Before my mid-twenties I was never really good at being a friend and maintaining friendships. Since that time I’ve been on a huge learning curve trying to learn what it means to be a friend and how to let someone else be a friend to me.
There are several reasons why I never really learned how to be a friend in my youth. At the root of it was a lot of insecurity and mistrust based on some bad experiences (especially with female friends). The insecurity kept me selfishly focused on whatever activity in my life at the time made me feel valued. Kind of hard to be a good friend when you’re so focused on yourself. The bad experiences with female friends kept me from opening up to other women and risking their rejection. I’m quite sure both my insecurity and mistrust resulted in my hurting others (males and females alike) who tried to befriend me. That fact grieves my heart.
Although I struggled with being a good friend and trusting other women I secretly longed for both. Besides longing for friends to hang with, I desired women friends that God could use in my life to help me grow in my faith. Perhaps that came from what I believe is a God-given desire I have to encourage and build up other women in their faith and in the love of God. Still, I didn’t start to reach out beyond my friendship comfort zone until well into my twenties.
When I said I’ve been on a huge learning curve I meant it. Learning how to be a friend meant I had to take risks and taking risks means sometimes you fail. I’ve failed many times. Fortunately, God has placed in my life some really gracious and loving women who love me no matter what. These women are a gift to me and I’ve learned not to take their presence in my life for granted.
I’m grateful for these friends all of the time. However, around this time each year I’m reminded of what a gift they are to me. At this time each year we begin planning for our annual weekend away at the beach. This is a weekend trip we’ve taken each summer for the last six years. It’s three days without work, kids, husbands, clients, housework and computers. Well, most of the time there are no computers :-). And it’s three days with lots of laughter, food, drink, conversation, quiet and even some tears.
Lots of women take weekend trips away with their friends so you might be wondering what’s so special about this trip and these women. It’s simple. With this group of friends I have persmission to be who I am (warts and all) and they accept me. They accept my quirks (including my competitive spirit) and they still love me. With this group of women I am free to be myself. That’s just not something that happens naturally in most groups of women.
Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t expectations of me. But, they’re good expectations and they’re expected of each of us. I don’t know that we’ve ever formally recorded these expectations but I thought I’d try to articulate them. If my friends need to step in and correct me then I’m sure they’ll do so. Here they are (in my own words):
1. Be real at all times. No masks or false piety allowed in this group.
2. Allow others to be real–to share their weaknesses and expose their flesh
3. Be willing to admit your weakness, “die to self,” pick up your cross and follow Jesus
4. When necessary, lovingly refer others to rule #3
5. Be willing to let others point you to rule #3 (sometimes others can see things in you that you can’t)
6. Do what you can to help your friend carry their crosses. Especially if it involves a bottle of wine, some good cheese, and a shoulder to cry on :-). Yes, I know that’s probably not the best way to help someone carry their cross but it’s not a bad way to ease into the more “spiritual” approach!
7. Receive the things the others say and do in a spirit of love, cooperation, and idealism
8. If you’re hurt, offended, angry, or disappointed with the group or an individual in the group, trust us enough to come to us so we can work it out. In other words, be real, transparent and don’t fake it (see rule #1).
This is what I expect and what I believe is expected of me in this group and these relationships. Of course we don’t do it perfectly. But these are our ideals and we keep trying even after we’ve made mistakes and failed to live up to them.
We’ve had our share of conflicts and made our share of mistakes as individuals and as a group. Over the years we’ve had personal and theological arguments. We’ve unintentionally wounded each other with our words. We’ve known the sadness of losing someone from the group while holding out hope for healing and restoration someday. Sometimes we hide from one another because we can’t bear to show our weakness or vulnerability. Usually that doesn’t last too long and we’re learning not to take it personally.
Recently I failed to be there for one of my friends to celebrate one of her greatest joys because I was caught up in my own pain. Instead of harboring her disappointment she had the courage to share how I’d hurt her and then turned around and comforted me in my pain. What love and grace she showed on that day. Love and grace are what makes these friendships work. They overcome our imperfections and allow us to grow and know the peace that comes with humility and reconciliation.
We’re far from a perfect group of friends. But it works. And I’m so glad it does. Through this group of women I’m learning a lot about what it means to love and what it means to be a friend at all times. I can’t imagine my life without them. I’m hoping I never see that day. But, no matter what may happen in the future, today I am a better woman and more like Jesus because of the influence of these ladies. And slowly but surely I’m becoming a better friend.