let's be friends. oh wait, we don't know how to!

lets be friends“there is nothing on this earth to be more prized than true friendship.”

– st. thomas aquinas

remember that book, “all i ever needed i learned in kindergarten”? sure, some of what we learned when we were five would be helpful to us as grownups.  but i’m also going to make a supposition that even by age five, weird friendship stuff may have already seeped in.  some boys stop playing so freely with girls. the power dynamics of who rules the playground kick into full swing.  cliques form.  the weak are often already culled out. it looks different for everyone, and there’s no question we are a lot purer when we are five than when we are 35, but the same fact remains–friendship is hard!

cultivating healthy, strengthening, encouraging, equal friendships is an art, not science.  and a very lost art at that.

in fact, i feel quite sure an honest poll would reveal that most people don’t have the kinds of friendships they long for.  that most don’t really know how to do them in a way that works long-term.  that some feel as inadequate now as we did when we were in junior high, even though they fake it better.  that many don’t even know what healthy friendship is supposed to look or feel like.  and that it seems there’s never enough time to develop them.  i am also going to take a leap and say that in the christian world, it’s even worse.  there are countless other weird dynamics at play in christian friendships that even further complicate what’s already complicated.

i know the feeling. i used to stink at real friendship.  i’ve always had a lot of friends.  i am a loyal person and have always hung on to friends–both male & female–through thick and thin.  but it wasn’t until i was in my late 20’s that i started to become comfortable enough in my own skin to actually be the kind of friend i wanted.  the kind that receives instead of just giving.  the kind that is honest & raw instead of holding back all the time.  the kind that makes a really concerted effort to nurture the relationship instead of expecting it to drop out of the sky.

18 years later, I’m still learning. it’s not the easiest thing for me to do.  at heart, i like independence, not interdependence.

and real friendship requires interdependence.

a give-and-take.  grace.  intention.  vulnerability.  risk.

in church, we are taught a lot about believing, knowing, and worshiping certain things and acting certain ways.  even now, with a lot of focus on missional living emerging in many churches, which i think is a good thing, a crucial ingredient is usually often missing– how to just be a friend.

an honest friend.

an equal friend.

a vulnerable friend.

a long-haul friend.

there are a lot of forces working deeply against friendship (not just cross-gender friendship but all forms–men with men, women with women, and across ages & differences, too.)

power.  we know how to be under people or above people but rarely do we know how to live beside them. it’s a natural force of our Genesis 3 human-ness.  often without thinking, we look for someone to control us or someone to control.  if we feel “less than” or “more than” others it messes with real freedom.  this is so unconscious for us that we don’t even know we’re doing it.

shame.  sometimes we are scared to be fully known because if people really knew us we’re quite sure they wouldn’t want to be friends anymore.  we give part of us but not all of us because full honesty is too risky. but honest sharing with a friend who can honor it brings one of the greatest rewards of friendship–the experience of grace. also, some people feel embarrassed that they never learned how to develop healthy friendships and it feels weird & awkward to be trying now. (it’s never too late, i know that for sure!)

independence.  many have learned through damaging past experiences that “the only person we can really trust is ourselves.”  and even if we don’t trust ourselves, we at least know what to expect.   a “trust God and God alone (by yourself)” mentality is especially pervasive in christian circles.

fear.  we don’t naturally like to make ourselves vulnerable . we don’t like to get hurt.  and somehow we know we will if we get too close to another person.   our natural tendency to avoid pain is always at play.   i’ve lost a few friends along the way, and it hurts. a lot. but it was still worth it in the end because of what i learned through them. in cross-gender friendships, fear is even higher because for the most part people say it isn’t possible without sexual weirdness.

yikes, those are some strong forces working against us!  when i look at this list, though, i have hope. i have seen it up-close-and-personal in my life & many others–healthy friendship is so possible!  but much deeper than only my experience, these four things–power, shame, independence, and fear–are what Jesus calls us to break down so we can get to the better thing–love.

humility, grace, trust, and peace are all part of love and antidotes to power, shame, independence, and fear.

that’s really what friendship is–loving another human being more freely, more purely, more honestly, more fully.  and being loved by another more freely, more purely, more honestly, more fully.   it’s about loving and being loved.

and that, my friends, is scary stuff!

we’d much rather talk about almost anything else.    and do most anything else.

and it’s probably why we need to focus on it the most. 

i think a task for the body of Christ is to begin actively showing people how to be friends in all kinds of shapes & sizes.  men with women, men with men, women with women. to break down systems of power and honor what it means to be equals, created in the image of God. to find ways to really heal from shame instead of just talk like we have and become more free & healthy human beings.  to learn what it means to be interdependent instead of independent or codependent.  to have courage to push through our inadequacies & fears and stumble & bumble into new ways of living together as friends.  friends with God, with others, with ourselves. they are all mixed up together. 

oh there are so many beautiful things to learn alongside each other!

what are you learning about friendship these days?

* * * * *

ps:  next post is part two and is a little more practical, but i wanted to get this out while it was swirling around in my head.

pss:  my friend dan brennan is an advocate and teacher for sacred friendships.  he continues to call people to break down the walls that divide us and bravely engage in deep, intimate friendship with one another.  in april the first sacred friendship gathering centered on cross-gender friendships is happening in chicago; i feel privileged to be sharing there and would love for you to come be part of this important conversation!  if you can’t attend but would like to help someone else have a chance to go, scholarships are greatly needed so that as many people as possible can be challenged to consider the practice of deeper friendship.  also, they are pulling this off as a labor of love on a shoestring budget, so let dan know if you can help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

18 Comments

  • well heeeyyy!!!!! always perfect timing I must say. I just posted on facebook today about relationships. It seems like since I decided to truly seek genuine real healthy relationships – I’ve had a series of wackjob crazy messy ugly ones that are all now gone (for now at least!) – and I’m pretty sure that’s the way it works 🙂 that has soon as it’s a priority & you are intentionally seeking it…you gotta go through lots of trials to grow/be molded yourself to be ready…. like be careful what you pray for, type thing.

    I guess the thought I’ll share tonight is I have learned multiple times now that we just can not choose who we are going to be close with. I wish we could. but that seems to be GOd’s thing and not ours. I’ve had a couple relationships (family members) that I just sooo wanted to grow with. I wanted them to be one of the ones that I really cultivated a healthy, deep, real, growing relationship with…. and that expectation (ahh the dreaded exp word) just ruined the relationship totally! Without even meaning to – I push and I’m impatient and just pushy! and I mess it up. So please GOd help me truly have learned that this time. That I really can’t decide who is gonna be the close, real, deep relationships in my life. I just gotta trust, wait & see what grows as I live. I will probably always desire to have these people to be some of the close ones with me… but I have to give up trying at it. Sometimes people just are not ready to be healthy…. and nothing I say will change that at ALL. It takes the Holy spirit and their own journey to get them there… and I have to be okay with that.

    I sure am hungry & ready for some good solid relationships though! I feel like I’m ready! I’ve certainly ‘failed’ myself to “success” quite a lot these last years. I pray I will keep my eyes & heart open and look who He has in my life that I should pursue further… rather than trying to pick & choose who to grow with.

    and kathy how are you!? we are great!! baby # 3 is here now – a little girl – annabelle. and we are just journeying on 🙂 <3 miss you!

    Reply
    • oh it is great to hear from you. you have always been so brave, digging into new things and being open to change. it’s really cool! i just wrote a follow up post to this and am going to post it in a few minutes but that dreaded word “expectation” is in there, ha ha. it’s what can really mess us up. i really like what you said about being open to relationships that we didn’t even expect and maybe letting go of ones we thought were sure things. God is wild, the things that come together to teach us stuff. congrats on baby, too, so sweet. very glad for facebook! i can’t believe how fast time flies. when i first met you out here just little baby boy was here! love and hope from colorado. one of these days i hope our paths cross in real life.

      Reply
      • ohhhh I would really love to meet up in real life someday!!! I hope that happens sooner rather than later!

        and YES I can’t even express all God has done in my heart/home/life since I first “met” you…. wow that’s cool to think back on! 🙂 I will have to look back at some of those original carnival posts that used to wreck me 🙂

        Reply
  • Hi Kathy! I miss talking to you via blog comments, lols. I am 1 mth postpartum with my 2nd baby girl and it’s refreshing to read your posts again. (BTW–I’d love to hear your thoughts on Obama’s State of the Union address tonight.) Love this post and, as usual, agree with everything you wrote! Blessings, Jasmine in NYC

    Reply
    • it’s so great to hear from both you and randi, who have been reading here for a long time and are on the same new busy baby path 🙂 i am so happy for you and your new baby girl is so beautiful, too! i was so busy i didn’t watch the state of the union so no comment from me. oh it’s going to be an interesting election year, that’s for sure. enjoy every minute of those sweet little ones. i can’t tell you how freaky it is that my baby girl is leaving for college in a few months and my son’s already been gone for a year and a half. 3 more to go, though, but time is flying…love to all 4 of you.

      Reply
      • I keep telling my husband to enjoy them now, too, but I dont think he can balance that with how difficult it is to have 2 kids under 2. =P I cant believe you’ll have 2 in college soon! Look at it as a wonderful achievement. I’m sure they make you proud!

        Reply
  • Jasmine – I too am one month post partum with my 2nd baby girl (and I have a 5 yr old boy). how funny!! 🙂

    Reply
    • That is funny! Congratulations! My girls are 15 mths apart, so this is becoming quite the adventure. Hope you’re recovering well and try to get some sleep! =D

      Reply
  • reconciliation is the hardest for me by the way. that’s when i get myself in trouble – trying to push for reconciliation in a healthy way…. when the other party just wants to “sweep it under the rug”. In the end if that person isn’t ready it will seem like *I* am the one that wants to stay in the past, not move forward…. but the reality is that I am the one who knows what it’s going to take to move forward and not repeat the same patterns. Oh the twisted ways of the truth.

    I am learning sometimes love does just move on…. that doesn’t mean I have to move on and stay connected if I “know” we are just going to go on the same pattern/path…. but I can move on and forgive forget and keep my distance.

    Reply
    • oh i think that is so true. it’s hard when a lot of us haven’t learned how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. and we can only do so much to ask people to come to the table to play. i think remembering the qualities of safe people is important, too, because safe people engage in conflict and unsafe people avoid it. we all struggle with it, it doesn’t have to be easy, but i really like what you are saying about sometimes we have to try our best and then let go and move on, celebrating what was good, what we learned, but not begging people to be in relationship with us in a healthy way. so good, thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  • I love this topic, because I love my friends! Many of my very special friends are women, gay, poor, irreligious, ordinary people. I once mentioned this to a religious person who assumed that I must befriend such people as part of my “Christian duty”. No way! They’re my favorite people!

    Probably the most difficult people to befriend are the religious. In our experience, most of them feel their friends must attend their church and believe as they do on all things, especially religion and politics. After we stopped attending our last institutional church four or five years ago, most of the people from that church would not respond to e-mails or phone calls, and avoided us in public. Now that is SO weird. One must be friends with them only on their terms. I think that is something other than friendship.

    I’m looking forward to your next post.

    Reply
    • you are such a good friend! that is so clear to me and i am grateful for the ways you have been a good friend to me from afar. i think that’s such a big problem with christian stuff is that there’s this thing about “becoming friends with people who aren’t christians” with an agenda. when there’s no agenda on anything, period, other than love and respect and dignity and worth being valued in each person, then real equal friendship is always possible. that weird block’s gotta go because it messes with so much more than just friendship.

      Reply
  • Great Blog you got here!
    I’m learning pretty much the same things. Whatever you do in life, friendship is one of those things that you do where you are constantly giving of yourself, and that’s what I call laying down your life for your brother. Also, being open to new friendships is vital, because that’s how we grow and experience new things, not to say that we can’t continually grow in our old friendships, but it’s definitely worth experiencing.

    Reply
    • thanks, ed. glad you took time to comment. i agree with you, the mix of old and new friendships are so beautiful and challenging, so much to learn about ourselves, others, God, the world, if we are just open to it. what comes through friendship and relationship with others can’t be learned through book learning. it is only through experience. thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  • “we give part of us but not all of us because full honesty is too risky” Aaaack. Yep. I used to think that I was an a-mazing friend, full of listening ears and grace for miles. Buut, Here is what I am learning ;), that much of my world of friendship has been heavily imbalanced. I can’t tell you how many times my conversations in my 20’s ended with the other person saying “Heeey, we just spent 2 hours and I don’t know how *you* are doing?” Oh I am leaning into being more open, and practicing emotional intimacy. So scary, but worth it. Teeter-totters only work when both play. 🙂

    Reply
    • well you are an amazing friend and i am so thankful for you. but i really understand what you are saying here and how easy it is to give and never receive. how real intimacy scares the $*#^!&$! out of us but is the thing that God is always calling us to because it is where real healing & transformation happens. fear is such a block to friendship & freedom. here’s to courage!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *