Tuesday, September 3, 2013

On Friendships

Lately, I have been hearing or reading a lot of comments about the true meaning of friendship.  How we are not going to put up with toxic relationships or how we are disappointed by what someone does or fails to do.  We do something for someone that feels like participating in a triathlon, and they won't even cross the street to help us do something simple.  We are the hands and feet and ears and eyes for someone...and all we see is the back.

I could go on...but you get the point.  You've all read those points...or lived them.

And I get that...I really do.  I know how disappointing it is to be undervalued or put upon or even overlooked.  I've been on both sides of that fence, truth be told.  I have had people who have been so over the top wonderful to me that there is no way that I could ever repay them, and I've had people disappoint me at a level that I can scarcely think about without tearing up a little.

But that last part?  More because I am ashamed that I put all of that pressure on a relationship.  That's not what friendship is all about.

The truth is, dear friends, that nobody owes us anything in this world.  We are here to take care of ourselves and those we bring into the world.  We are to honor our parents and to help the extended family unit out to the best of our ability.  But we are not to expect anything from anyone else.

Seriously.  But pay attention to that last line...and the word "from."  That's key.

Some of my friends are dealing with ailing parents or special needs children or have done so in the past.  They are sleeping in hospital rooms or in recliners...dealing with doling out medications and trying to come to grips with the fact that it probably won't get any better than it is right now.  They are lifting constant prayers, advocating to doctors and overlooking stares and questions, while trying to do all that is within their ability to do.  Some have children with serious issues that are behavioral or drug related and are coping with that and trying to function.  Others have children who have been ill or have passed into Jesus' arms prematurely and they are exhausted with trying to find normal again and just put one foot in front of the other.

What I am trying to remind you of is...your job as a friend is to BE a friend to others...and to expect nothing in return.

Now before you go thinking that I believe you should tolerate bad behavior...I invite you to think again. If you have someone - or a group of someones - who thrive on drama and suck the life out of you...well, you have to be wise enough to recognize that and not get trapped into an endless cycle of picking them up, getting them straight, picking them up, getting them straight...well...you get the idea. Frankly, if their own families can't deal with them...and you aren't called to hang in there in your spirit...then you have to set and respect your boundaries.  In my lifetime of fifty years, I have had two such friends.  And while I love them dearly in my heart of hearts...I no longer have any contact with either of them.  Their demand on me was not friendship...it was babysitting or firefighting or amateur psychiatry...or all of the above.  For the record...it was exhausting.

Not in a good way.  Not in a "Whoa, I'm glad that I did that even though I can barely think, move or breathe."

As a recent urban philosopher recently stated, "Ain't nobody got time for that."  True, this.

Then there are those people who you can't do anything for because they won't let you.  They'll try to pay you back tenfold so that they won't owe you.  They'll be happier feeling like you are indebted to them instead of the other way around.  They won't accept your offering without thinking of how they are going to pay you back.  Bigger.  Better.  More involved.  They are your friend because they feel like they have to be.  Because you've done them a good turn.  Because you might do them a good turn someday.  Something like that.

To this I say...I completely understand.  In today's society, you want to pay your "friend debts" in full because you don't want to be thought of as a "taker."  This is primarily because so many people keep score.  You do two good deeds and I do two good deeds and we stay on an equal footing.  Sounds fair, right?


The truth is...life isn't fair...we have different gifts...and life may throw a whole lot of needs my way that someone can fill.  I'll never be able to repay some of the people in my life who have told me what my future was going to look like because they had a daughter a few years older.  I'll never be able to match the creativity of some of friends...or outwork others.  I'll never be able to repay what others have poured into me...even if I had the means and the time to do so.  Because I'm not meant to.

And neither are you.

Friends are in our life - if we are adults - by choice.  We choose who we will listen to, spend time with, or invest in.  And the cool thing is...they choose us too.  Sometimes it all balances and we rock along in a give and take relationship...other times it doesn't.  Sometimes it is so incredibly unbalanced that there's a debt there that can never be repaid.  Do not let that make you feel that you have to spend the rest of your life trying to make it right.  And if you are the giver in this scenario...don't hold someone else to a level of expectation that they cannot possibly meet.  It will kill the relationship and you will be left wondering what the heck happened when you went out of your way so much to help them.  Truth is...you have to let it be a gift.  And a gift is a gift.  Not a Dirty Santa game where we all bring something and we all leave with something.  Life doesn't work that way.

Other friends come and go...are there and then gone...or are just with us because we have something in common.  They are those who knew us when we were young.  Our sorority sisters (or fraternity brothers) or the people we started work with once upon a time.  They are the parents who sit with us in the bleachers or the church friends that we share an event with every year.  They love us while we are there and may even miss us a little bit when we are gone.  But they are meant to add tiny sparkles of gold to our life rather than to command an entire ream or even a place in the index in our story.  And we can love them for years and be excited when we see them...celebrate when we see them happy and mourn with them from the seventh pew in the sanctuary.  We just have to love them...and serve them...and be content with that relationship.  Frankly, this group comprises the biggest group in our circle of friends.  And there is no humanly possible way to be everything to everyone that we know.

Not and keep every other ball we have to juggle in the air.

Just be aware when you offer the gift of friendship to someone...they may choose to reject it, not value it, or they may accept it with more gusto than you are expecting.  It isn't your job to worry about that...it is your job just to love and serve them.

I think that most of us feel that we are good friends...but there are at least a handful of people in our lives that we wish we could have a do-over.  People who were extremely kind to us and we were too self-absorbed or busy to reciprocate.  Folks who gave of themselves but we were afraid to get too close for fear that we could never pay them back.  Friends who showed up at exactly the right point in time to get us to something, through something or over something, and then faded back into obscurity...other than occupying a permanent place on the Christmas card list.

As I think about friendship...I can honestly say that I have a wide and wonderful circle of friends.  I have friends of all ages, races, both genders, and in various locations.  Each of them has brought something unique and colorful to my life, taught me something I didn't know, allowed me to be a better person than I thought possible, or just walked with me when I needed a companion.  I don't feel the need to keep score with people...because I tend to know what I have to offer...and I trust that God will bring them to me when they need something.  Sometimes I'll offer...and almost always they will turn me down, forget, or feel like they should do something for me.  So, normally, I just wait until they ask. Although I have had friends who have just shown up to bless me because they thought I needed it.  That's pretty awesome, too, I must admit.

The reverse is true as well.  I have asked people to help me with things.  Along the way, many people have appeared to tell me where to find the next clue on my map of life...or have magically appeared with the gift of their time or talents.  In fact, I have one friend who has come to mind who asks me every time I call her..."What can I do for you today, my Karen?"

I love that, by the way.

I have another one that thinks I'm better than I think I am...so I try to live up to her idea of me.  She makes me try harder to be the best "me" I can be.  She never judges...she just keeps thinking I'm terrific.  If I am...it is because she has helped to make me that way by her constant encouragement.

I have another friend who prays for me and tells me I'm smart and takes me to wonderful places.  She believes in me and makes me want to believe in myself.

Yet another one would do whatever I needed if I asked.  She has been a constant friend for years and years and if I were burying a body (which I wouldn't be...but humor me here)...she'd be holding a shovel.

And finally, I have another one who lets me be the rotten to the core person I can be when I'm upset...and she just takes my side and tells me that it will all be okay.  I can be myself...and she'll be there to crack me up in the next breath.

I am a blessed woman, folks...I could be here all night.

Just remember to have the right idea about friendship...and I've learned from mine to give people more than they expect...because you aren't just serving your friend...you are serving Jesus as well.

I try to do that...the serving Jesus part.  The expecting that the phone will ring with a request that I can help with...and then I'll do my best to make that happen.  The funny thing...is that when I am trying to make them happy...my own joy goes off the map.  Which is something you can't put a price on.  So, repayment?  Totally not necessary.  See?

The rules for friendship are pretty simple, y'all.  Give of yourself...but know your limits.  Treat other people as your mission field...and expect absolutely nothing in return.  And if you find that your friendship is being abused...that isn't their fault...it is yours.  You are the one that sets the boundaries for your own life.  So, take responsibility for that and move on.  Without regret...and without thinking of them as anything negative if you possibly can.  Try to stop way before you get to that point.

Friends are meant to enrich our lives...support us...and be a gift to us.  But let's not leave our focus here.  Let's instead focus on what we can offer instead.  What gifts we have that can be employed in the service of others.  What time we can offer...and what we can do.

When we are gone...all that will remain is what we have given of ourselves.  The memories.  The love.

So, resolve to be a good friend.  Not someone who wears out the people around you and is indignant when people don't return your over the top offerings.  Not someone who expects a certain level of attention because we always give it to them.  Not someone who wants to cultivate a friendship with someone for what they can do for you.  Not someone who keeps score.

Be someone who gives all that they have and is okay with whatever those offerings are.  Be someone who knows his/her boundaries and won't get sucked in to doing more because someone demands it of you just because you think you should.  Be someone who is grateful for the people who choose to love you, expend energy on you, or have your back...because it isn't a right.  It is the result of someone's incredible choice to give you a part of their time, treasure, and attention.

Maybe if we all looked at friendship as a gift and those we are friends with as people to serve...we'd be a whole lot happier and less neurotic.  A whole lot more interested in life and way less demanding of others.  A whole lot more like Jesus and less like someone we don't want to be.

I know that's my goal, my friends.  And I'll miss that mark and hope you'll forgive me...but I'll keep trying to hit it.  And if there has been a time that I've done something for you that has made you smile...know that it brought me even greater joy to do it.

For reals.

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