Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Circle Is Round, It Has No End

You know that old children's song?

Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver and the other gold.
A circle is round, it has no end.
That's how long I want to be your friend.

We used to hold hands in our Girl Scout troop and sing that song at meetings and camp-outs. It's a great sentiment and the metaphor fits a childhood understanding of friendship really well. As I have gotten older, however, I have found that friendships end, they come and go, in and out, around the corner, and my image or metaphor turns out to be something a little more complicated like this:

Friend is defined by Webster as:

  1. one attached to another by affection or esteem
  2. acquaintance
  3. one that is not hostile
  4. one that is of the same nation, party, or group
  5. one that favors or promotes something (as a charity)
  6. a favored companion

What would you add to or change about this definition?

I struggle with defining friendship in my own life. I have friends from when I was young that I don't really keep in touch with, but that are still significant to me. I would love to be able to sit with them, start right where we left off, and catch up to the present. I have friends with whom I interacted for only a short time that were extremely impacting for me, but I find it hard to reach out to those people and have more interactions with them. There are others that I know only on the surface that I would love to know more deeply, but my fear of rejection and the anxiety surrounding that fear get the best of me.

I have connected with people very naturally, but then wrecked relationships by turning them into romantic relationships. I know people who I thought were deep friends who only treat me as disposable or useful when I am around or convenient. I have people in my life who have similar interests and passions as I do that seem like they would be fast and easy friends, but then those relationships fade fast and easy. I know I have friends who have given much to me but I have not given them much, which makes me feel sorry. I also have friends who have taken much from me without me receiving much, which makes me feel tired. 

The word "friend" is so loaded, I cannot understand how Webster has listed such a limited definition.

I'm going to shift my thinking here. Instead of thinking about all the confusing and ultimately "unsuccessful" friendships I have experienced, I am going to analyze the most successful ones. My most faithful friendships exhibit similar relational components as a healthy successful romantic relationships. Romantic relationships seem to be where a lot of people, myself included, pursue learning how to engage in a healthy relationship. For whatever reason(s) (that's a whole different blog post), I have been able to explore relational health most naturally in the romantic context.

Let's start there.

To me, a healthy romantic relationship looks like this:
  • Giving and receiving
  • Pursuing and being pursued
  • Compromising and sacrificing
  • Ebb and flow
  • Longevity and commitment
  • Quality time together, both leisure and business, so to speak
  • Communication
  • Vulnerability
  • Needing and helping one another
  • Working as a team
  • Building off each other's strengths and weaknesses
  • Letting go of unfair expectations

I'm sure there are other things I am forgetting, but you get the general idea. 

When I think of "successful" friendships in my life, which are very few (good or bad?) all of the same points apply. In other words, the same amount of time and work that goes into building a healthy romantic relationship (well, outside of sexuality, I guess) is the same for a platonic friendship. Process that for a second...that takes a lot of work and energy, but the benefit is a great gain.

I want that. I want friends that truly care for me and can be there for me and can let me be there for them. I want friends that can communicate well and work well with others. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if we like the same food, listen to the same music, tout the same causes, or wear the same style. It is easier to think that those people would be great friends because they seem exactly like you on the surface, but it takes so much more to have a healthy interpersonal relationship.

In the end, I think it's important to look over our lives and analyze the state of our relationships. I believe a flourishing community is one that gets in deep and messy with one another in order to figure out how to live out those bullet points listed above. A flourishing community has little to do with neighborhood, race, socio-economic status but more to do with willingness to get to know and understand another person, to walk in their shoes in order to make the world a more loving place.

I would argue this conclusion probably undermines our Facebook friends list, but I would challenge you to seek out a real friendship with some of the people in your life because that  act of communing with another person is life itself. Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life-- no one can get to the Father except through him. Notice how active that definition of Jesus is-- the way requires walking, the truth requires hearing and proclaiming, the life requires living, striving, suffering, and all the bullet points listed above. Loving someone isn't as easy as we make it seem. Jesus spent blood, sweat, tears, resources, time, and energy with those he loved. 

His ministry did not start when he turned 30 years old and set out to call the 12 disciples to his side. It began before that, when he was born humbly and dirty, as he proclaimed authority in the temple when he was a boy, and as he lived the rest of his life building his community around him. I would venture to say that Jesus didn't just start hanging out with the marginalized right after he recruited the disciples--it was just time for him to let others see what love he had already begun around him. The disciples were witnesses to the results of Jesus living out the gospel his whole life. After they witnessed the way Jesus lived his life, they wrote about it in order to spread it all over the world for generations to come, not because the three years they were with him were miraculous and his death was such an immense sacrifice for all, but because the whole life of Jesus was the gospel and those last three years were simply the punctuation marks at the end of a lifetime.