Friend, your post made me think enough I decided to write my own post in response. I think there’s a dignity limit to how long comments can get. You asked some questions and you said some things, and my mind has gone off on all sorts of tangents, and as one of my favorite quotes has said (I don’t know who the person was who said it, anymore), “the ability to touch-type is a dangerous thing.” Verily.
I started trying to figure out how succinct I could make my response, but it seems like a slight to not actually address the questions asked. Being a backwards person, I tackle the last question first!
I know people who say your best friends should all be Christians, but I ask them: What happens when things don’t quite work out that way? To a point, yes, you can choose your friends, but most Christians I know are too busy to have time to invest in a friendship with me, and I take what I can get. If “what I can get” is nonChristians is that a crime? Are they somehow lesser friends?
Well, honestly, I think the people who complain and/or admonish that your real friends should be Christians have only themselves to blame. In my experience, these are the same people who seem to run on an endless supply of pious platitudes, and platitudes do not friendship beget, pious or otherwise. If you say, “gosh, I’m worried about. . .” and the response is, “remember, the Good Lord said not be anxious or be worried, so seek Him and lay it all at the cross!” Well, there is little suitable rejoinder. “. . .” doesn’t make for a very deep friendship. It’s quite natural to rather be with people who say, instead, “yeah, isn’t that frustrating when those situations come up? I know we make a bigger deal out of them than we should, but it’s hard to feel so helpless.” At least it’s an honest interaction, and there’s a conversation to be had.
But lesser friends? Maybe. That might sound like heresy (aren’t we all created in the image of God?); but when you can find a truly deep friend who shares your faith, that’s something beyond. That’s one who can say, “it is hard to feel helpless; but we can pray. I always wonder about that, because it says Elijah had a nature just like ours, but it seems to me sometimes like my prayers are pretty ineffectual, and I wonder what God meant us to understand from that.” It’s far beyond a pious platitude, and yet is a kind of fellowship that a non-Christian simply can’t offer.
Is it wrong to have non-Christian friends? No, of course not. “What you can get” is what God gives you, and if what God gives is friendship with anyone, that’s a blessed thing. But when I think of friendship, real friendship, I think of David and Jonathan. And there are two striking things to me about their friendship; one is that nearly every time you read about them, Jonathan is encouraging David in the Lord. The other is that it was just David and Jonathan. Only. The greatest king of Israel, a mighty man of valor, handsome and well liked and a superb leader – and he has ONE friend, one REAL friend. Isn’t that food for thought?
I think part of us knows that deep friendship is very valuable, and so we desire it greatly. But yet one of the reasons why it is so valuable is because it is so rare. Pea gravel might be useful, but gold is treasured. Why is it so rare, if we all desire it?
Sometimes I wonder how much we all desire it. I see the ones who have many friends, and my gosh do they ever declare friends quickly. A few weeks and they’re inseparable, BFFs, soul mates. And they don’t waste any time on chit-chat and small talk, nosiree. Yet the thing they call friendship is a thing those of us looking for something to fill a large set of shoes wouldn’t be satisfied with. And the ones who are looking for that deeper thing? Those are often some of the ones hiding behind small talk.
Isn’t that terribly frustrating and confounding? If you want a real friendship, let’s talk about real things! But talking about real things requires trust, and trust needs time to grow. We’re finite creatures afraid of running out of time, so we want to pick the un-ripe fruit and force open the hesitant bud. But sometimes people need to learn first that their friendship can survive the terrors of an argument over which is better, pizza or wings, before there can be enough trust risk arguing over serious things. Some of my deepest friendships were only built over years of small talk–and that’s another thing: building friendships. One of my pet peeves is the phrase “making friends.” I loathe that phrase. I don’t make someone my friend. It’s a long term project, and if you quit early, you haven’t got anything. We don’t get the whole house without a foundation, but if you quit after the foundation, you certainly haven’t got a house. There’s no magical “transformation” into a friend.
There’s a thread running through your whole post that I laugh to see, because in it I see myself. One time someone was commenting to me that it seemed like I’d finally loosened up and was finally starting to be more myself. I made a comment along the lines of “yes; I just take a while to warm up,” to which she responded, “I thought I was going to have to set you on fire!” It made me realize just how vulnerable I’d felt over previous year–so, so vulnerable and fragile. And in feeling so incredibly breakable, any kind of interaction with another person required incredible amounts of trust, and I had no reason to trust. I was incredibly grateful for her persistence in wanting to break open that shell, even though I made it so difficult for her. She was a great support and encouragement to me, and I don’t think I would be where I am now, if not for her.
But we’re still not friends.
Because she got me to open up to her, but she never reciprocated. She gave me care, she didn’t give me friendship. And I understand that now, because I’ve watched myself learn how to give care, too. In my line of work, someone is already coming in feeling vulnerable, and you have to get them to trust you or you won’t be able to help them. And I learned how to wield small talk, and learn how to wield tiny pieces of my own vulnerability, and I learned how to get people to really trust me and be so grateful, but I wasn’t building friendships. I was giving care.
And giving care is not a bad thing, but it’s not friendship. Giving care can feel like a one-sided friendship, sometimes, but it isn’t really friendship. It is caring deeply about other people, while trying to hold the upper hand in some way — being the “strong one”; keeping oneself safe; subconsciously assuming the other person’s struggles are more important than your own (an upper hand, because your “struggles” are “smaller” or not in the open on the table); staying in control (of your emotions, your risks, your image you have of yourself in your own head toward yourself); or any other number of things. So friendship requires not only trust, but also humility — in essence, two of the hardest tasks of humanity.
The thing is, it takes a lot of effort to expose yourself when you are feeling vulnerable, and there’s not really any such thing as safe vulnerability. It’s a paradox of grand proportions, similar to the admonishments to “take care of yourself.” Well, golly. Caregiving requires tremendous energy, and if I had tremendous energy, I wouldn’t be needing care, now, would I? There’s a reason we often need people to take care of us; pulling oneself up by ones own bootstraps is notoriously unsuccessful.
So what do we do? We like being an enigma, because there’s some safety in that. But we long for someone who is persistent enough (as we would be!) to figure us out. To want to understand us, because we are valuable enough for that kind of investment. That’s really the only thing Mr. Rochester had going for him, you know. He was pretty much a straight up jerk, but Jane was an enigma, and he cared enough for her to be curious enough to ask her probing questions that made her terribly uncomfortable. Jane was a hard egg to crack, yes; but deep down, don’t we all want to be understood?
Depth scares people, I think. But I’ve found it can also attract them. Ask people about themselves and as they grow to trust you they’ll talk for hours. Ask about their struggles and their thoughts and fears.
Indeed. And you do, you enigma-cracker; and you get class-fulls of people to trust you. But who do you tell, caregiver, who do you tell your struggles and thoughts and fears to? Who listens to you for hours, who do you trust to listen to you for hours? I would guess that you’re still waiting for someone to ask. I think sitting down next to someone and telling them your struggles and fears, uninvited, takes a whole other kind of courage.
Which is to say, yes; we’re all waiting and lonely. Waiting, I think, not only to know as we are known, but also to really know how well we are known. So I suppose I’ve gone backwards and sideways in all sorts of ways, just to agree with you where you started to begin with.
But if were to put earthly friendship in a word, I would say: safety. Not that damages would never come, but that they would be survived. Not that every need would be met, but that burdens could be shared without guilt or anxiety or ridicule. And not that small-talk would never happen, but that behind it would be a quiet confidence that even small-talk can bear fruit in it’s own time. Not that what we have to give would never be under-valued, but in a recognition also of what it is the other is offering, and being willing to receive it. Sometimes we need to feel the safest of all in order to receive.
And there my thoughts end, because it’s late o’clock at night and my brain is mush; but having survived the week, it was nice to be able to reward myself with a chance to write. Since you only asked what I thought and didn’t put on any fine print qualifiers, such as, “note: must be coherent thoughts” or “note: must be 1,500 words or less” or “note: I meant thoughts you had about yourself, not arm-chair psychoanalysis of me”, I think I’m still safe to post this even with mushy brain. Besides, I’m at a point where if I don’t write late at night and with impaired cognition, I might never get a chance to write at all; and I think I’m apologizing in good part because I feel guilty about not proof-reading my writing before posting, and also I think I left my car windows open; darn.