on friendship

Moving across the country in 2010 was like the grown-up version of transferring schools -- leaving behind familiar physical surroundings and comfortable social networks for the unknown, the different, and the new. Upon arrival, you discover that you are the unknown, the different, and the new. You're the new kid in town and practically anonymous. And like an apprehensive five year old walking into kindergarten on the first day, you are left that task that must be undertaken alone: making friends.

A new locale does not necessarily signify the end of friendships, but it inevitably alters and transforms them. Only well-intentioned sentimentality holds expectations of unchanging sameness. Distance puts an end to many of the casual things that permeated a friendship -- spontaneous, last minute plans for coffee and a walk by the inlet; unplanned hilarity that becomes the next oft-repeated inside joke; and those shared everyday experiences that are completely banal but involve, of course, only those that are present.

And that's exactly it. In moving away, you become non-present. In that absence, friendships adapt.

I used to be an extreme optimist when it came to friendships. I felt certain that every person was a potential friend. Or, perhaps more accurately, I thought that I could be friends with everyone. I thought I could maintain an ever expanding circle of friendships. And I thought that was what I wanted.

It was both a sorrowful and freeing revelation to realize that I could not actually be friends with every person. More than that, I have also come to recognize that I cannot have (or expect) the same quality of friendship with everyone. And that's ok. I know; what for me was an epiphany of sorts seems so painfully obvious that some of you out there are like, "Well, duh, you can't be friends with the whole world." But I felt -- and still often feel -- this intangible pressure all the same.

On this side of heaven, I am bound by time and mortality. I am human and limited. And that's ok. I trust an eternal, unlimited, and living God and I look forward to a better country.

In the meantime, I have been thinking carefully about the qualities of my most cherished friendships. It's been said that friends are those whom you choose (heck, even I have said this!), but, upon reflection, I find that there are particular friendships that feel to me entirely a gift -- unsought, undeserved and, indeed, providential.

And so, here is my first list on this blog --

Things I appreciate in friendship:

Vulnerability. The friends you don't need to pretend for. The ones who won't throw your exposed heart back in your face. The ones who can see you in distress and who won't turn away in discomfort. The ones who listen patiently with gentleness and kindness. The ones who are safe.

Honesty. The friends whose word counts for something. The ones who are dependable, reliable, stable, steadfast. The ones who love you enough -- more than they hate conflict or awkwardness -- to tell you the truth when you need to hear it. The ones who are real with you. The ones you trust.

Intentionality. The friends who initiate. The ones who don't leave things to chance or capricious feelings. The ones who reach out to you again and again. The ones who follow through. The ones who make time. Isn't active intention just the tangible measure of desire?

Joy. The friends who share and rejoice in your love for _____. The ones who gladden your heart. The ones who make you laugh. The ones who encourage. The ones who inspire. The ones who cheer you on. The ones who somehow make the mundane fun, enjoyable, or humorous.

Kindness. The friends who speak and act thoughtfully, graciously, and generously toward you. The ones who readily forgive. The ones who make the effort to understand your perspective. The ones who do what is for your actual good.  

Friendship, in the end, is probably best characterized by love. Of course, it is Jesus Christ who reminds me best of what it truly means to love and what it truly means to be a friend: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

There is so much more that could be said. This cursory list only brings my attention to the many ways I can hope, by God's grace, to be a better friend to others. It's not easy to be a good friend. And I'm sure it's certainly not easy to be my friend. But when I think of how rich my life is in friendships, I feel indebted all over again to the goodness of God.