As I get older I realize cynicism is more prevalent. Be that as it may, it’s been ingrained in me to speak with honesty and always assume positive intent. This alone has spared me a ton of grief. I had nothing to lose by taking initiative in kindness even when occasionally it was returned with less than that.
My most uncomfortable burden is the guilt that I may have unknowingly pushed people away. Physical distance has been a perfect light excuse to let go. Every 4-7 years my life moved on (literally so), or took a dramatic turn.
However, I have more than a handful of friends who have been connected to me by more than mere social context. Our love transcended the mundane into a spiritual realm. These friendships can’t be manufactured or forced.
I go where I’m called, invited and wanted. And I let others drive. There are very few things and relationships I purposefully pursue. It’s been so easy. But after a while I wake up and realize how many friendships have drifted away, and trails have gone cold or overgrown. One thought keeps me from being crushed by guilt: every path goes both ways.
I will never barge in with my boots on, expressing my opinion, giving direction into anyone’s life. Not my style. Not my place. I think only in extreme circumstances, with people I have a close relationship with, I would set my sense of discretion aside and speak the uncomfortable truth with boldness. With love. Despite possible frowning consequences.
The past couple of years we have befriended so many wonderful families, outside the familiar, leaving our comfort zone. Moving to Romania we started a new life as a couple, but our friends were diverse still.
Diversity can be a challenge worth tackling.
I remember a trusted wise friend and pastor who commented on the need to overlap social groups in churches, despite the ease of connecting with just people like yourself; single people befriending couples, couples with kids hanging out with couples without kids, older couples socializing with young couples, widows being included in family outings. You get the idea.
Yet, without clear and mutually accepted boundaries, things can become dangerous and uncomfortable.
Friendliness got us into trouble, in different stages, at different times and different ways. I learned the hard way the need to being vigilant, humble and brave enough to leave, when explanations were futile.
My husband is the more quiet type, a little reserved, and that’s what I loved about him. But there has been a season when he warmed up to our diverse group of friends, and in a context of vulnerability and openness, a few young women started flirting with him shamelessly. It created spiritual havoc and I felt alone trying to make sense of it, to protect myself and my marriage. After a few months I realized the only long term solution is leaving that social context altogether.
When we became parents we naturally moved into more parenting circles. But now that our kids are moving into school age range, their social needs (and consequently our) are morphing yet again.
In the context of families with kids, beneath the surface there is yet another layer of discipline of the mind and social boundaries.
Conrad, while he is naturally more reserved with the adults, he loves interacting with kids. And often times, kids who usually don’t have adults come into their world, they love Conrad’s goofy and playful attitude.
BUT because many kids rarely play like that with adults, they don’t know when to stop, even when they are told so explicitly. And at that point, common sense boundaries are trampled with chaos and disrespect.
It’s worse when parents are sensitive about other adults correcting or set boundaries for their kids. If only we all agreed that we would correct in love and with kindness, we would inspire the next generation to be teachable and stay connected.
Kids need to hear their parents affirm another parent’s authority while they are the only adult present. I have three families nearby with same age or older kids, with whom we agreed on this matter, and it’s made our relationship smooth and comfortable. I believe this is paramount as kids turn a certain age. Plus, because of the language barrier, I don’t like to be the eternal interpreter/mediator between my husband and rowdy kids.
On a happier note, I feel inexplicably connected with people whose hearts have been moved by adoption. Even so, it is not adoption that connects us, but the essence of their spirit that brought them to the same place as us, a thirst for depth and an eye for the transcendent. A joyous selflessness and authenticity.
These days I’ve thought long and hard about what else draws people near and what causes them to drift away.
Vulnerability is attractive. People who are honest about their struggles, their journey, draw us in. On the other hand, too much drama all the time and no fun can be tiresome and crushing. I’ve noticed though, that with people we’ve shared the most intimate times, if a mutual friend betrayed our trust, we shy away from going there again.
So we remain superficial… and stay away. Our conversations become either heavy or dry. And so predictable.
Gossip. When people have nothing of substance to talk about, they resort to gossip, a cheap quick fix for closeness. But it undermines my trust, even when someone confides in me with a gossipy information. Not at work, not in the neighborhood, not in church, not in the family. Gossip takes discipline to extirpate. But it’s worth the effort. Be the blessed man in Psalm 1 and do not go walk, stand and seat with gossip.
My biggest pet-peeve of all is flakiness. Whenever we try to set something up, if someone constantly has something more urgent or more important to do, I eventually give up. If someone cancels last minute often, it sends a pretty clear message “I don’t care as much about our friendship.” So I let them drift away.
Are you an initiator? Do you always pursue the get togethers? Do you ever feel like the friendship is one sided? My brother brought to my attention a long time ago that I never call. And it’s true. I never call anybody. I write emails instead. Small talk is uncomfortable to me. But you know what? It was good feedback and I learned to meet him half way, the way he likes to be addressed and connected with. And it’s good.
I’m pretty sure we have been spoiled when it comes to friendships. We never tried too hard to make friends, and we don’t have a strategy to keep them. It’s been a natural dance of closeness and space, of shoulder to shoulder walk in faith. This is the beauty of God’s large family. We are all called to serve one another, while loving God with all our heart. And if we are tuned in, we respond to God’s calling and don’t take rejection personally. That has been my motto my whole life. People come and go. And when we can, we stand tall and shine the Light.
I always assume positive intent. It is my superpower. Therefore there is always room to come and worship or pray together, even after years of silence or absence.