Sunday, March 29, 2009

Makeup Mirrors and Graveyards

"Every man should have a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends."
-- Henry Brooks Adams

I have no idea who Henry Brooks Adams is, but the guy made a great point.

When I was in college, I had a lighted makeup mirror. . It had a border of bright lights and the mirror could be switched to a magnifier. All I can say now is "UGH" about the thought of magnification. Every little line, pore, and blemish--I can't hide from what I see. My husband loves my eyes, but somehow blemishes and lines stand out more to me when I look in a magnifying mirror.

The same is true with friendship. The more time we spend with someone, I can say with 100% certainty that we'll see flaws and faults we didn't notice at first. Just like looking in the mirror, we can't miss those imperfections. They're magnified, unfortunately. We can't escape the reflection of truth. And sooner or later, lest we get smug and congratulate ourselves at what a wonderful friend we are, we end up showing own faults for our friends to see.

So shouldn't surprise us when our friends show us their faults, and we need to head out to the cemetery that Mr. Adams speaks of. We must shoulder our shovel, drag our friend's offending fault behind us, and start shoveling.

As we dig, we must say, "I know this is my friend's fault/flaw. Because they are my friend and I love them, I will bury this fault and won't keep it with me. I choose not to hold this against them." We are all works in progress, and our friends remind us of this without saying a word.

Sometimes small offenses can pile up over time, and before we know it, we're lugging a wheelbarrow full of them with us. One friend or another has misspoken or treated us carelessly, and we never make that trip to bury their fault. This can damage friendships over time, even small things. Recently I have learned just that. Someone had offended me, not in a large way, and I lugged the incident around for far, far longer than I should have.

On the other hand, I also recently have been reminded that my own faults can irritate, or worse, injure my friends. But this is what friends are for--not to be injured, but to remind us of where we fall short. Friends are the ones who will not hold our faults against us. Instead, our friends will simply hug us, pick up their shovel, and head for the graveyard of forgiveness where our faults are buried.

We should ask ourselves:

Am I carrying reminders of my friend's faults?
Do I need to forgive my friend's offenses or bury those irritations against me?
Do I need to think more before I speak and/or act?
Am I thinking of what I want, more than what is important to my friend?
Do I need to ask forgiveness from my friend?

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. " Colossians 3:12-14

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." Proverbs 27:6

Miss any previous posts? Check out Friendship Series, and read from the bottom up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So Long, Farewell...

Sometimes the best thing we can do for a friendship and the well-being of our hearts is just to let the friendship go. Change is part of life, and relationships change as well.

I don't know if you've ever had this happen to you, but it's hard when someone who was more than a fringe type of friend (see my post, Love That Fringe, below) cuts you out, without explanation or a clear reason in your mind. The book of Proverbs says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." I always understood this to mean that the closer we are to someone, the more they can hurt us, but if we are close to them, the hurt can be overcome by the love we have for our friend.

But what do you do when you realize a good friend has shifted to the fringe of your life, and you don't know what happened to cause the change?

I live in a military area. It's pretty safe to say that my entire circle of friends is made up of people with military ties, either currently or formerly. Dear friends who became like family often move, and that always hurts. They leave behind a hole that must be filled, where once there were smiles, laughter, good times, and even some hard times. I suppose I should be used to it by now after seventeen years.

With the advancement of the on-line world, keeping in touch has been much easier with Facebook and e-mail. I have literally dozens of friends all over the world now and every time I hear from them, I smile and I'm glad we still have that connection. In fact, my husband and I had a great time on Saturday night with one couple (Love ya, Nick & Kineta, if you guys are reading this!).

There does come a time, though, when we need to release friendships and allow them to fade into memories. This has happened to me not so long ago with two particular friendships. I can't deny it's painful, but I've seen that there are people in my life right now in front of me who have become the ones I can laugh with, cry with, and pray with.

My words are simple: don't belabor a lost friendship. I spent time and tears trying to figure out "what went wrong," and no answers came. I sent an e-mail or two, a card, left a message or two, sent a small birthday gift in one instance, and nothing. Lest I sound like a stalker--LOL!--all of this happened over the course of months, to years, in the case of one friendship. I realized I had to let them go, and stop trying.

While love never fails or gives up, in this case, I had to let my feelings go and relinquish any claim to a true friendship. Should I hear from them again--and I have in the case of one person--I've simply smiled and nodded, acknowledging what once was. And expected nothing more.

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves a few questions:
Am I hanging onto a friendship that has changed?
Am I trying too hard to keep a friend who's clearly moved on (literally or figuratively)?
Have I been blind to the idea that this particular friendship may have been just for a season in my life?
Have I not seen the new possibilities for friendships right in front of me, because I've invested so much time in a lost cause?
Have I been clinging to a friendship for my own self-worth?

I'm sure we can all think of a friendship that's changed, and we need to accept that change. And I'm sure we can all open our eyes, and see the possibility of new friends immediately surrounding us. We all want to belong. We all want to be loved.

So long, the ones I've had to let go. And if you're reading this post and know me, you're probably NOT one of them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Love that Fringe! I think?

"What is acquaintance? What a funny, hard word." ~ Aunt Beast, A Wrinkle In Time

I just love the character of Aunt Beast from that wonderful Madeleine L'Engle book. She's right about the sound of the word acquaintance, though. It sounds proper, stiff. But many of us have a ton of acquaintances. I looked the word up in the dictionary.

Acquaintance: "a person whom one knows but who is not a particularly close friend."

Think of standing around the water cooler, or hanging out at the kid's soccer game, or. . .any informal situation where we encounter others on a regular basis. We get to know the generic stuff. Family, interests, likes, dislikes, the boring activities of everyday life, and maybe an occasional quirk thrown in to make it interesting.

Many of us are really good at having acquaintances. It's sort of like owning a jacket with lots of fringe on the arms. Fringe adds a little something to the look, but it's not like a sleeve or insulation against the elements or buttons. Fringe is just...fringe. According to the dictionary, fringe is "a marginal, peripheral, or secondary part."

I suppose you could also call acquaintances casual friends. We know them by name, we know things about them, but it's mostly surface information. That's where most friendships start, as we discover the common ground we all share. Acquaintances aren't people we usually call in a jam. We might not wonder much if we haven't heard from them in a week or two.

When does an acquaintance become a true friend, when they are more than just on the fringe of our lives? Maybe it's when one person shares more than everyday life, and shares a bit of their heart. And the other responds in kind. I think it's important to tread cautiously when we do this, or we could end up having a one-sided friendship.

Speaking of friendships, here's a thought-provoking blog post from 97 Seconds With God on how we choose our true friends.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sponges and Granite

Some friends are like sponges, some like granite.

A sponge can be a very good thing to have when you're trying to wash a car. You have a constant supply of soapy water. Some friends are like sponges. They pour into your lives and the time you spend together leaves you refreshed. At least that's how it should be.

But some friends, insecure or needy ones, can be like dry sponges. They always draw from you and after very many encounters, or very few, you're the one feeling drained and exhausted.

I must admit I've been both kinds of a spongy friend. I love giving to my friends, and I like to think that they enjoy spending time with me, whether it's something as simple as shoe shopping, or an IM chat, or laughter around the dinner table. But during my own dry times is when I need the refreshment of a friend. And sadly, people don't enjoy friends who are always "draining" them.

We get out of balance when we rely solely on our friends to refresh our souls. I believe that God uses people as tangible reminders of His presence and His love. But there's no substitute for spending time with our Heavenly Father.

Other friends are like granite. I would venture to say that these people are mostly granite on the outside. Life has taught them to be tough. Receiving from those friends made of granite is difficult at best. After all, they're not sponges. Those whose hearts and souls are granite through and through probably do not have many friends at all. Granite is tough and cold. It can't hold anything or give anything. It merely exists and must be chiseled and chopped away. Granite is tough and probably lasts forever.

Granite is also pretty clueless. Stone can't refresh you, although it's good for paving and building, so it does have its uses. Friends made of granite need softening, if that's possible. But I know Someone Who specializes in impossibilities. If you have a clueless friend of granite, be patient with them and pray for that softening to happen.

Things to ask ourselves:

Am I a dry sponge of a friend?
Am I always trying to soak from others?
How much time do I spend pouring into my friends?
Do I exhaust one friendship and drain it dry, then move on to someone else?
Am I spending time being refreshed by Living Water?

Am I granite?
Am I clueless, unable to receive from anyone?
Have I allowed life to harden me to the point where I've not allowed myself to receive from anyone?
Do I need softening so I can learn to be a better friend?

Next time..."Acquaintances" and playing it safe

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Friends: Fair or Foul?

Little kids make friends so easily. It's just not fair. Life for them is simple. One afternoon at the playground on the swings can bond them to another tighter than Superglue. Not fair, as I said. No complications, just the simple joy of another soul to spend a few hours with.

We get older, and we complicate matters. We drag our insecurities and our selfishness into the mix and our prejudices, and we can end up with a mess.

So, on to fair-weather friends. What are they? I had to look this one up to make sure I had the right definition in my head. Those kind of friends are great to have around when life is good. Go to a concert, a movie, water ski, you name it. But if you're going through any a tough time or drama, don't expect their presence or input. Need a room painted? "Oh, sorry. I'm busy that day." Now, I'm not saying a friend should be at another's beck and call. That's sort of unrealistic.

But if there's a pattern developing--if someone constantly bails on you if you need them, wouldn't you wonder if your friendship had a good foundation? Maybe that would be a good time to refine your expectations. I'll get into expecting too much from a friend another time. I've been guilty of this. If you have a fair-weather friend, don't put them on your short list of people to call when you're in a jam.

The opposite type of friend is what I call a foul-weather friend. They're the ones who drain you dry. Their crisis become your crisis. But once they don't need you anymore, you can't find them. They're quick to move on. And then your heart and investment in them are left with nothing. Remember what I said before, about friendship being a time investment. When I'm a friend, I make them a priority, for the good and bad times. These type of friendships are the ones that make me look back wistfully, wondering what happened. And I end up mentally exhausted and literally drained from giving to them. My dear sweet husband and I have had this happen to us, and we've learned a hard lesson. Don't be so quick to jump at their call. Every crisis is not the end of the world, and realize that people can be fickle. Let them learn to stand on their own instead of depending on you to solve their problem.

So, time for a little self-evaluation. Ask yourself, as I ask myself these questions, and evaluate your friendships:

Do I take more than I give?
Do I disappear when times get tough?
Do I expect my friends to drop what they're doing for my latest crisis?
Do I ignore people when I don't "need" anything from them?
Do I only show up for the "fun"?

Remember: "A friend loves at all times." The highest form of love is not self-seeking, but it seeks the best for the other person.

Next: The insecure (gulp) friend and the clueless one.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

On Friends and Friendship

Lately I've been thinking about friends, how friendships start, how to keep friends, how friendships succeed and how they fail, and how/when to let them go. I don't know about you, but I'm one of those people who when I make a friend, I generally like to keep them. Time is precious, and time spent with a friend is an investment. It might be something simple, but the fact that we allow each other into our lives says a lot about our priorities.

There's fair-weather friends and stormy-weather friends; insecure friends and clueless friends; friends for a season and friends for a lifetime. I've had and probably been all of them at one time or another.

Before I get into any of my thoughts, I thought I'd share some quotes I found about friendships:

"Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant."- Socrates

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."- Helen Keller

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up." - Ecclesiastes

"Every man should have a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends." - Henry Brooks Adams

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” - C.S. Lewis

"Friends always show their love. What are brothers for if not to share troubles?"- Proverbs 17:17

"Some friendships do not last, but some friends are more loyal than brothers."- Proverbs 18:24

"An honest answer is the sign of true friendship." - Proverbs 24:26

"A friend means well, even when he hurts you. But when an enemy puts his hand round your shoulder - watch out!" - Proverbs 27:6

So what is this mystery called friendship, the secret ingredient that connects people to each other? We can say we are destined to be friends with those whom we have the most in common, but I've learned that's not necessarily the case. I'll continue that thought another time!