I’ve been through times like this before, when friendship can feel scarce.
I may not be in a summer time season of friendship, my schedule packed with late night dinner gatherings or deep, story-sharing conversations, but I’m not in the dead of winter either.
It’s disheartening some days to look out upon my friendship landscape and realize I need to squint to notice the shimmering smiles of kindred spirits and life-giving souls…but they are there.
I feel like I’m in the in-between. An awkward place of imperfect community and loose connections. I’ve revisited this space often, seeing that I’ve birthed four children in the last six years and have moved every two years to different cities and countries. Relationships are tender things. The slightest movement in our lives or shift in circumstances or geography can disrupt its growth and rhythm in surprising ways.
But I wonder if there’s an underlying pressure on all of us- an expectation I think we place on ourselves to have a certain number of flourishing relationships. We entertain discontent and we’re always on the hunt for potential candidates to fill our friendship hole.
In this recent season of scarcity I’ve felt at the friendship table, I’ve had to (once and for all) put aside my demands to make everyone into a kindred spirit. I hope them to be a lifelong friend who sits with me through the midnight hours, and as the saying goes is “someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
But most of the time, God is simply going to bring people.
People of all sorts. The elderly neighbor. The quiet mama. The busy family. The lovely friend in another state. The women I talk to each week in our church family. The fresh face of a twenty-something young woman eager to share her heart. The checkout clerks at Trader Joe’s I see every Monday. The generosity of a woman who listens to my dreams for a few minutes in passing.
It might sound silly to admit, but I’ve started to call these people my friends.
I’ve argued with God over this.
Can I really call them friends? Aren’t they merely acquaintances or perhaps even strangers? I mean, would they really come if we had an emergency at 2 A.M., could I cry on their shoulder, or be totally myself around them?
For most of them, no, probably not. And you know what?
There’s so much freedom in letting it be that way, in allowing friendship to take on many forms and looks.
I think for years I’ve carried with me the checklist of a “true friend.” You probably have one too. The one we’ve kept it our back pocket since elementary school. The expectations are high and lengthy, most of them unattainable. I know because I’ve been on the other end of someone’s checklist many times. When I didn’t meet the expectations exactly, they let me know. Silence, hurtful words, or the emails I read through tears.
Of course, friends should challenge us, call us higher, and speak the truth tenderly when absolutely necessary. But can’t a friend remain a friend even when they don’t match all the requirements on our list, even when they let us down, or don’t call or initiate when we wish they would?
One of the practices that has never served me well in relationships is constantly thinking there’s something wrong with me, that it’s my fault people come and go or disappear for weeks or months on end.
Isn’t this just life? Why complicate it or loose sleep over it. I wonder, maybe like you have, what is my part then? .
Here’s a few ideas I’ve come up with to help me navigate the topsy-turvy seas of friendship and keep my sails out even when the winds feel scarce.
I remember my role is to put forth the effort with joy-initiate, invite, repeat, instead of plunging into the hole of endless introspection when I tally up the number of friends I see around me.
My task is to celebrate the people I do have, not throw a pity party for the friends I don’t have.
My responsibility is to never stop seeing people as friends, worthy of my care and concern, but to also give them permission to see my heart too. Whether it’s helping pack my groceries into the minivan, eating tacos around our dining table, a random phone call, or a quick conversation in my driveway, friendship shows up and grows in the most surprising places, little by little.
Friendship has always felt like a ragged pursuit for me, a constant hunting and coming up short, but it doesn’t have to be? What if we can release our tight grip on typical friendship, letting it be bigger, broader, and looser than what we’ve always thought it to be? Giving ourselves and others space to change and transform, be deep, or even go quiet for a time?
I prefaced these paragraphs by saying, “friendship can feel scarce.” But it only feels that way because we’re looking in the wrong places, holding up impossible expectations for ourselves and the people around us, and defining it as a commodity we must always get more of, rather than as the sweet company God surrounds us with each new day.
Perhaps, much to my dismay, this in-between season of friendship is not something we ever have the pleasure of finally escaping. It’s here, I think, where we discover the depths of God’s love for us. He is a friend who will never leave us. His love gives us the ability to move from our scarcity mindset to seeing people for what they are…friends.
“To live is to let love well up and stream through us as the beat, pulse, and rhythm of our lives, connecting us to ourselves, our neighbors, the whole family of earth’s creatures, and God, the alpha and omega of love. To love (which is to live) is to be seeking, fostering, and sustaining connections with that which is different and other- without domination, absorption, or fusion, in delight, in care, in compassion.” James H. Olthius