If you missed the first part of this (sort of sets the stage for my thoughts below), click here.
It’s another long one, but with a bit more meat and some action steps you can take in your own thinking about friendships. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I write, but you might find something applicable or encouraging. I pray you do.
Like I said in my previous post, I have been reflecting a lot on Grace Driscoll’s posting regarding friends (specifically female ones) because of some things I have been working through/seeking counsel on/praying about/struggling with.
Ever felt taken advantage of? Well, I did so I sat down and made a list. Of friends*. Then I split these names into tiers (through tears of my own), trying to figure out who I could answer positively about if asked the following questions, taking from Grace Driscoll’s signs of a healthy, godly female friend:
- Does this woman help me grow in my relationship with Christ?
- Does she serve me and I her?
- Since I am married, does my husband see her as an asset rather than a hindrance to my marriage? I took this further to simply seek my husband’s perspective on her – does he think she helps me grow in Christ? Does he think we mutually serve one another?
- Is she willing to both listen and speak into an issue when conflict arises or counsel needs to be given? Are we both teachable or is one of us too stubborn to listen to the other?
- Do I enjoy her, learn from her, and invest in her, rather than idolize her and put her on a pedestal? Does she enjoy me, learn from me, and invest in me, rather than idolize me and put me on a pedestal? (lots of pressure!)
*As a clarification, I don’t expect every single one of my female friends to fit this mold. There is a HUGE difference between close friends, friends, and acquaintances. For instance, when an acquaintance makes a comment to me regarding something important, I don’t put as much stock in that as if someone I consider a close friend shared an observation with me on the same subject.
Long story short – and I mean long, like no-listening-to-the-radio-on-my-60-miles-a-day-I-5-commute-for-the-last-week-so-I-can-listen-to-God-and-pray long – it really wasn’t as hard as I thought to narrow down the list. I took it a step further and tried to think through who’s list I would be on if my friends looked at me with this checklist. That was definitely God telling me to do that…trust me, I am not into humbling myself that hard on a regular basis.
Which brought me to Grace’s ending questions to her post, where the musings actually started and why I picked up C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves again.
How is your friendship with Jesus—really?
I so appreciate that this is her first question. Though I am not the world’s most consistent Bible reader nor the most regularly-setting-aside-time-for-private-prayer person, I do make an effort and I think that is all God expects from me. That being said, I also know that by serving as a public high school teacher, I have learned just how important it is to pray without ceasing because without it, I would be a terrible witness! I am not saying that I always make a perfect case for Christ but it definitely is a goal of mine for my words and actions to reflect Jesus in me. This daily trial-by-fire (let me tell you stories sometime if you don’t believe me) definitely keeps me reliant on Christ, a foundation for my friendship with Him. Again, I do not have as good of a relationship with my Savior as I want, but I am constantly working toward a better one, especially with Baby Girl showing up in August, when I know I will need Him even more!
If married, how is your friendship with your husband—really?
Love the order she asks these questions in! Jesus first, husband second (and when Baby Girl shows up, she’ll be third). One of the amazing things happening around our house lately is that our friendship is something my husband is most concerned about regarding our pregnancy. We have enjoyed nearly 4 years of marriage and I am so grateful to have been able to deepen and strengthen the friendship we started way back in April of 2004. Even though we have known each other for a little over 8 years, getting married changed our friendship – for the better – since marriage meant entering into a lifetime commitment in front of God, family, and friends. Basically, I had to answer the question, “Do I want this person to be my best friend for the rest of my life?” before saying, “I do.” And I haven’t regretted it, especially with the positive refinements he has brought about in me and me in him since our wedding in August of 2008. Though I know some people choose to have children early in their marriage (or before), I can see why the couples in our marriage Bible study encouraged us (by setting an example) to not have kids for awhile after getting married. Though I know that nothing in life, especially in relationships, is guaranteed, our marital friendship foundation is far stronger now than if we had gotten pregnant earlier in our marriage. God would have taken care of us had we had a child earlier, but I am sure extra time as a couple hasn’t hurt either!
What people truly should be your [close, speaking into your life] female friends?
Like I said above, it was hard emotionally but not that hard logically to go through my list and determine who goes on this list.
How can you be a better friend to your husband and female friends?
Awesome accountability question, something that I have been asking my husband about more and more in recent months. I had some ideas of my own but it is also so much more practical and loving to find out straight from the person how they receive love and encouragement best. In regards to female friends, I have been pretty much sticking with what I know I would appreciate but also should probably ask them as well.
Who has been a good friend to you and what can you do to thank and encourage them this week?
Just gotta sit down and do something about it…
Which women should not be your [close, speaking into your life] friends?
Great, this is the one I have been avoiding (and why I put it last in this posting, even though Grace asked it 4th on this list of 7 questions). Like I said, I recently have been struggling with friendships and one of the things that has come up in my prayers, thoughts, conversations with my husband, etc, has been the possibility that I need to confront someone about how she’s hurt[ing] me. If you know me at all, you know that I have no problem being confrontational! Of all of my friends, I am probably the most combatant and actually sometimes enjoy the fight (as long as it’s for a good reason, of course). I’ve toned down a bit (thank you, strong-husband-influence!) but I still love a good tussle for justice here and there. It’s funny, though, because when it comes to having to do this within a friendship, I become a total softy and let myself get walked all over. Then I can’t figure out if it’s worth bringing up or if I am overreacting or what.
This is so hard for me because I have lost a lot of friends over the years. Whether it’s because they moved away and we discovered the friendship was truly situational (which is totally okay and makes sense during different seasons of life!) or something happened and the friendship dissolved (I’ve had a few of those and I simply didn’t have the guts to ask them why they stopped being friends with me before they faded away), friendships are an area of my life that I haven’t had the most success in. When I go to a friend’s weddings and their bridal party is made up of gals they’ve known since preschool, I constantly wonder where I went wrong. Why don’t I have anyone in my life who has known me through the different seasons? I know that people change, move on, etc, but how come those people haven’t moved on? Are they just kidding themselves or is there something about that mutual friend of ours that has compelled them to continue relationship with them through the teenage years, college, and now adult life with all its transitions (jobs, moves, marriages, kids, etc)? I have asked God on more than one occasion what’s wrong with me, that I can’t seem to sustain friendships for longer than a few years. When I analyze each of the situations where friendships have fizzled or totally gone away, the only common denominator is me…so it must be something wrong with me, right?
Which is why I am so hesitant to confront friends when they’ve hurt me. Even though I know it would be an opportunity for God to further shape me into the woman He has meant me to be – with or without their friendship – the pain of losing yet another person who has known me through a particular season is, to be perfectly honest, crippling. All of my backbone dissolves and my normally strong front is completely stripped away. Should I find the courage to confront a friend who has taken advantage of me (or who my husband has identified as hurting me, since I am so hesitant to point it out on my own), Grace points out that you will know quite quickly from her response if the friendship is healthy or not. But I don’t want to do that! So much of me would rather just live in ignorance and just let the friendship slip away and hope that she asks why I am not as engaged. That way I wouldn’t be the one directly responsible for the [possible] ending of a friendship…but if its not a positive relationship in the first place, why am I so set on keeping it? Oh right, because I am that girl who can’t keep any of her friends. At least that’s how I see myself. And therein lies the even deeper issue: is this what God wants for me? Or is He continually setting me up for failure so I have to be totally dependent on Him? I don’t know that I have the energy to grapple with that right now.
What I do know is that through continued prayer, time with Jesus, and seeking of wise counsel, I’ll figure it out some day. Or I may never figure it out and that is God’s point – there are some things we’re just not meant to figure out. Instead, we just have to trust that He has it all taken care of and that He always has our good in mind.
Since He is love and we are to become more like Him, I have come to the conclusion that I must continue to love even though I will probably get hurt. I will leave you with one final quote from The Four Loves that emphasizes that yes, to love is difficult but ultimately it is better than any other alternative…
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”