“Friendships matter. Working at them, as adults, is important – hard, intentional and important.” (via Anna Rendell)
So, I connected with Anna Rendell (quoted above) on social media after she spoke at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network’s Extravaganza this past January in Detroit, Michigan. Anna runs the social media for a web community for women called (in)courage, and though my initial motivation for following Anna on twitter, instagram, etc. was to glean some social media strategy and other tips, I have experienced the unexpected blessing of being encouraged toward the intentional pursuit of friendships.
Just a little over a month ago, I spent some time away in one of my favorite places for a time of silent retreat and renewal. I stepped back from a very busy season of life and ministry into the kind of space and solitude that I can usually only find through intentional unplugging and getting alone in the beauty of God’s creation. I had been teetering near the edge of some minor burnout, mostly from not taking care of myself spiritually, emotionally and relationally, and was, more than anything else, just plain exhausted from the breakneck speed at which I tend to live most of my life.
I knew I needed to get away. I knew I needed to pause and to listen for the still, small voice of God whispering truth into my identity and action into my spirit. As I spent a couple of days away, I heard over and over again a nudge in my heart towards friendship — deep, authentic, vulnerable friendship.
Just for a little bit of history, my husband and I moved to Dayton almost four years ago with absolutely no connections other than my job at Epiphany Lutheran Church. Scott started working from home, keeping his job in Cleveland but telecommuting from Dayton, and I dove head first into the world of youth ministry. Over the past four years, I have often spoken of my closest friends living all over the country–friends in places like Dallas, and Fort Lauderdale, and Chicago, and California, and everywhere in between. I considered these people, though far away, to be “my people,” and often used them as an excuse to avoid diving into really deep friendships locally in Dayton. After all, what if God were to call us someplace else? Or back to Cleveland? And, forming new friendships in the midst of daily life is hard. These friendships that had been forged in the furnace of intentional communities of mission trips and church camp were deep and so valuable to my life. I didn’t really see the need to invest with any more depth locally. I was comfortable with long-distance accountability and vulnerability.
But God has started calling me to something a little more close to home. And it’s hard. And uncomfortable. In fact, one of the most awkward conversations I have found myself having recently has involved taking a step of courage to say something like this: “Hey, I really value your friendship, and I feel like God is calling me to pursue it a little more intentionally. I know we’re friends, but can we be more intentional friends?” In fact, that’s just about what that conversation has gone like every time. It’s felt weird, and uncomfortable, but God has honored it every. single. time.
And so, over the past several weeks, I’ve been learning. I’ve been pressing into some challenging places and inviting some people into some places that are scary and uncomfortable for me to share. And, honestly, I’ve found that vulnerability is a lot scarier and more challenging with people who I see on a regular basis in local community. And, yet, that challenge and the courage that it takes to open up to that has been such an incredible blessing. Friendships are hard work, but they are important work. Work that matters.
Friendship looks like a lot of different things. Friendship looks different for me in this season of life than it has in any other season. Over the course of the past several week, it has looked like a lot of different things:
- Praying for One Other: Even if it’s a simple text message that says, “hey, how can I be praying for you this week?” Praying over friendships has really helped me to be more mindful of some really important relationships, has helped me to be more in tune with the needs of friends both local and not-so-local, and has pushed a few friendships to a little more depth.
- Being Seen: With so much of my community spread across the country, it has often been easy for me to hide moments of weakness, and also to feel very much alone. It seems like I frequently listen to this inner dialogue during moments of weakness in which I try to debate whether to reach out to a friend or whisper into the vastness of social media some something vaguely sad, hoping to be noticed. Well, over the past several weeks I have done a bit of both, and on several occasions my whispers into social media resulted in a text from local friend saying, “I saw your posts on facebook and/or twitter. Are you okay?” Whether or not my strategy was healthy, being seen and known has taught me a great deal about friendship recently.
- Laughing Together: Last Monday, I had dinner with a group of local gal pals, and then a few of us went to one of those wine and painting places. We laughed, caught up on life, and just enjoyed being in each other’s company.
- Helping One Other: It could be as simple picking up a friend at the car dealership, offering to help with a meal or lightening a friend’s load by taking a task off of her plate. In Galatians, the apostle Paul admonishes us to “bear one another’s burdens.” And I think this has some really practical implications in friendships. Today our power was turned off for some electrical work on our house and it took a lot longer for the power company to come turn it back on than we had anticipated. Even though we didn’t have to take her up on it (praise God for electricity!), we had a friend offer for us to crash at her place if the power didn’t come back. That’s practical. That’s friendship. There is blessing in both giving and receiving help.
- Encouraging One Another: Sometimes friendship is a text message that says, “Hey, listen to this song. I hope it encourages you today,” or an e-mail from a friend that says, “you’re doing a great job.” Words of affirmation is one of my primary love languages, and so I have tried really hard over the past several weeks both to speak and send words of encouragement to friends, but also to graciously receive encouragement and truth from friends. Words matter.
- Showing Up: Sometimes friendship looks like a text message at 10pm that says “do you need me to come over?” Last week I was having a tough time with my husband being out of town, and what I really needed was to just not be alone. So, a friend showed up just to be present. I think more often than not, the gift of presence is the best gift a friend can give.
- Conversation that Matters: I’ve found myself over the past several weeks being much more intentional in conversations. Whether it is in precious moments, minutes, or hours with a friend, either in person, over the phone, or via text message, the words that we speak to each other seem to matter more and more. I am thankful for conversations over the past several weeks that have been filled with honestly, vulnerability, and encouragement. The words that we speak to and listen to when we are among friends truly matter.
“Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time in which everything happens.” (via Wikipedia)
When I saw Anna’s instagram today about friendship, I got caught up in a moment of feeling extremely blessed by the kairos season I have experienced over the past month. It’s as though when I paused long enough to listen for that still small voice of God, I suddenly became very aware that God had, in fact, been at work all around me, weaving together this beautiful tapestry of a community of friends here in my local community.