Friend

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.

Good night!

3 Responses to Friend

  1. I think there’s a dignity limit to how long comments can get.

    Ah. So that is why I have no dignity.

    Haha, I know, Teman could have told me that a long time ago.

    Good post.

  2. Well, if there is a dignity level in the length that a comment may go, I may or may not be surpassing that in the near future here. I debated writing a response post…but as I already have a poem for the next post written, and the reply posting back and forth could go on forever I guess I’ll just reply here. There is a lot of wisdom and experience that shows through in your words here, touch-type though they may be…”Platitudes do not friendship beget…” being the first ones that stand out. Yes! Agreed. I don’t understand how people live on dry platitudes, whether they are true or not, they just don’t strike me as fulfilling or personal at all.

    That said, I also agree that Christian friends do take things a level deeper…I like the way you said it, that non-Christian friends are not lesser, but rather that Christian friends are a step above. I am privileged to have on Christian whom I would consider a friend (internet friends not included), and it is a blessing to be able to speak of spiritual things and relate back and forth. Not that I don’t talk of the spiritual amongst my friends who don’t know Christ…but they are able to relate less. Also, I’m glad you brought in David and Johnathan. I had actually thought of including them in the original post when I had it running through my head, but it ended up not being incorporated.

    The rarity of real friendships is something that has tended to confound me both in my own life, and as I strive to love friends and family who do not have such a friendship and are exasperated because of that fact. Real friendship is certainly something to be cherished, and the hole left when one loses a real friendship through one means or another is a void to be wrestled and reckoned with. For me, at least, it is no easy thing to come to peace with. But I’m on a rabbit trail…

    I find our personality differences and how they effect our friend building styles quite fascinating. This for instance–“Some of my deepest friendships were only built over years of small talk…” tends to be less true for me, I think, than it is for you. Probably I’ve scared many people with personalities similar to yours in this regard by my propensity to delve deep relatively quickly after I make someone’s acquaintance and get to know them a bit. I would like to hope that is not the case, but I am afraid it may be.

    Actually though, despite our personality differences it almost scared me how well you know me just from having read my blog. Of course, that is the point, and vulnerability is my thing, but I guess it just struck me that you understand me more than most people I know in the real world, which I suspect is partly due to your being an observer and also partially a result of my openness. Anyhow, all that to say that your remarks on the difference between a caring relationship and a friendship really struck home. This — “…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.”– is an art I’ve mastered as well. But you’re right, it isn’t the same as friendship. I guess no one else has ever related with me on that or spelled it out so clearly. So thanks. You gave me a lot to think on there.

    Your thoughts in the next paragraph echoed chords that have played in my heart (as in the hearts of all humanity as well, I would say) quite clearly as well. A thought on the human desire to be understood: Someone can be about as close as possible to understanding a person, and six months later hardly know them at all. People change, or at least I do, and I’ve had this happen before. When someone who used to know you as well as you knew yourself no longer ‘gets’ you, it’s disheartening. And that is my response to your, most likely rhetorical, query as to whether I have someone I trust, someone I spill my innermost self out to… I did. I have had three people, four if you count my younger sister, who were close enough to know me. Four with whom I had friendships that went both ways. One died, one has grown distant even though we still talk, and one works a different shift than I do now. My sister and I are still close, though in a different way than we had been in seasons past. I am blessed that I always have had her sharing my room, my heart, and my sometimes unspoken secrets. Even still, you’re right that I am waiting for someone to linger long enough and care enough to pry me open and know me. Aren’t we all?

    Mmmk. Confession time over. That’s about all I have to say in response. Except, I will say this, (though it may be futile to say with the Purdy curse), but don’t worry about proofreading. I’m sure you catch plenty of mistakes in my writing, but it’s the thought that counts, and I really really enjoyed and appreciated this post, arm-chair psychoanalysis and all. 😉 Friendship has been a subject near and dear to my heart since I was about 5 and realized I didn’t really have any friends. My mom prayed over that subject for years, probably still does. Yet despite all the pondering I’ve done on this topic, I’ve never really had someone to bounce thoughts back and forth with. This was good for me.

    G’night

  3. I hope you didn’t feel ignored. The week got kind of brutal, so I stuck with the no. 1 goal of surviving, in which I was mostly successful. I didn’t even attempt to do anything else, so communication of all sorts languished.

    I had to laugh when you said it almost scared you how well I seemed to understand you. I don’t think that’s a result so very much of me reading your blog or your openness – not that you haven’t put yourself out there, but I don’t think that’s the main thing. The main thing is, I think we’re pretty similar in a lot of ways, and what I see in you is myself. I’m more well acquainted with myself than anyone else I know, so to the degree I’ve correctly identified where we overlap, I would think I would be able to speak pretty well into that area. (If I could spare you or anyone else some of the “learning the hard way”, I’d love to; sometimes that’s the only way to understand ourselves better, though.) I just think that I don’t really open up much, so you’re un-aware of a lot of the overlap.

    I don’t want to over-defend small talk, as it can be abused. (Also, you’ll note I’ve done a splendid job of easily skipping any small talk at all with you, and here we are carrying on a “serious” conversation, even though you know nothing about me besides second hand reports!) I just think it has also gotten somewhat of a bad rap, and that it does serve a useful and valuable role – at times. It can be a valuable tool to getting someone to feel comfortable or to build trust, or even as a segue-way into more serious conversations with someone you haven’t seen in a while. I doubt you’ve scared anyone away; my encouragement was really just one that sometimes patience is called for, and rewarded.

    I don’t know that I could say I have/had people who really understand me, although that is my own fault. More and more I come to be a better realization of how I really resist opening up to people. A lot of people know parts about me very well, sometimes even better than myself, but to understand “all of me”? I’m beginning to learn that that too is an impossibility. Someone recently asked me if the field I’m in (physical therapy) included dietary recommendations; it seemed to him that what you ate would be an important part of your physical health, and of course it is. But as I explained to him, there’s too much in the world for any one person to understand it all, except for God. So you learn to be content with the piece you have, and just respect the knowledge other people have, too. It’s sort of like that with people, too, I think. People are too much (too complex, too changing, too deep) to fully know, and we have to learn to be content with pieces. The flip side is, we are too much, and I think for the most part during this lifetime, we have to learn to be content with pieces being known. Sometimes that means being comfortable only talking about these certain topics with these people, but those topics with those people.

    I think “having friends” is a societal illusion that many of us (esp. introverts) have fallen prey to. You know how they say “Hollywood/media/society has given us a false impression of beauty”? I think people haven’t come to the place yet where they realize the same thing could be said of friendships. When we first grasp our loneliness, it appears to us that no one else (or very few, who are to be pity greatly) is in that same state of loneliness. The first reflection is that it must then be our fault. We’re lonely; “they” are not; where did we go wrong? And I think there are times to reflect and consider on that question. . .are we living up to how we ‘verbalize’ life should be lived? Are we living in such a self-protective or self-oriented life that we’ve de facto excluded others?

    But I think it’s also just a first recognition of our humanity. Who do we have, in heaven or on earth, besides Him? Others sometimes seem to have someone, a friend, a family member, a spouse; but I think it is a human condition. To complete my tagline, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”

    I don’t think loneliness is something to be embraced or sought out, like monastic living. I think we are called to forge friendships, after a fashion, during our time here. But nor do I think loneliness can ever truly be conquered or overcome during our time here. Lately I have been able to catch little glimpses of loneliness from the other side, when Jesus talks about longing for us to be One, or longing for the Wedding Feast. In some ways, I think our loneliness and longings here are part of how we are filling up the sufferings of Christ. When we are longing for true friendship, we are in a way, experiencing the longings of God Himself, who created man to walk with Him and talk with Him. It doesn’t make the pain of loneliness any less poignant, but I think it does give some purpose to the suffering and the waiting.

    I’ve many other things I’m obliged to do today, so I’ll have to end for now. But I do enjoy the conversation as well, and I hope I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable with the comment about limits on length – it was a tongue in cheek comment, not meant to be about rules!

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