In the wake of that ferocious storm a couple of weeks ago, all phone service was down, but the internet was working. I clicked on Facebook and searched a dear friend’s name in order to send her a message about plans for the day. Her name didn’t pop up. I clicked on my friends list. Her name wasn’t there.
I felt my blood run cold. I mentally ran through every word of the previous conversation we’d had. My pulse quickened and tears sprung to my eyes. “Oh, please, God, not her. And not again. Please, not again.” And then I looked to the righthand corner of the screen. My husband was logged into Facebook on my laptop. It wasn’t my account. As soon as I switched, there she was. I hadn’t been unfriended.
I clang around in this small cell afraid to open my heart and soul to another woman…
Clearly, the wounds that I thought were nearly healed are still pink and raised. I know what it’s like to be unfriended, blocked, banished from someone’s life. I know what it is like to trust, only to learn that she, too, sins like the rest of us and wounds like the rest of us, too. I know how it stings to be shut out without explanation, both virtually and emotionally, by someone who was once a treasured friend. And I know too well the bondage that comes with the betrayal of a friendship, an imprisonment of my own fear.
I clang around in this small cell afraid to open my heart and soul to another woman the way I did before the loss. I listen to the words of someone else and weigh and measure and wonder if she’s sharing truth. I cannot hold her close, cannot truly embrace everything she is because I am afraid. Afraid to my core of being wounded again. Afraid to my core of baring myself and hearing how I am lacking. And so I resolve: no new friends.
I gather a very small handful of time-proven sisters of the heart close to me and I thank God for them every day. I treasure those friendships and I marvel at the miracle of them. When my friend Colleen, who is a missionary in Costa Rica, is home for a rare visit, I seize the opportunity for a heart-to-heart on the phone with a good connection and my words come in a torrent. Then, I am silently grateful as she speaks truth in those familiar honeyed Southern tones. The inexpressible comfort.
The freedom of friendship. A now familiar quote leaps to my mind:
Friendship is the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person! Having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words, but pouring all right out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful friendly hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and, with a breath of comfort, blow the rest away.
I know how precious such friends are! In a situation eerily parallel to my own, I watch my daughter struggle with friendships. She is a teenager who has learned that girls can be cruel. This last year has a been one of brutal lessons. I know she’s lonely.I wonder about our choices to educate her at home, the eldest girl in the middle of a large family. On island at the end of our dining room table. I ask myself a million questions about girls and friends. Then, I encourage her not to make a cell for herself, even while I reflect on my own prison. I hear the words come out of my mouth and I know they’ve been forged by fire in my heart.
“Being hurt by other girls can teach us valuable ways to be good friends. The girl who is telling you all those snarky things about this girl and that? She’s saying things like that about you to others. Don’t be that girl. The girl who latches on to the latest fad just so everyone thinks she’s hip? Don’t be that girl either. The girl who idolizes you and uses you to increase her social standing? When you falter, she will step on you to hoist herself higher. Yep, girls can be cruel. Watch out for the mean girls. Mostly though, don’t be one. Don’t be a mean girl. Be a safe girl. Be the girl who blows away the chaff with a breath of comfort. Be a good friend.”
Surely we are meant to learn painful lessons about friendship and become better friends, not more miserly women.
It’s not a panacea, I know. A girl can be a good friend and get mightily wounded anyway. As I share with her, my own cell still echoes loneliness. Surely, we are not meant to be held prisoner of old wounds. Surely, we are meant to learn painful lessons about friendship and become better friends, not more miserly women. Surely, we are promised freedom in genuine Christian friendship. And we must exercise that freedom to serve others in genuine friendship.
The reality is that loneliness is part of our Christian walk. Sometimes, we seem to walk alone. And it is in that seeking for the perfect friend–the one who always understands and never betrays, the one who is there every time we call and listens to the deepest whispers of our hearts–that we find Jesus.
Sometimes holy women are also lonely women. When we allow ourselves to be lonely, we can seize the chance to evaluate what friendship is intended to be. If friendship feels like something we can’t be without, it’s not freedom; it’s bondage. There is freedom in genuine friendship as God intended–freedom to be what He created us to be. We can find peace in knowing that God is tending our souls even in the times we yearn for human companionship. And we can be blessedly content with a small handful of genuinely authentic friends, quiet in the assurance that God provides human friendships as we need them.
Friendship is a comforting smile, a familiar voice that warms the heart, and the freedom to be the person God intended.
I look at the sweet, young face of my daughter and I see the good she has to offer friends. My mother’s heart wants to protect her from the pain of a wounded spirit. Instead, I gather my own experiences and the wisdom of my friends and resolve to teach her–to give her the tools to make and keep truly good friends and to wait patiently for the best friend of all.
I long to share with her what I’ve learned myself. He hands us the key we need to unlock the cell of our fear. We walk along with Him, far from the prison of our own making, confident in the freedom that comes with knowing that we can be a good friend, without any expectation of gaining a good friend. We are liberated by the reminder that God is in control of this, too, and that He will send exactly who we need at every stage of life, as long as we are faithful to His truth.