The puzzle: How can we be faithful friends when life gets in the way?
Ok, I have a big giraffe-sized confession to make. A few months ago I received the most beautiful, heartfelt letter from an old high school friend. I had been hoping to reconnect with this friend for years, and here she had taken the time and effort to write four pages in perfectly neat lines on impeccably decorated paper. Not just plain old computer paper, I’m talking little flower buds and vines crawling on every corner.
I tore through the letter right still standing in the front door to my apartment, savoring line after line. I remember looking down at the letter in my hands as tears started welling up.
What I should have done was grab some paper from the printer and sat down right then at the kitchen table. Letting the tenderness of that letter pour through in my own reply.
Or I could have set it aside until after dinner.
I could have picked nearly any other course of action then what happened next. Looking back I am so embarrassed by what came next.
I folded up that letter and stuffed it into my ‘to-do later’ folder in my backpack. I literally carried that letter into my backpack and carried it around for three months without a reply. Every day I came home from the office, I found some excuse not to write back. I don’t have nice enough stationary. I need a better pen. I’ll write when I have fifteen minutes of uninterrupted silence.
A whole party of excuses paraded by for three months – that’s twelve weeks. That means 84 days went by when an unwritten letter was nagging me in the back of my thoughts. When I imagined my friend’s disappointment, day after day of opening the mailbox only to find junk catalogs and bills.
One day, I came home, dumped my commuter backpack on the floor, fished out the letter from the bottom and went to work. It took 84 days for me to decide that cleaning the kitchen, folding the laundry, or answering one more email could wait. I was going to show-up for my friend.
I finally found the gumption to put a plain ballpoint pen onto completely ordinary printer paper and let my heart speak. Was it hard? Yes. I didn’t know what to say to a grieving friend. I struggled for words and muddled my way through. It took courage to put myself in her shoes, re-live her pain and believe that my words could help bring her hope.
Not my best moment. But there’s more to this confession… this wasn’t the first time.
- Have you ever received a beautiful text message and put your phone away instead of replying?
- Maybe you remembered a birthday only to watch the clock go by without sending so much as a text, let alone that cute card she’d tape on her fridge?
- What about arriving at a birthday party two hours late?
- Ever stare at heartfelt email on your phone for months with no clue how to respond?
Check, check and double-check. I have done all of those things to my dear friends, and so much more.
It is easier for me to ignore the email, text or voice mail and those icky feelings that come when I’m not 100% sure what the best response will be. By the time I finally get around to showing up, inevitably I am ashamed and sorry for being absent – whether I’ve procrastinated calling my mom, sending a card, or praying with God.
Starting to pray means trusting God to care more about us showing up whole than showing up perfectly.
My friendship ethos was flipped on its head when I decided to prioritize showing up with plain printer paper, tilted handwriting that bunched up at the ends of lines, imperfect words and all.
I’d like to think that showing up for God helps me show up more fully for my friends. Not just by interceding for my friends and their own challenges, but by facing my own faults and vulnerabilities. When we bring our full selves to friendship, there’s space for God’s grace to open our hearts.
I have been blessed with so many friends whose presence was nothing short of a miracle. I truly believe that our relationships let God in to work wondrous things.
The truth: Friendship grows fullest from showing up wholeheartedly, imperfections and all.
- Devote half-a-minute to pray for your friends, right now. Prayer is action!
- Brainstorm a running prayer list of friends to pray for, and pin them in your closet, your bulletin board or someplace visible in your daily routines. Use the list as a gentle nudge to pray for or reach out to your friends.
- Associate a collection of ‘things’ with different friends. Each plant in my home is a special reminder to pray for a specific group of friends.
- If you’re an introvert like me, you may find an extra kick-in-the-pants motivates you to reach out more often. Challenge yourself to one ‘mini-connection’ point every day. Who can I reach out to with a helpful note or message that brightens their day?