Journey to True Friendship- Friendship is easy (if you want to stay safe)

“We desire to break out of our isolation

and loneliness and enter into a relationship
that offers us a sense of home, an experience
of belonging, a feeling of safety, and a sense of 
being well-connected.  But every time we 
explore such a relationship, we discover quickly
the difficulty of being close to anybody
and the complexity of intimacy between two people.”
Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, the day-to-day struggles get the upper hand and we function in our default mode.  
And our friends will have a default mode too.  When the going gets tough, and the honeymoon period of friendship is done, when our human nature shows up and meets face-to-face with the humanness in our friends, and if we truly have let the masks go, we have a choice to stay and grow, or give in to the fear and pull back.


What do you do with it?  Are you a paste-a-smile-on-and-hide-it person?  A sweep-it-under-the-rug person?  A cold-shoulder person?  A hot-headed, be-honest-no-matter-who-it-hurts person?

I’ll be completely honest.  This is not an area that I historically have been all that good at.  I come from a long line of under-the-rug sweepers, and have friendships I can look back with the realization that I pulled away rather than sought to resolve a problem.  And I know that I have been the one to hurt a friend at times and, 20/20 being hindsight, look back with a critical eye at my own insensitivity.

Lisa Whelchel, in her book Friendship for Grown-Ups, borrows the idea from an author friend that insensitivities and hurts are little “bricks” that lay between friends:

“…time and neglect or apathy or denial are exactly what enable
one brick to remain, and then another, until there’s a pile or the bricks
are so heavily laid one upon the other that you can wake up 
to find a brick wall of separation between you and another person.  
Once a wall starts appearing, you either walk away from one another, 
because who can walk through walls.  Or you have an explosive argument 
to blast through the brick wall- and at least one person, if 
not both of you, is going to be wounded by the blast, bruised in
the rubble, or buried in the dust.”
In most of my adult life, I have chosen to remain slightly distant rather than deal with any bricks.  The bricks may be small things or big things, but unresolved they will do damage regardless of the size.  There is a better way to deal with them gently, but head-on, if we are brave enough.

When conflict arises (which, if a friendship is close and it endures, probably will happen at some point) what would it feel like to say, “I’d love to talk with you about something.  You are so important to me and I want to make sure I’m understanding you right, and not assuming something you didn’t intend.”

Or, “I realized recently that you were very upset and I wanted to see how I added to that.  I may have hurt you with my words and I want to apologize to you.  I appreciate you too much to let this slip away unresolved.”

Or, “Can we talk about the other day?  I was hurt by your decision to go with so-and-so rather than me, and I wanted to tell you my feelings before my desire to sweep them under the rug got the best of me.  I care about our friendship too much to let that happen.”

Conflict doesn’t have to look like it did in our families growing up.  The word “conflict” is not a bad word in itself, but most people’s default way of handling it is not healthy.  There are skills that can be practiced and learned.  And aren’t our friendships worth it?

Nouwen, above, calls it the “complexity of intimacy between two people” and I think he’s right.  At its most deep and abiding, friendship is true and honest and doesn’t shy away from the fact that both people are bringing in baggage and bad habits, personality flaws and misunderstandings.  It will inevitably be complex.

And my hope and prayer is that I will mature enough to give my friendships what they truly deserve: loving honesty, forgiveness, and the chance to withstand conflict if and when it occurs.

What conflicts have you come up with, real or perceived, in your friendships?  How have you handled them?  

(A book that helped me tremendously in conflicts in my church work, and later even with family, is Crucial Conversations.  The tools I learned when reading this book would benefit the outcome of any conflict, be it personal or work-related.)

I am sharing this act of journeying with five wonderful women, 
also writing about the travels of their hearts:

Heather~ Journey Toward a Prayerful Life
Kris~ Journey Out of Fear
Erika~ Journey Into the Word
Emily~ Journey Toward Rest
Nicole~ Journey of Providence

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