I have underestimated the power of friendship. If I sit and think about all the people I have loved or been loved by over the years, I have to admit that I have not been a very good friend. I mean I have had the kind of friends who drive hours just to meet me for lunch. I have had the kind of friends who drop what they are doing to stay with my kids for the weekend. I have had the kind of friends who, after having not heard from me for months, will pick up the phone and continue a conversation as though it was started five minutes ago. But I’ve not always been that kind of friend.
Rather, I’m sometimes the friend who screens calls, is too busy to grab coffee, and who leaves church during the last song just so I can avoid talking after the service. Sigh. I can call it introversion if I want, but really, I’m just not always a great friend.
So, before I get bogged down in guilt and regret, let me share with you what I’ve learned from some of my friends in the past week.
I meet with a group of gals one morning every other week. We call ourselves The Breakfast Club. We are reading through a book together. We gather to share insights, to pray, to eat, and to encourage one another. Last week, I was headed to this group with an overwhelming emotional burden. I knew we were supposed to discuss chapter 4 of our book, but I didn’t even take the book with me. Instead, I hijacked the study, shared my burden, and asked the others to just sit with me in my grief. They sandwiched me between them on the couch, heard the story, and wept with me.
Over the weekend, I gathered with 120 other pastors’ wives from across the state of Michigan. Most of us only see each other once a year, but this sisterhood is strong. We come from diverse backgrounds, we are in different stages of life, and we have a variety of experiences, but for one weekend a year we laugh together, eat together, sing together, and study together. In the midst that community experience, sisters share stories. They bear one another’s burdens. They encourage one another.
Yesterday, on my fourteenth day of this autoimmune flare, feeling the need for some support from others who could relate, I posted on a Facebook group for those who suffer with psoriatic arthritis. I asked a question. Just one question. Within moments the responses started. In the last twenty-four hours, twelve women have responded with information, encouragement, and shared experiences. Several of these women have been continuing the conversation with me. I picture us all in our beds or on our couches, feet propped, joints iced or heated, phones in hand, gathering strength from one another. I’m in Michigan, another is in New Jersey; one is in Australia, another is in the state of Washington. We are different ages and surely have different personalities, political bents, and religious beliefs. We have never met or heard of each other before yesterday, but we are buoyed by one another.
When I was in college, I took a couple of semesters of sign language, and still, a hundred years later, some of the signs stick in my head. One, in particular, is the sign for ‘friend’. Like other signs, the sign for ‘friend’ requires movement. One index finger is hooked over the other — a weight depending on the other finger to hold it. The fingers then change places. Each finger takes a turn bearing the weight of the other. I need this visual from time to time. Too often I am willing to be the top finger, the one that depends on the other to hold me up. Or, I clench my fingers into a fist, determining that I will rely on no one, thank you very much. I forget the beauty in the mutuality of friendship.
Yesterday, I opened the mail to find a thank you note from one of my breakfast club friends. She thanked me for sharing my burden with her last week. She said, “thank you for inviting us to cry with you.” I was overwhelmed by her thoughtfulness. Instead of allowing me to feel like I had used the group for my benefit, she implied that my request for support had been a blessing.
That’s how friendship works, isn’t it? We, sometimes without even knowing it, support and are supported by one another. And, in this mutuality, we are encouraged. We are reminded that we are not alone.
It takes some risk to invite someone into your life, to allow them to see your vulnerability, your cares, your weakness. But be encouraged; in the sharing, in the asking, you are inviting a response — a response that builds a bond of friendship. And let’s be honest, life is much better because of our friends.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.