Editor’s Note: Everyone wants to be a really good friend, but sometimes it feels impossible. It’s a daunting task. Sometimes it feels like attempts to be a good friend go unnoticed, and that we aren’t helping because we can’t actually fix someone else’s hurts or problems. Today’s post is Anonymous. It’s beautiful. – Lauren
Living in a new place was a difficult transition for me. I moved here for a job knowing basically no one.
I had lived in my previous home for my entire life, and had developed really strong relationships there. But when I moved, I was excited about the change. I figured I was following God to a new place, would make new wonderful friends, maybe meet a boyfriend, have a wonderful job, etc.
Starting your life over is much more difficult than it seemed, though. My job was good, but exhausting. I didn’t meet a boyfriend. God seemed so quiet, and more than anything, I was paralyzed with loneliness. I became closer with the casts of Gossip Girl and the Kardashians than any actual human being.
However, I did have this one remarkable friend.
I am confident I would not have been able to stay in this new place – especially during the long winter months – without her. She made me laugh, sat with me when I cried, dragged me to work out, and would even make me dinner sometimes.
One day she declared a day just as a celebration for me, and said we were going to re arrange my room so I’d have a space that was more live-able. She was so artsy and had an eye for that kind of thing, so after the transformation, my tiny bedroom in which I watched Gossip Girl was significantly more welcoming.
That’s just a little background for you, though.
That winter, in my relatively “new” town, I went on a date. I was sexually assaulted that evening.
Afterwards, I just decided it didn’t happen. I even went out with him the next day. I told myself, and the people who asked, that the date was good. I didn’t say that I was drunk, possibly drugged, unable to consent, and had a man nearly twice my size on top of me.
I had never done any of the sexual acts that I did that night. I was paralyzed with guilt. I figured that it was absolutely my fault, because I had been drinking. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, because a good Christian shouldn’t have been as drunk as I was. I had never felt so alone.
3 weeks later, I felt like I was imploding. I was disgusted with myself and with my body. I felt tarnished.
I asked this one friend if she would come over. Being the good friend she was, she did. We sat at my kitchen table, and I started to cry. I didn’t know how to tell her what happened, especially since I had previously told her that the date went well. But somehow, I got the words out.
Her response was possibly the most “Jesus-like” response I have ever received.
She heard my greatest shame, and just listened. She did not ask many questions, but just listened. She asked if she could rub my back, and listened. I am a messy crier, so then, she took her sleeves, and used them to wipe the snot and tears from my face. No one has ever willingly touched my snot before. I did not feel judged, I did not feel as though she did not believe me, and I did not feel alone. She wrapped her arms around me and loved me. She took me upstairs to her apartment and allowed me to sleep in her bed that night so I wasn’t alone.
I will never, ever forget her act of loving kindness to me that evening. Maybe it’s something silly, to be so immeasurably grateful to someone to using their own sleeves to wipe your tears and snot, but it truly grabbed ahold of my heart and whispered, “you are not disgusting.”
This is the difference that a good friend makes.
I am so thankful to the tangible Love that my friend was to me, and will always remember the grace she extended to me.
I know that I was so fortunate to have that friend. I know that some of you may be reading and experiencing enormous pain, or feeling abandoned or bitter if you don’t feel that you have a friend in your life. And to be completely honest, that friend is not perfect. She has also really hurt me. But we are so radically human, mistakes are inevitable. So rather than focus on the ways she has hurt me, I choose to remember the moment where she was like Jesus. He gives us these moments in our imperfect friends and humanity to be reminded of who he is.
The thing I am continually learning though, is that even if we do not have that close friend, we do still have Jesus’s promise that he will redeem us. That he has never left our side. That he knows our hearts, our heartbreak, and our shame. That he is still walking with us, even through the absolute darkest and most dangerous of valleys. And I firmly believe, that he does, and will provide us with friends to love, hold, and act out his love for us.
Do not give up on that hope.
Editor’s Note: I cannot tell you how many times in my life I’ve kept girls off my potential friend list just by seeing their picture. Even today, I struggle. Comparison is real, and a deadly weapon that we often wield against ourselves. Today’s post is written by Kacie Lynn Lester. She blogs at colormecaptivated.com and tweets at @klynnlest. I’m so grateful for her willingness to be SO honest about this. – Lauren
I learned a lot about comparison last year while I was on The World Race.
Mainly that I needed to wage war against it. And, that my short-ish, rounder-than-victoria’s-secret-model-shaped figure, turn-a-shade-of-fire-engine-red-when-I’m-embarrassed face, and alarmingly loud laugh aren’t just beautiful in theory. They’re actually stunning.
And I had to learn this all while living with a beautiful woman who is in every way my physical opposite.
I was particularly upset one day early in the Race as I watched my beautiful teammate go about her day flawlessly – even her messy crying fits and bouts of insecurity were beautiful – and I often wondered how it could be possible at all that I could also be beautiful with my pale skin and boring hair and short (and admittedly thicker) frame.
I’m so different – I speak and think and act and look so vastly differently than this girl who is, in every sense of the word, beautiful.
I would ask myself constantly, how can I also be beautiful when I’m nothing like this girl who embodies the word?
I actually sat Stephanie down the week we met and I told her to her face that I probably wasn’t going to like her. She was too perfect and I was sure she knew it, and I cannot get along with conceited girls (which I figured she was, without a doubt).
Then I learned that she wanted to write, I wanted to write – she wanted to sing, I do sing – she used to dance, I used to dance – I paint, she likes to paint – I play guitar, she wanted to learn. Initially, I just saw my obvious inferiority to her, so I saw everything we had in common as threatened. She obviously looked better doing it, so I had to prove that I actually did it better. Competition got stacked on top of comparison, and everything got bitter.
That battle with comparison wasn’t just a battle over me. The spirit that was bringing up fear and judgement towards her wasn’t just attacking me, was attacking unity. The body, the bride of Christ.
It didn’t want me to feel equal to her, and it certainly didn’t want me to love her.
Envy, absolutely. But not love.
And I did not love her.
In fact, there was a night in Romania that I and my blonde, beautiful roommate walked up to our leader separately, without having discussed it, and calmly informed them that our team simply would not work because we could not live together, and they need to change it. Please and thank you.
Our eloquent and tall leader had a
brilliant miserable sounding idea:
“Seeing as how you certainly aren’t being separated, you need to decide to love each other. Really love each other. Like, put effort into loving each other.”
I won’t pretend that I didn’t begin that endeavor with a “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” justification, but motivation being right or wrong, every other morning for a month I gave her a Nescafe 3-in-1 instant coffee packet.
The mornings I didn’t give her one, she gave one to me. There wasn’t coffee where we were living, so these coveted gifts were delicacies. We could have each just kept our own coffee, but giving and receiving it every morning meant sacrificing our treasures and our pride. And, slowly but surely, we learned to love each other over these tiny gifts.
Gift-giving turned into praying for each other. As a wise woman once said to me: “It’s impossible to not be on the same team as someone else when you’re praying for them.”
Praying for each other turned into delivering one another’s notes after we’d prayed, including a word of encouragement. And then? Then we were loving each other. And loving each other well. As sisters and as friends.
Two months later, we were granted our long-gone wish and were put on separate teams to travel and serve with, and we didn’t have a chance to live together again for the remaining 8 of our 11 months abroad. We arrived back in America in late July, and two months later, she is my roommate.
Now that I know her heart, I see how often the enemy tries to tell her she’s ugly and awkward looking. The fact that she can look in the mirror as often as she does and see imperfection and ugliness in herself proves to me more than anything that the enemy exists. I ended up teaching her to play guitar and now we worship together in our adorable little Georgia apartment when the enemy tries to get in our business.
Comparison almost robbed me of one of my very dearest friends, simply because I didn’t know she was my very dear friend, yet. All I saw was all the ways we were starkly different, the ways I wanted to be like her, and wasn’t. And the very few ways she wanted to be like me and didn’t yet know how to be.
But the Lord calls us sisters, He calls us united by one body, one spirit, one hope. Eph 4:4
He sees her as flawless – and He sees me as flawless.
My flawlessness doesn’t give her flaws, nor does her flawlessness negate mine. They don’t look the same – but that isn’t a truth that limits the definition of “flawless.” Rather, it infinitely expands the capacity and depth of the perfection of God.
Redemption is perfect in Christ. I am perfect in Christ. She is perfect in Christ.
Who are you competing with? Who do you feel is beneath you? Who are you trying to out-rank?
He or she could be your best friend, your next roommate, the loudest voice of truth in your life, or your very biggest fan. You just might not know it yet because an enemy who hates you is actively trying to change that reality.
Love intentionally. Pray. Encourage one another. And if you aren’t sure where to start, it might be time to start buying some instant coffee packets!
Editor’s Note: It has been said that the only thing worse than losing your boyfriend is losing your best friend. And from my experience, it’s true. It can be brutal, and embarrassing to admit how deep the ache goes. Merrie Dortignac shares the story of her relationship with her childhood best friend, and what happens when “best friends forever!!!” changes. – Lauren
I met the girl I called my best friend when I was ten years old. Our family had heard of theirs, and invited them over for dinner.
When I was fifteen, awkward, shy and insecure, I finally clicked with her. We hit it off over a week long camping trip and became nearly inseparable. She’s the girl who is full of life. It dances in her eyes and bubbles over when she laughs. And she loves to laugh.
She’d always had more than one “best friend,” never limiting herself or excluding anyone, but as long as I was on the list, I was happy.
She held my hand when I got my ears pierced, and I did her hair and make-up for her high school graduation. I liked her brother and she liked mine. We planned on raising our kids together, after she got back from her dream trip to Africa. I would teach her kids how to cook and she would teach mine how to play basketball.
Something changed along the years, and the list of “best friends” shortened until I was the only one left on it, everybody else either moving away or getting married.
She confided in my that her biggest fear in life was that she would be “replaced” and I swore that would never happen between us.
When our church split and her family left, she swore it wouldn’t change anything.
We mirrored each other to the point where it was hard to tell where one left off and the other started. Cutting bangs, growing out bangs, straightening our hair, matching t-shirts – the works. I guess we even started making the same facial expressions, because the people who knew us the best were always telling us that we looked alike.
I remember the day my world caved in like it was yesterday. We were sitting on the couch in my living room after playing volleyball one Sunday.
“Who is your best friend?” I asked, hopeful, needing my ego stroked.
I remember the look on her face when she turned to me, dismay clouding her eyes. “Um, _______ is.”
My ears were ringing from the shock and pain, my eyes stinging while I offered a controlled response. “Oh. Okay.”
What happened to best friends forever? How could she do that? Her biggest fear was being replaced, so she should know better than to replace me! What does this other girl have that I don’t have? I’m I really so worthless? The questions and memories swirled around and around inside my head until at 3am I couldn’t take it any longer. Uncontrollable sobbing wracked my body, as I laid there in my bed in the dark, waking my dad who came in and offered comfort without judgement or advice.
I’ve never cried more in my life than I did for the next couple of months. In my bed, hiding in the bathroom, in the car at a party where she was, even at a stop light on my way to work.
“God, what are you trying to teach me!? I’m ready to learn the lesson and get on with it, because this hurts too much!”
Life continued as normal, our families meeting up every week or so, only this time my friend had her new best friend in tow.
“Is she trying to rub it in my face!? God, please, I give the situation to you. Give me grace to deal with it.”
I began to realize that I had put our relationship above my relationship with God, and that it had become unhealthy. I got to the point where I thanked God for taking my best friend away. I gave the situation over to Him at least once a week. I begged Him for grace. I begged Him to make the pain stop.
I thought I was growing closer to Jesus through that time, but something was still missing – it hurt to see my old friend with her new friend.
We tried to talk it out but I always ended up more angry and hurt than before. I did my best to make her feel my pain. I laid the guilt on as thick as I could every chance I got, trying to make her see how lonely I was – how this was all her fault and then I cried some more, because we could never go back to the way it was before. She wanted us to remain friends, to get past it and hopefully grow closer, but I didn’t see how that was possible.
I mean, hadn’t I tried? I’d given up my rights and expectations to God a hundred million times already. I’d asked for grace, so surely He’d granted it.
One Sunday afternoon, a day I can remember just as clearly as the day that my world caved in, I was lying on the bottom bunk-bed by the window, preparing my heart and my attitude for my friend’s arrival, not certain her best friend would be in tow, but preparing myself for the possibility.
“Father, I’m begging you, give me grace.”
I have. I’ve offered grace each time you asked, but you’ve never picked it up and used it. You’ve never received it. It’s a two way street.
It was like a ton of bricks hit me between the eyes and a load of bricks was lifted off of my shoulders at the same time. I left the room and was able to look my friends in the eye, smile and tell them I was glad that they came.
The damage control took longer. It was months before trust and camaraderie were restored. The bitterness I’d been harboring was poisoning my family as well as myself. I had some serious apologies to make, but lucky for me, they were more than willing to forgive.
And I’ve learned so much since that day. I learned that a best friend doesn’t have to be exclusive. I learned that God is good. I learned that I needed to be separated from my friend so that I could grow into me. I learned that the impossible things are possible. I learned what it means to be a friend. I’ve learned that I am loved beyond comprehension and my relationship status or friendship status cannot change that.
That grace you’ve been requesting for so long? The more you use, the more I give.
Now? I’ve been filled. I’ve seen what grace is. I’ve been forgiven and I’ve been healed. My “ex-best friend” is still one of my best friends in the world, and that girl shook up my life those years ago, my best friend’s best friend? I’m thankful to be able to count her as one of my close friends today.
All my life I’ve believed in redemption and grace and healing and forgiveness. I’d been raised with the concepts drilled into me since before I could walk and talk. But the day I opened my heart to accept the grace that God so freely offers me was the day I started to live.
“You’ve changed, Merrie. You’re happier now than you were two years ago.” A different friend remarked one afternoon.
“I hope so!” I replied. “I think I finally became a Christian.”
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by one of my dear friends, Emily Maynard. She is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. And she is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. You can follow her on Twitter at @emelina or her Tumblr: emilyisspeakingup.tumblr.com. – Lauren
I did something radical today.
One of my friends sent me a link to an article that made me cringe. It triggered my fears from my background and childhood. I started to panic and wanted to claw at my skin when I saw the title and realized the post was in support of an idea that had been used as a weapon against me. I skimmed it and started shaking.
I opened my mouth to respond, to lay out the reasons why this link triggered me, where I thought the author was wrong in nuances, and precisely how I disagreed with her conclusions.
And I had every freaking right to do that. Especially with this friend. We make infinite amounts of space for one another and apologize quickly when we collide. We have challenging but healthy disagreements. I have so much freedom in this friendship to live with my triggers and neuroses, fully accepting of the wounds of my past, and let healing happen at its own pace. I’ve learned about safety from this friendship, about trusting myself and God’s work in my life, and I’ve learned about speaking up.
I was about to dig in again to my battle place, knowing it would be alright, but for some reason, I didn’t.
I shut my mouth. I paused.
And when I started speaking again, I said something that changed my life: “Tell me why this is important to you.”
And she did.
It had nothing to do with the reasons that triggered me. In fact, even as she explained what resonated, she affirmed my right to have a different opinion than hers about this article. But she told me why it was beautiful to HER and in that way, SHE became more beautiful to me. Because she let me see her and hear her story with all its unique markings and pain and hope and love.
It wasn’t about the article anymore. It was about a catalyst to open up with each other, share what God is doing in our individual journeys, and celebrate that wholeheartedly.
This is how to be friends with people who are radically different than you.
This is why it is VITAL to be friends with people who are radically different than you. Whether they’re a different gender, race, age, religion, theological persuasion, special diet, political persuasion, sexual orientation, or anything else than you are, they are very much the same in that they have a story and it deserves to be heard.
This small experience today changed my life. It showed me how much I’ve healed and learned. I’m in a place where I have relationships that don’t require me to constantly defend myself. I can trust that there is value, not rejection, behind our differences. I’m moving beyond the shame that would require that I am always right and the other party is wrong. I’ve found a place where I can have an opinion, but I don’t have to constantly assert it out of fear I’ll be lost if I don’t.
I’ve been found. And from that found place, I can see and find new beauty so different from mine.
Want to know something else amazing? My friend noticed how I reacted when she first sent me that article. “I could tell you were having a hard time,” she said. “And I realized we each had a choice to enter into conflict or conversation.”
Did you know that? When things could get heated, both parties have the choice to enter into conflict or conversation.
Conflict stands its ground, builds walls, and reinforces dogma. But conversation involves talking about your story, listening, and humility. Conversation changes lives.
What if you believed that every person had a valid reason for his or her view?
Not that every viewpoint is equal, but that the reason something thinks a certain way is legitimate. Wouldn’t that change us? Wouldn’t that make us tell the stories that pour salve on each other’s wounds, champion justice, laugh at surprising similarities, and celebrate the diversity of God’s kingdom?
So, I’m going to challenge myself to do two things:
ONE: Build more relationships where I am radically accepted for exactly who I am, scars and opinions and all. They are unbelievably healthy and growth inducing for me. I don’t have to be stuck in spaces where there isn’t freedom to be who I am right now. My story isn’t up for debate or criticism. I don’t have to live in a place where speaking up results in rejection.
TWO: When I want to disagree with someone, instead ask what this article, opinion, heritage, event, relationship, or political view means to them. Engage with THEIR story if they are willing to share, not just MY story. My story has shaped me in beautiful and dangerous ways, so their story has probably done the same for them. Practice real listening without criticism of their story. I don’t have to live in a place where other people speaking up results in rejection.
I did something radical today.
I changed my world by listening.
Editor’s Note: I have a favor to ask. As you read this, read it out loud. Resist the urge to skim, and slow your mind and your heart to the speed of the words as they were written to be heard. Today’s post is Anonymous, but if you would like to be put in touch with her, you may email me at lauren[at]goodwomenproject.com. – Lauren
When my brother told me he was gay, I started to cry. I could not locate the origin of those tears in the moment. They just spilled over my eyelids before I could catch them. In retrospect, I understand. Those tears were the realization that my family was no longer the way it used to be. They were the realization that the old had past, and that we were being ushered into a new epoch.
Ironically, the first words to come out of my mouth were, “It doesn’t change anything.” Of course it changed something, and yet, it changed nothing. My brother is no different than the man he was two months ago. He is still the kindest, most loving, generous man I know. There are no more secrets. Granted, I knew him well before. But now, I truly know him.
I know every part of his identity, and am therefore able to love him more fully.
I have a confession to make: I do not know what God thinks about same-sex attraction. I have studied, read, and prayed, and still each side’s case seems solid. Maybe one day God will impart some answers to my questions. Are individuals born gay? Is marriage reserved for a man and a woman? Is sexual orientation socially constructed? What does it mean to be attracted to men or women?
I have a second confession to make: I don’t really care anymore.
After one long afternoon of reading numerous books on sexual orientation and Christianity, I turned on the news and saw the story of a young lesbian in Texas who was shot to death.
And suddenly all of those questions became very small, and a whole new set of questions began to freely dance in my mind and become very big: why is my brother the target of hate groups? Why do complete strangers want him dead? Why doesn’t he feel the freedom to share his sexual orientation with his small group? Why is he scared of telling my parents?
These are the questions that matter. These are the questions I want answers to.
God took the training wheels off my heart and said, “Go”. Go fight for them, go to the pride parades, go to the LGBT support groups on campus, go hear their stories. Leave the judgment up to Me. I realized that if I truly love my brother as much as I claim, that love must extend itself to the gay community. I don’t get to put fences around agape. I don’t get to live in the suburbs of God’s love for humanity. And so I took the midnight train, and I went. I urge you to go as well, do not be afraid.
These are our brothers and sisters, and just like us, they get to come to God just as they are.
The Earth swells with living water, and bottomless wells spring up. Come you who are thirsty, come. Do not suppress love.
Final Note: Comments discussing whether or not homosexuality is ‘right or wrong’ or ‘sinful’ will be heavily moderated for the safety of girls in our community. Comments are encouraged and welcomed, but NOT to discuss right vs wrong and TO discuss love, true friendship, and grace. Thank you for understanding.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a brutal one, and the author is anonymous. I cannot imagine experiencing this myself, and am so challenged by her words. Every week I see grace take a new form, and I am so grateful. – Lauren
Friendship is a beautiful thing, but it can also be an extremely scary thing. C.S. Lewis said it best when he said, “To love is to be vulnerable.”
The date was Christmas 2010 and I had just come off the mission field. I had followed the Lord’s calling in my life. I left everyone I loved, including my family, friends, and a boyfriend of 2.5 years for several months to go love on people who did not have the love of Christ. I was scared to death of leaving them, but I was more concerned with being obedient. I resolved that being out of the Lord’s will was a scarier place to be that 3,000 miles away from a boy. The Lord would bless me for that, right? Of course.
Well, I came back, and 99% of me was expecting an airport proposal. We graduated college, and we had put years into this thing. I mean, we lived in the South for goodness sake; marriage is what you do. But alas, no proposal, and instead, heartache.
* * *
She was one of my best friends in the entire world. She was someone I laughed with and cried with for years. She knew the very best and the very worst of me, and she loved me despite all of it. Right? But if so, I couldn’t understand why she would do this to me.
Had it all been a lie? Had every word of wisdom she spoke into my life been a facade? Had every secret I told her been a mistake? If she loved me and if she loved Jesus, how could she pursue the love of my life? How could she enter into an emotional relationship with him? How could she lean in and kiss him? How could she have sex with him?
These questions plagued my heart and mind, and I couldn’t focus on anything else.
Most importantly, if she loved me, how could she take everything?
Overtime, through the loss of many friendships due to trust issues and lines drawn in the sand, bitterness became my friend.
Bitterness soothed the pain. Bitterness patted me on the back and whispered into my ear, “You are justified in your hatred.”
As a follower of Christ, I am to believe that we are all fallen. If I profess that I have done nothing good, how could I still walk around with some sort of self-righteous inkling that I am better than anyone else? Oh but no, I would never say that… out loud. But that’s what bitterness is; it is self-righteousness. At its root, bitterness says, “You hurt me. I would never do that. I’m better than you.”
That’s a scary place to be.
The moment I forgot I was as broken as she was, the moment pride got in the way, that’s when friendship became the enemy. That’s when I began to believe the lie that she had taken everything, and if I let anyone else in, they would take everything too. I lost the truth that we are all just broken people trying to navigate this thing called life.
When the world comes AT us with, “An eye for an eye” and, “Oh no, NO SHE DIDN’T,” Jesus calls us to pray for the very people who have hurt us.
Not because our situations will automatically change when we pray for our enemies; no, it is us that changes.
When I pray I begin to see just who I am before the Lord and just how much he has forgiven me. I know I cannot pray and hold onto any ounce of pride for very long. Even if I begin to pray from bitterness and with a heart that only needs change in others, the prayer always changes me. As I let Jesus change me, I began to realize that I am no better than those who have hurt me, than those who have shaken me to the very CORE of my existence. As these realizations come to fruition, I sat and wondered how many people I have hurt. I began to wonder just how many people cried over my utter selfishness and disdain for anyone’s happiness but my own for the 20 years I was without Christ and for the 5 that I was with him, battling my flesh.
When I pray I begin to see truth, and only then do I fully grasp just how much I need God and see myself for who I truly am without Him. When I open my eyes to fully see all the yuck in my heart, I can no longer point fingers at anyone. The thought of how much He has forgiven me causes me to fall on my face in humility.
Those who are forgiven much become the humble, the salt of the earth. They become people who forgive much.
As I rest in my own forgiveness and as I begin to forgive others, my bitterness leaves.
If she and I were to never reconcile, I bet 95 out of 100 practicing Christians would understand. They would say, “That’s okay! That makes sense.” However, 2 years later, and just 2 months after I let Jesus change my heart, she and I are fully reconciled. I now live states away from her, but just the other day with tear filled eyes and the most joyful heart I have ever had on earth, she and I sat down and admitted some lies we were still dealing with from that time. We rebuked them in the name of Jesus. We shared scripture with each other, and we prayed for each other.
She will be a life-long friend.
That’s what Jesus does. THAT’S WHAT GRACE DOES.
Yesterday, my phone rang three times in the span of two minutes. I didn’t hear it since I had it on silent. But I’m an addict and check my phone every few minutes. So when I looked and saw that my best friend who abhors talking on the phone as much as I do called me three times and left a voicemail, I had to call her back.
Of course, I preface the whole conversation with, “This better be good.”
“I got bored,” she says. And that is why we’re friends.
We talked for about twenty minutes, which, for two women who’s relationship is primarily maintained through texts and the occasional Facebook post, is no small feat. We talked about coffee, her new teaching job, politics, the weather, and how I’m still single – - until her boyfriend finally arrived to pick her up from Starbucks. In less than twenty minutes, we were up-to-date on each others lives, said our goodbyes, and probably won’t speak for another few months.
But the conversation left me feeling completely at peace. I felt happy. I meant enough to someone to warrant a phone call, and unless the call is from a collections agency, that is enough to leave me with a smile on my face.
Truth be told, I’m actually horrid at maintaining friendships.
Most of the time, I let the phone ring without the intention of returning the call. I ignore the texts, “don’t see” the Facebook posts, or am “too busy” to make plans. Most of the time, I’m quite frankly a terrible friend. Most of the time, I’m embarrassingly selfish and undeserving. Most of the time, I don’t pick up the phone to make the effort. And I’m the one who’s lost something because of it.
This morning, my sister came into my room and said I needed to drop her off at her friend’s house in a few minutes. I was reading and not all that excited to have to put on real clothes and venture out of the house. “Why?” I asked testily.
“Because she’s crying on the phone and I need to make sure she’s okay.”
Cue me feeling cold and heartless. I drove her over, and on the way asked why her friend was upset. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m going over to find out.”
I can remember the days when I would have done that.
I would have without hesitation jumped in my car, stopped by the store for tissues and a fashion magazine, and rushed to my friend’s side, demanding she get everything off her chest. I would let her rant, cry, yell, curse, or just sit in silence. I would be anything and everything she needed me to be, because that’s what friends do.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped being that kind of friend.
It became tiring, emotionally draining, and in some ways absolutely distressing. Part of this was because I had developed friendships with people who didn’t care about me as much as they cared about what I could give them. The other part was because I had become a sort of petulant child who didn’t get what she wanted. Life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, so I retreated.
The friends I had, the ones who were going out and living the life they wanted, were shining examples of how I was a failure. They had everything I wanted, so cutting myself off was some sort of ridiculous, immature form of poetic justice. If I couldn’t have what they had, they couldn’t have me. If I couldn’t have the education, the career, the marriage and kids, the success that my friends had found, I didn’t want any part of it.
There is no possible apology that could undo the unfair, jealous thoughts I allowed to run rampant in my mind during those couple years between my final year of college and the end of my first year of grad school. Emotionally, I was a mess. I’m lucky I didn’t run into the far reaches of the Olympic rainforest and become a sick combination of a hermit and cat lady. I was so lost.
I had made the mistake of cutting off contact with the only people who would be able to talk me down from my flights of insanity.
One thing I always tell my sisters is that investing in friendships is essential to being a woman. I say that from special place in my heart, because I’ve lived through the darkness of not having that close female friend you can call when the world seems to be closing in.
I’ve been in the place where you’re sitting on your bed, tears in your eyes and a hole in your soul and not having someone to turn to.
Someone who won’t judge you. Someone who will love you even when you aren’t all that sure you love yourself.
Women have a terrible habit of looking at other women as competition. We see them as interlopers first and friends second to last. They can sweep in and take everything we’ve worked hard for: our job, our man, even our other friends. A successful woman is a monument to our own inadequacies. Women see other women as the enemy, and nothing takes the joy out of life more than living it as if we’re constantly preparing for war.
What we don’t see is that if you are feeling this way, there are thousands of other women suffering under the same misguided, self-perpetuated delusion.
We’ve created walls to keep out the only thing that can understand what it means to be a woman in the less-than-woman-friendly society we have erected for ourselves: other women.
We should be each others greatest allies and closest confidantes. We should be there for each other, ready with chocolate and a listening ear when times are tough, or a bottle of champagne or shopping spree when life is good. We should share in each other’s success, not become envious that they aren’t our own. We should find value in friendships and the love and support they provide, rather than seeing them as stumbling blocks on our way to the top.
We shouldn’t try to do it all on our own because of some ridiculous sense of independence. There is nothing wrong with admitting that sometimes live is better lived and tragedy is better dealt with when you have a caring friend to walk through it with you.
Every time I walked away from a friend, I’ve lost a piece of my heart. Every time I was selfish, unkind, less than compassionate, and petulant, I hurt not only myself, but the unsuspecting targets of my dissatisfaction. Every time I put myself first, I was blatantly disregarding God’s command to love our neighbor. And I’m sorry. I’m truly, deeply sorry.
Maybe with God’s grace and forgiveness, and my friends unexpected patience, I can find my way back.
Perhaps it starts with returning a phone call.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Christena Cleveland, Ph.D. She blogs at ChristenaCleveland.com and tweets at @christena_c. I am so grateful for her transparency as she admits the struggle of her own, and gives an explanation and a solution, instead of simply declaring the tension at hand. – Lauren
Last month, I preached on the topic of singleness at my church and during a post-sermon public Q&A session, I was asked a rather strange and baiting question that solicited my opinion on egalitarian and complementarian marital relationships. Clearly, the questioner wanted me to extol one approach and bash the other.
However, rather than choosing sides, I briefly articulated the merits of each approach and suggested that each can potentially bring glory to God. Not surprisingly, as soon as the service concluded, I was verbally accosted by people from both camps who believed that their perspective should have been championed and that the other perspective is ungodly, disrespectful and just plain WRONG. I quickly realized that none of these people were interested in engaging in healthy and loving discourse on this topic.
What happened at my church is not unique. In my diversity work with churches, I find that most Christians agree that we should unite across ethnic, linguistic and socio-economic lines. However, as soon as unity requires that we reconsider how we think about or express faith, we stall. Further, if we’re not careful, the mere existence of cultural and/or ideological difference can provoke hostility towards the other group.
Armed with the belief that our perspective is entirely right, we easily come up with reasons why other perspectives aren’t valuable and why dissenting voices should be extinguished.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that while the body of Christ experiences significant intergender (man vs. woman) division, it is also plagued by intragender (woman vs. woman) division. In addition to the egalitarian-complementarian divide, Christian women erect divisions between stay-at-home moms and working moms (the infamous “Mommy Wars”), feminists and traditionalists, married women who take their husband’s last name and married women who don’t, single and married women, urban and suburban women, black and white women, mothers and non-mothers, and young and old women, to name just a few.
In theory, we support the vision of a diverse, integrated and interdependent body of Christ, but we rarely engage in meaningful interactions with women who are very different from us.
Instead, we tend to ignore these women – or worse, focus on the things that differentiate us from those women, underestimate the richness and value that those women bring to the Kingdom of God and foster negative attitudes about those women. If we interact with those women at all, we usually do so at a distance and with at least a hint of suspicion. Indeed, these divisions invade even the lives of women who are otherwise conscious of and working toward race, gender and class unity in the Church and beyond. If we are a body, then we are one that is afflicted with an autoimmune disease.
Why do these intragender divisions exist and persist? One reason is because we think that homogeneity is harmless. We naturally gravitate people who are like us. Similarity is one of the most important predictors of liking because we like people who can affirm our worldviews, understand our jokes and share our experiences.
As a single, urban, professional, ministry-oriented, woman of color, I simply like other women who share these characteristics. My interactions with them are easier because we speak the same “language,” roll our eyes at the same things and can easily rejoice and commiserate with each other. And spending time with women who are a lot like me isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in many ways, it can provide a much needed drink of cold water in an otherwise desert-like world. Further, my desire to spend the vast majority of my time with women who are like me is not consciously motivated by a prejudice against other types of woman.
So what’s so bad about my homogenous social and spiritual world?
Unfortunately, there are many negative unintended side effects to homogeneity. For example, social psychological research shows that when we succumb to homogeneity, we often end up drawing strong lines between us and them.
Further, our lines often evolve into value judgments (I.E., we are right and they are wrong) and our perceptions of them are often inaccurate and tainted by negativity. These perceptions lead us to devalue women from other groups simply because they are different and serve to widen the divide.
Additionally, our inaccurate perceptions often go unchallenged because we spend most of our time with similar others who share our perceptions.
By the time I reached my late-20s, I’d lost touch with my Sisters who married young and are now stay-at-home suburban moms to multiple children. Our life paths diverged years ago when I discovered that maintaining a friendship with women with vastly different schedules, locations, responsibilities and perspectives requires a fair amount of logistical gymnastics and is no easy feat. As a result, I naturally fell into a social and spiritual world that was almost devoid of meaningful interactions with stay-at-home moms. Predictably, the simple separation resulted in inaccurate perceptions that robbed me of a desire to form rich friendships with this group of women.
My lack of desire for friendships with stay-at-home moms was spurred on by my own difficulties in carving a path for myself in the Christian world. I often observed that the Christian world validated more traditional female roles and was threatened by what I perceived to be a lack of support or understanding of my non-traditional path.
For this reason, I incorrectly identified stay-at-home moms (who, in my mind, embodied the narrow Christian female ideal that threatened my worldview and way of life) as willful contributors to my misery.
Consequently, I had no problem avoiding them and even devaluing them.
Upon realizing my own contribution to this intragender division, I repented for my prejudice and joined a weekly “mom Bible study” at my church at which I opined little and listened much. Over time, I discovered that many stay-at-home moms actually feel threatened by the likes of me and that we had mutually labeled each other the enemy while losing sight of the fact that we have a very real, very cunning Enemy who would love for us to devalue and antagonize each other. I was also reminded that I don’t know everything and that stay-at-home moms have a perspective that I desperately need.
The simple and seemingly harmless act of spending most of our time with women who are essentially just like us results in sinister consequences that prevent us from seeking to understand and form bonds with our diverse Sisters. I believe that the metaphor of the body of Christ, which preaches mutual interdependence, was designed to rescue us from homogeneity. When we stick to people who are just like us, we will fail to appreciate the rich diversity of the body of Christ. When we engage with different others on a regular basis, we will begin to see our Sisters in all of their diverse glory.
Editor’s Note: Today’s words are by Esha Rajendran. She is a junior in college, tweets at twitter.com/esharajendran, and blogs at recipelesslife.tumblr.com! I am so grateful that she opened her personal journal to share this with us all. – Lauren
I didn’t wake up deciding to be a jerk that day.
I didn’t wake up deciding to look her over completely. To nod my head while she talked to me, while looking out of the corner of my eye to see whom I could talk to next.
I didn’t wake up planning on ignoring her. But it happened.
I have amazing people surrounding me, but I overlook them every day. I overlook the people I’ve just met. I overlook the people I walk by on the way to class. I overlook the people I’m meeting for coffee. I even overlook my best friends.
And while I’m busy overlooking everyone around me, I’m filled with this strange desire to meet more people.
I have really close friends, friends I share my life and deepest dreams with, and yet I find myself wanting more friends. My friends are beautiful, loving, inspiring individuals, but I want to be friends with even more beautiful, loving, inspiring people. I want more.
Slowly, I’ve begun to realize that this constant desire for more stems from a desire to feel better about myself. I can’t count how many times I’ve caught myself saying – “Oh you don’t know her? Oh she’s just the best!” or “You know what, he told me the other day? Yeah he’s like one of my best friends!” As if the fact that I know or am friends with this person makes me a more popular, more important, more confident individual.
But as I’ve begun to understand the reason for my desire for more I realize that I’ve been missing out on something special with the friendships I already have.
I’m not supposed to be a collector. I’m not supposed to have a little shelf to place my friends on and display them to the world.
My friendships aren’t about me. They’re not about helping me meet more people, becoming friends with more people, becoming more popular, or building a bigger support system. I’m supposed to live sacrificially for others. I’m supposed to listen to my friends – really listen. Not just nod my head and agree. I should listen – hear them, hear their pain, empathize with their pain, cry with them. I should hear about the things that make them happy, the things they love, and the people they love. I should laugh with them, share their joys and sorrows with them. I should intentionally pursue and repair the friendships that I’ve let fall apart. I don’t need to have solutions for my friends’ problems. I need to just be there, even when – especially when – they haven’t been there for me. The love of Christ should shine through me. If I cannot show love to my friends, how can I show love to my enemies?
I am meant to live sacrificially in all areas of my life.
Living this way leaves little room for self-doubt or jealousy. It leaves little room for insecurity and fear. Everything I am and everything God has created in me and will do through me is meant to bring glory to Him. How can I compare myself, an unique creation designed by God, to anything or anyone else?
I need to invest in the people around me – my friends, my enemies the popular, the unpopular, the lovely, and the unlovely.
When I try to make more friends to build a greater network or a greater sense of security, I not only neglect the friends and relationships I have, but I also overlook the poor, the hurting, and the needy.
I need to constantly humble myself by remembering who God is. I need to remember that He, the creator of the world, the author of love, the embodiment of perfection, wants to be friends with me – a broken, unlovely, messed up, imperfect human being. He wants to be my friend, and he sacrificed everything to know me.
Our friendship with God is the ultimate standard for our friendships with others. We are meant to sacrifice all for our friends. We are meant to invest in them. We are meant to pursue them when they fail us, and forgive them when they hurt us. We are meant to support them and more than anything, we are meant to love them.
Because, my friendships aren’t about me. They’re about Him.
Editor’s Note: When submitting this story, Rebecca asked that it be categorized under either “body image” or “straight up detrimental insecurities.” After reading it, I want to file it under, “my entire life.” Rebecca Parker blogs at raisondetre.tumblr.com. OH & PS. We’re having a party on Instagram! Our username is ‘goodwomenproject.’- Lauren
For more years that I would like to admit, I was not friends with many girls. I was the one that hid behind the, “I am just better friends with guys” phrase.
My primary reason for this was a humbling combination of intimidation and jealousy of other girls. My secondary, or nay, completely and arbitrarily tertiary reason, was that I drank whiskey and liked to rockclimb and camp, and well, it’s harder to find girls that are into those things.
But deep down, I believed that no boy would ever see me if I hung out with other girls, especially really pretty ones.
I was more gangly than proportional, more shy than garrulous. I was a great student, but not very driven. A good athlete, but not too motivated. I was hyper opinionated – when opinions made you no friends. I was as average as a high school girl could get. And of course, I got burned by boys. Particularly I got burned by the boys who chose girls that could offer things I couldn’t in high school: style, grace, beauty, an unwavering sense of laissez-faire cool.
It wasn’t until college when opinions were respected and convictions were appreciated that the male species took note of my form. Boys actually started to notice me, and in defense of what was finally happening, I continued to keep women at an arm’s length distance away.
Again, it made sense: rock climber, whiskey drinker, “please cook my steak rare” eater. I hid here. Boy-ish attributes meant no girlfriends needed! “I am just better friends with guys,” I stammered for years and years.
So, I shirked friendships with girls thinking they were some threat to my potential, and hopefully flourishing romantic life. I crucified other women because it was easier than finding confidence and security within my self.
Now that I can see more clearly, a few years out of college, living, working, loving and surviving on my own (and with my new husband), I see my relationships with other women as the collateral damage for an unhealthy view of my character.
Not until years later, when life hits at the place where you actually need people – because life is hard and rent is due and your health insurance isn’t covering all of your problems, and food is expensive, and a real relationship is difficult work, and my car is broken again, and my boss is a wack job, and I’m trying and I’m trying and I’m still feeling lonely and tired and so tired, and because life is hard – did I see that I was a selfish, selfish fool. And that I had been missing so much for so long.
I finally realized I needed community with other women, just as much as I needed the gift of prayer to help me through those tumultuous years. And since those first days of revelation, I have been in FRR: female relationship recovery. I have cultivated relationships with women like a good and perfect gift that keeps coming. I have been abundantly impressed and humbled by these new relationships. Once I had the wherewithal and strength (from the sweet Lord Jesus) to let my guard down, I was able to feel known and supported by many women.
And in the most perfect ironic twist of all, I got married at the height of my FRR. In a cosmic sense, I have learned that the men who I have dated, and the man who I married, was made to be with me, not some other her. My husband’s personality and character reflect my personality and character. He respects me. I respect him. He thinks I am grand. And, well, I reciprocate. He sees me in the room, while all the other faces and places blur. And I am taken, to have and to hold, as one girl amidst a sea of them. And when he pursued me (and yes, he really pursued me – for months!?) I had tons of gorgeous girlfriends with incredible character and wit.
Over the past few years, in this hard realistic place of life, I see my relationships with other females as exactly as they should be: utterly unparalleled and vitally necessary. They are my lifeblood and my encouragement. They are my understanding and my nearness. These women fight for my marriage, and fight for my heart and peace. They pour my wine, and listen to me cry. They carry the burden of life upon their backs with grace and beauty.
I understand now that women have the distinct ability to hold life within their bones – all of it tied together and warmed and fostered. There is a wholeness to women that brings the tragedy and comfort of life together in a glorious unity – a gentleness and a mountain-movin’ strength. We should celebrate our femininity as much as we celebrate our potential and our tenacity.
So when I hear a fellow female say, “Oh, I just get along better with men,” my blood heats up just a bit because that phrase means a lie to me. And I want to say that I can handle a highball of neat scotch with the best of them, but don’t think that I or other women are less. Don’t think women have less strength, less fortitude, less charisma and less humor. Don’t think that women can’t eat as much, can’t run as fast, can’t smoke cigars, and can’t drink dark beer. We can actually do all of that pretty damn well.
I am glad I didn’t hide forever in my fears and insecurities. I am a better person – wife, sister, daughter, friend- because of it. Because I am not alone in this womanhood journey, and my dear, new-ish friends, they are a little less alone too.