Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Myth of the Perfect Friendship

I think many of us have felt a longing for the perfect friendship: The kind of friendship where we are constantly secure and happy in the relationship and free from all insecurity and frustration.

Now that I'm in a place of having some very strong, healthy relationships, I've discovered something: A genuine friendship with another human is a wonderful thing; but many of our ideas about 'The Perfect Friendship' are based more in myth than in reality.

Myth #1: A Great Friend Will Leave You Emotionally Fulfilled After Every Interaction

This excellent blog post about marriage got me thinking about how our insecurities can also affect our expectations about friendship.  If I feel insecure after talking to a good friend, it's probably not because she did something wrong.  It's much more likely to be related to the lies I believe about myself.  For instance, if my friend sounds a bit more distant than usual (perhaps she has a house full of small children), and if it doesn't happen to be a conversation when she says something affirming to me, it might trigger thoughts such as, 'I'm annoying.  People don't want to spend time with me'.

A healthy friendship will leave me with unanswered questions at times. Frequently pushing for reassurance will hurt, not help, the relationship. It's not a bad thing to be in a place where I don't feel completely satisfied, and where I need to go back to the truth of who I am in God.  

Myth #2: A Great Friend Will Always be Available When You Want Him/Her To Be

I have three small children.  There are times when a high quality conversation with another adult just isn't possible.  There are times when I'm busy because I already have something on the calendar.  I know that I'm not always free to chat or spend time with people.  I imagine the same is true for you too.  But it's easy to feel put out when we're on the other side of things and it's our friend who isn't available for us. 

It's even harder when our friend doesn't have the same availability as we do; perhaps because her time is less flexible, her family commitments are different or because her personality means she needs more time alone.

I love this quote that I saw on the
Grace for Moms website: 'But if your idea of a good friendship is based on accessibility – or, “being there” for someone – then consider this: the Word says a friend loves at all times.  It doesn’t say a friend is always at your beck and call.  It doesn’t say a friend will respond immediately when you have a question, or need to vent about some frustration.'
It can be disappointing when a friend isn't available at a time I'd like them to be. However, life goes a lot better when I give my friends the same grace that I would want to be shown.

Myth #3 A Great Friend Understands You Completely

I'm different from many of my friends in how I think and feel, and also in terms of my cultural background.  That's great because we can help each other by seeing an issue from a different perspective.  It also means that I might need to explain my thoughts and feelings more than I would to someone who is wired the same way or has a more similar upbringing. 

I have other friends who I can explain myself easily to because they think like me, or because they are from the same country.  I wouldn't go into details of my love of spreadsheets with my friend who hates mathematics, but it might be a great connection point with a different friend. 
I don't know if anyone has one friend who they can connect well with on every level.  It's great to have a range of friends; all of our friends might frustrate us in some ways; but each one can also bring something unique to the relationship. 

For the same reason, it's important to recognise that our closest friends will also enjoy and benefit from friendships with others too.  If this makes me feel uncomfortable, it's a good time to stop and look at my own motives rather than letting feelings of ill will linger.

Myth #4: A Great Friend Will Always Take Your Advice

It's hard to see others making choices that we see as being destructive.  I'm slowing learning that it's not my job to fix my friends.  I'm working on turning first to God in prayer, and being more careful about when to speak up and when not to. 

I'm also learning that my friends are free to make their own choices.  Sometimes they need to figure out for themselves that a decision wasn't so great after all.  Often God's timing isn't my timing for bringing a particular issue to someone's attention.  At times I've been blown away by how God has spoken powerfully into a situation in a way that didn't involve me saying anything :-).  And of course sometimes I'm the one who is wrong about what is best for my friend!
I need to love my friends in what I say and how I act.  The outcome is not my responsibility though; It's not my job to make sure my friends always act sensibly.

The Reality:

I appreciate my friends immensely.  However, I know I'm never going to find another human who will meet all my needs, who will always be there for me and who will always understand me and my concerns.  And that's ok.  There is only One who can manage all this; may our desire for the perfect friendship send us running into his arms.      

Sunday, October 25, 2015

When the Mess is Uncovered

I know I don't always make good, kind choices.  I also know I'm not a super human who gets everything right.  I have no problem with admitting this.  However, when someone actually catches me in the act of being unloving, lazy or just plain wrong, I don't like it at all! 

One of the big, on-going struggles in my life is messiness.  We all have mess in our lives, but mine is literal.  Whether it was a small student bedroom, or a house filled with children, it's always been a mess most of the time.  In fact, some of you reading this might have been involved in cleaning up my mess at some point.  
For various reasons I seem to find it a lot harder than most people to be tidy.  I've noticed that even a simple task such as putting everything back into the bag after a picnic can feel difficult!  Over the years I've developed strategies and made some progress but I also know this is going to be something I always struggle with.

It's one thing to tell people that I'm a Messie (a term coined by Sandra Felton of 'Messies Anonymous'); it's quite another for someone to walk into my house and find a table that hasn't been cleaned up from lunch (and possibly breakfast too), a floor that's covered in stuff, and surfaces with no surface showing.  I realised that in these situations, I often feel shame.   In the book 'Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection', Edward Welch asks,

'What do you want to hide? That is a shortcut to identifying shame in your life.' 

Well, you all know now what I want to hide.  I can feel the same way if someone spots me sharing incorrect information, or catches me being unkind about someone else.  There are numerous areas where I feel shame if people see me fail.  Welch writes,

'We can fail because of our own sin, but most failure is simply a consequence of being a creature and not the Creator. We are limited and finite. We make mistakes. We can’t do everything perfectly. We can’t even do things as well as our friends and neighbors.'

I realise that shame is a massive and complex topic, especially for people whose experiences have led to shame being strongly ingrained, perhaps from an early age.  I won't pretend that there are simple solutions, though I do recommend Welch's 'Shame Interrupted' for some fantastic insights and help on this subject.
The shame I'm dealing with on a day-to-day level is not of the huge, crippling variety; but I still need to deal with it.  I've found it really helps to identify this feeling of shame and then speak truth into my situation.   I might start by reminding myself:

"Clare - It's ok that people discover your flaws, because they really do exist.  Everyone has them.  They are a part of being human.  You wonder what people will think of you?  Maybe they'll think you're human; that you struggle with things too. Perhaps it will help them believe that you will have understanding and grace regarding their own struggles."

I choose to believe the truth about who I am and what my status is, described by Welch below,

"God honored us—it is too much to take in... If you want Jesus, you must be willing to accept the honor that goes with the relationship. Your royal status—ascribed to you, not achieved—has been unveiled."

Honour comes from the one who knows us better than anyone.  Someone who sees all our warts but will never change his mind about who we are in him.

I'll continue to work at tidying my house and loving those around me, but wanting to be motivated by love and not shame.  I want to love those who enter my home by offering them a pleasant environment (or at least an empty chair to sit in!).  I want to love and help those around me by speaking kind and true words. 

Sometimes I'll fail.  Sometimes I'll notice honest mistakes I made and learn from them.  I know that sometimes I will choose to be lazy or uncaring; there's certainly a place to feel convicted, and then to fully accept the forgiveness and grace that is offered.  But there is no need for continued shame.

In 'Abba's Child', Brennan Manning writes,

'My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.'

I want my deepest awareness of my identity not to be of a Messie or someone who gets things wrong, but of a child of God, deeply loved by him.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Being at Peace with Getting it Wrong

I realised something about myself this week, after reading from the book of Romans (8:15) in the Bible:

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.

I realised that the vast majority of fear in my life is related to me doing or saying the wrong thing.  Whether my fear is an irrational, obsessive one, or just a thought that passes through my head, it's usually something to do with me getting something wrong.

"What if I say x and someone interprets it as y and then z happens" (with 'z' often being a highly catastrophic outcome).

It works for the past too: I can obsess over what I've already written or said, and sometimes over what disastrous consequence might happen as a result.

But God didn't design me to be a super human who never makes mistakes and who excels in every area.  He knows I don't think quickly in a crisis.  He knows I'm not a perfect listener.  He knows I might recall the wrong information, or interpret a situation incorrectly.  Yet he tells me that I am not a slave to fear; I am his Child and he is my Father

Even when I confess to doing something that I knew was a bad idea, he meets me with grace and forgiveness.

God is big enough to deal with my messy situations, and even to turn them into something wonderful. 
It's God's job to do everything perfectly; it's my job to love him and love others the best I can.

I know that whether I get it right or get it wrong, God is still the perfect healer.  And so I have peace.