Make sure to read Part 1 of the "Why Things Had to Change" series here.
Note: I changed the title from "Why I disappeared" to "Why things had to change." After reading both posts I felt like that is really the focus and intent. I want to make sure we don't get stuck on the perception of disappearing. And instead all of us learn to embrace that friendships change for each season we are in, not just marriage (which Erin emphasizes in this post). I was so convicted throughout both of these posts and I hope you hear Erin's heart of not being defensive but in exhorting us to have healthy relationships through the different changes, because there will always be changes. We have to learn to move with them and not expect things to stay the same. Growth is good... just not easy.
When you really think about it, marriage is just one of many changes of scenery where friendships are put to the test.
Even though it seemed a really dramatic and unique milestone, it was not the first time I had to make tough choices about how to spend my physical time and emotional energy. Flashback to 1999. I was in my parent’s car, on the way home from church, and a country station was on playing “How Can I Help You to Say Goodbye?” by Patty Loveless. I’ll never forget silently sobbing and looking pathetically out the window as I listened to the words and thought about my “best friend” and how we were about to enter a major time of transition. [Yes, I’m serious. Ugly cry sobbing.] We were going to different colleges, and I was terrified about how it would affect our friendship and “my” best friendship.
Well, like the song said, “life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same” and that little nugget of country western wisdom proved true. It took me several years to embrace it, though. Several frustrating, teary, bitter and confused years.
It’s led me to wonder if all that talk about BFFs and BFFEs was/is somewhat damaging – similar to the instant-social-gratification of singlehood I mentioned before. It essentially locks one person into fulfilling a huge role while also giving you mental ownership of that friend. Besides, they are to be your best friend, correct? I don’t want to downplay loyalty and life-long friendship being a virtuous reality, but were we putting a bit too much pressure on each other when as assigned that title and bought those James Avery heart necklaces? [Don’t lie – I know you did.] Did it prompt the sincere but crippling emotional meltdowns following the shift-inducing milestones of different colleges, different addresses, and marriage?
Back to the story.
So much of my heart was poured into that friendship – maybe even too much. I had invested deeply and loved openly and honestly. And my friend was a darn good one. I understood that “it's OK to hurt, and it's OK to cry”, but I was holding onto that friendship with a death-grip that was crippling. I was paralyzed with fear about how it would change and how my control over it was being stripped from me by means of geography and the first of many forks in the road. Over the course of college, her getting married and moving to Portland, my Dad passing away in 2003, graduate school, the introduction of her kids, then mine, and some more moves in between, our friendship changed a lot. There were highs and lows, periods of poor communication broken up by blissful weekend reunions and talking until 3am, but honestly, the friendship is permanently different than before. And that evolution will likely continue. Forever.
What has remained, however, is our genuine love and affection for one another, our promise to be there when it really counts (like flying from Portland to Houston for a funeral in a heart-beat), and having the deep and sometimes challenging talks to keep fresh and living water bubbling up in our friendship. I won’t lie and say I don’t sometimes yearn for the good ole days, but I’ve come to appreciate the evolution. It’s been a great lesson for me in relinquishing control over things I truly can’t control. There are many variables involved in a friendship – some that can be mastered by me and others that are way beyond my scope.
It has not been easy.
There were many times I felt like a left-over friend, slighted, forgotten and even abused. That I was so loyal and giving, and she was selfish and oblivious. Some of my assessment was objective, and it prompted me to rethink how much weight I was putting on that one friendship. Simply, there were some times I needed to take a step back and let it go a bit. However, many times I was focusing more on me than on God within the friendship. My fingers were wrapped so tight around it, that I couldn’t surrender it to Him to use as He saw fit. I played the victim instead of trusting God and loving my friend in the lonely interim. I even said to myself, “I guess this is it – we’re just not friends anymore.” We weren’t the kind of friends I wanted to be. But perhaps – as horrible as it felt – we were the kind of friends she needed us to be. [Chew on that one for a minute!]
Instead of working within the parameters that existed, I wanted to trash can it. I tend to be slightly (ha, ha) literal, so I have a hard time with grey area. I like full-throttle, black and white, and all or nothing. What I was missing, however, was how God could be growing and developing my character throughout the change in friendship intimacy. How He could grow my prayers and service of this friend despite the long emotional and physical distance. How He could increase my tendency for forgiveness and mercy. How He could teach me how to be a better friend and cherish all the many other great ones around me.
Now, trust me. I’m not advocating that you be a door-mat for a lousy so-called friend. Assess the friendship objectively (key word). Sacrifice only in healthy ways. Interview yourself about it:
- Is this a two-way, healthy friendship that is just experiencing some changes of scenery? Or is it characterized by one-sidedness?
- Am I putting too much pressure on this friendship? Expecting too many needs to be met from it?
- Am I holding it with an open hand?
- Am I really loving my friend or just waiting to see what I’m getting out the friendship?
Bottom line: Make your friendships more about God and less about you.
Be willing to surrender them for a time and trust God will work it out. If a friendship has become dormant and you think you’ve done all you can to keep it alive, trust the redemptive power of Jesus. He will either bring them back around in time or show you a better person in whom to invest. I’ve seen it many times and always when I’ve least expected it. If you and that friend have a true, mutual and healthy friendship, it will never fully disappear. Valleys and peaks will come like everything else in life. Persevere graciously.
Don’t think I’m suggesting that you take a fatalistic view and forego really investing in a friendship for fear of it not being frozen in time. Make concerted efforts to be a great friend. Communicate actively (not passively), invest, pray for them, but leave room in your heart for movement and change. When you feel like a particular friendship is in a valley, look around and see what friendships you might be ignoring. More importantly, think about how you might be doing the same thing to someone else. For example, is this situation mirrored in reverse with other friendships? Am I expecting something from Friend A that I’m denying Friend B – which Friend B is giving me in abundance? Don’t judge too harshly lest you be judged for the exact same thing!
We are all in progress and will without a doubt have many re-starting lines. Marriage – Kids – Relocation – Tragedy. Some of us will endure many other milestones that we don’t even want to consider. Let’s walk alongside each other as long as we can and trust the road will curve a lot, but we’re both still on it – and with a lot of other great people! We’ll meet up again and for such a time as God designs for our good. Trust Him. Love each other!
Comments: Okay, let's talk about all of these ideas! What are your thoughts? What convicted you most? What do you think about the idea of letting friendships change? Of taking the pressure off of one another?
Check out some of the other 2012 relationship guest posts:
Erin DuBroc (Why things had to change: Part 1 & Part 2)