have been. However, in the area of friendship, I find myself increasingly self-conscious and unconfident.

In chatting with a gal I consider my closest friend after my husband (incidentally, this friend lives several states over, and we’ve never enjoyed our friendship living in close proximity to one another), I realized that the last time I had a really close, deep friendship with someone in person was five years ago. Five. Years.

Now, I’ve had wonderful friendships during that five year span. Just nothing as deep, personal, and intimate as the friendships I enjoyed previously.

I’ve also come to realize, much to my chagrin, that I am far lonelier living here in America than I ever was as an ex-pat. A fact that shocks and saddens me.

I was beginning to wonder what in the world was wrong with me. Why was I no longer able to start and build deep, intimate friendships with the women in my life? Then I came across a tweet that stopped me in my tracks:

I mean.

I literally laughed out loud, nodded my head, and then sobered. With 112,000 retweets and 440,000 likes, this thought clearly struck a cord.

So, why is it so many of us in the 30+ demographic suffer such a severe lack of true relationships outside of family?

To answer that, I think we must look at the source of the miracle itself: Jesus.

When I look at those 12 close friendships Jesus enjoyed, I see what true friendship takes. I also discover clues as to why I think we are lacking in this area—particularly here in America.

Jesus initiated the friendship. Jesus was the ultimate extrovert. I mean, other than in kindergarten, when was the last time you walked up to a person who looked somewhat interesting and asked, “Hey, wanna play?” Of course, Jesus was calling men to follow Him, but it’s basically the same thing. Jesus and those twelve men were practically strangers, but Jesus saw something in each one that He wanted to cultivate, to get to know. Jesus initiated the friendship, which is the very hardest part, in my opinion.What if they don’t want any more friends? What if they think I’m weird? What if I’m annoying? I think fear of rejection is what hold many of us back from reaching out to people we are truly interested in getting to know better.

Jesus let His friends interrupt His life and plans. Friendship is costly. It takes time, energy, emotion, brain-space. Jesus let his friends interrupt Him, and not allow it to strain the relationship. My favorite instance of this is found in all of the Gospels (The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John), but my favorite account is found in Mark. See, Jesus and His friends were on a boat at night when a huge storm came up. The Bible calls it a “furious squall.” Jesus, being Jesus, was asleep on a cushion in the stern. His friends started freaking out (as I’m certain I would’ve done) and wake Him up. Here’s the best part. They don’t just wake Jesus and ask for help. They wake Him and say, “Don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38b, NIV). Ha! Yeah. First of all, they interrupt His sleep. Jesus doesn’t get mad, He’s not cranky that they woke Him from a nap. That’s real friendship right there. Secondly, He helped them. They insulted Him, and He still helped them without snark. He calmed the storm, and then He did something else.

Jesus called His friends out when it counted. After He calmed the storm, He called them out for their lack of faith. I mean, God of the Universe was there in the boat with them. That should’ve been enough. True friends call each other out on their bologna. My dad always says, “A true friend is someone who makes you better.” If you and your friends agree 100% of the time, something’s wrong. Real friends don’t let each other get away with things that will hurt them spiritually, emotionally, or physically. Jesus called His friends out on their bull, and that is no easy task. It’s so much more comfortable to put some sort of twist on the behavior/thoughts/words that make them seem ok, or at the least excusable. Jesus loved His friends too much to do that. I think this is another reason true, intimate friendship is disappearing from the American adult experience—it’s easier to just keep to ourselves and not call a spade a spade when need be.

Jesus put the needs of His friends above His own. I’m sure we can all agree, just about everything we do, we do with one goal in mind—to stay alive. Jesus, on the other hand, knew His death was the one thing His friends needed most. He didn’t want to do it. We see that in the Bible when He, not once but but twice, asks God if there’s anyway to accomplish His Plan without Jesus having to go to the cross (Matthew 26:36-45). Real friendship takes sacrifice. Of course, I’d venture to guess the vast majority of us won’t have to actually die for our friends, but real friendship calls us to die to ourselves day after day. To lose sleep while they talk through the loss of their job; to spend a few bucks of a cup of coffee or cook an extra meal when their life is in chaos. Even in times of relative calm, it takes a sacrifice of time, energy, and sometimes even money to maintain a deep, quality, vivacious friendship.

The more I examine the friendships of Jesus, the more I understand why we may struggle with it so much. It’s costly. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unpredictable. Three of my least favorite things.

But, just like anything of value in this life, the rewards far outweigh the costs.

How about you, dear reader? How are your friendships? Do you need to invest more? Is there someone you need to reach out and initiate a conversation with? Is there someone who has been pursuing friendship with you that you’ve been avoiding because you “just can’t?”

Of course, we must proceed with wisdom as we build those friendships that will speak most deeply into our lives. There are toxic people and toxic relationships. I’m not arguing that we should stay in dangerous or unhealthy relationships.

But, I would argue, most of us could afford the cost of a true, lasting friendship. Could you?

Working Without a Net

As I write this, I’m babysitting my friends’ children. Now, before you send me heated emails or comments about how irresponsible I’m being, it’s late and the kids are all asleep. 😉 As I sit in the quiet, sipping my nice hot cuppa tea, I can’t help but reflect on how much life without a safety net can wear you down; and how as moms, women and friends in general, we are all woven together, each story affecting the others.

We have lived in Ireland for nearly 3 years now, but before that we lived in the States 18 hours (by car; 4 by plane) from our closest family. Since having children, we have been forced to rely on the kindness of “strangers” to be our support, help and encouragement. Don’t get me wrong, we had loads of support and encouragement from our families, but let’s face it: sometimes a girl needs to get out of the house either alone, or alone with her man! So, what I’m talking about it tangible support and help.

I was blessed during that time with several friends, and teenage girls, who offered that support to me through free babysitting, play dates, and dinner swaps. One friend in particular even let me come over every other day to use her washer and dryer after we’d sold ours but we weren’t moving to Ireland for another 2 months! She has 4 girls, people! Now that’s friendship!!

TightropeSince moving here, however, we’ve not had near the strength in numbers for that tangible support. I have a dear, dear friend here without whom I’m quite certain I would go crazy. She is tangible support for me (and my family) through play dates, cups of tea made, carpools, and even verbal slaps upside the head when needed. But we’ve really been lacking in the way of someone who can routinely bless us by helping with our kids, babysitting for free, and helping us get some much needed quality time together. You see, when you work from home and are around each other and the children basically 24/7, romance and creativity have a way of fading to a severe shade of gray and blending in with all the lone socks and dust bunnies lurking under every piece of furniture. And while I love my children more than life itself, not getting time to refresh and bond with my husband, outside the four walls of our home where I-really-should-be… is lurking around every corner and under every sippy cup, takes a toll on our marriage, our friendship, my soul, and ultimately those children we are so lovingly trying to raise in grace.

That brings me to tonight. We met this family through some dear friends of ours and we have worked out a regular baby sitting swap. They, too, are far from family (blood relations, that is) and it just so happens our schedules work out that we can help each other out in this way. And that is no small feat, mind you, since between us we have seven children ages 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1!!

I say all of that to say this: as friends, moms, and especially sisters in the family of God, what affects me affects you, and vice verse.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 as paraphrased in The Message

So, take a look at all the women in your life, particularly if they have children. What can you do to bless them? Bring them a dinner? Drop off or collect their child from school or practice or club? Babysit so she can go out with her husband? Babysit so she can take a nap? I read somewhere recently that discouragement is the poison of the soul. If that’s true, then encouragement is the vitamin of the soul. So, if you have friends you can encourage and support either through swapping kids or taking her kids if you don’t have kids yourself, do it. You won’t regret it, and you may even find that she returns the blessing in a way that feeds your soul… And if, like me, you feel as though you are working without a safety net, reach out to your friends and ask for help! Chances are, they need it just as much as you!

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