I turned 40 last month. (That’s forty times round the sun.)
You’d think the novelty would wear off, but the ride seriously gets better each time. The view changes and it’s scary-fun unpredictable.
Another great thing about going round and round the sun is that you learn stuff. You learn how much you still need to learn, which makes you look forward to the next trip, and the next.
And here’s something I’ve noticed on my solar orbits:
Lots of proper grownups haven’t got friendship totally figured out.
Millions of words have been bled into best-selling books about friendship. Books by Dawn Camp and Jennifer Dukes Lee, Christine Hoover, Scott Sauls, Crystal Stine, Beth Moore and Lysa TerKeurst. That speaks of a gap in the market, and maybe a crisis of culture.
Self-preservation (and the high walls that go with it) is a global epidemic. At the same time, social media tramples walls, connecting us vast and shallow to thousands of people, yet we’ve never felt lonelier. It’s all a weird paradox that leaves us dazed and disappointed.
So, we fill our lives to fill the void, choosing survival mode where we have dwindling capacity to take a real interest in anyone not directly connected to whatever we’re chasing. Despite our flurries of activity and achievement, we’re increasingly insular, and uncomfortable.
My friend Lisa-Jo Baker, chatting about her latest book, Never Unfriended, describes herself as a sweatpants girl in a skinny jeans world.
I love that.
Instead of being our imperfect, stretchy-pants selves, we squeeze into trendy friendships that look good or impress others. We get hurt – and hurt others – when we dress up our friendships in what isn’t completely honest or comfortable or us.
Some of my friends have been there from (literally) day one of my life (*shout out to my three stunning big sisters*).
Some for two or three decades, a few years, a few months. Thinking about what I’ve loved and appreciated, what’s helped and hurt, where we’ve made mistakes and made each other laugh, fallen short or overshot the mark – here are some things I’d put into a manifesto for comfortable, breathable, safe and lasting friendship:
*I’m writing it down because I’m 40 now, so not only am I starting to struggle with my short-term memory, but also with my short-term memory. So feel free to remind me of this.
1 Humility is friendship’s secret sauce. It makes us brave to be vulnerable, to forgive and ask forgiveness, to ask for help and offer it.
2 Your friends are made in God’s image, not yours. They won’t fit your cardboard cut-out. Get comfortable with loving their unique shape and size.
3 Don’t guilt-trip. Don’t keep score. Friendship isn’t a one-for-me-one-for-you competition.
4 Don’t begrudge your friend’s success. Don’t be jealous or threatened. Cheer and say wonderful things about her, to her face and behind her back.
5 Have tons of fun.
6 Celebrate and respect your friend’s temperament and strengths. Protect her dignity when her weaknesses are exposed.
7 You aren’t responsible for your friend’s happiness, and she isn’t responsible for yours. But – carry each others’ burdens any way you can.
8 Be your friend’s barista, life coach, prayer warrior, stand-up comedian. Let her know she can hand herself in like an unedited essay. Just read her. No red pen.
9 Sometimes you’ll need to say hard things that are hard to hear. Only say them if your friend is in danger, deception or denial.
10 Don’t be over-sensitive. Yet sensitivity – being emotionally available – is what makes you a great friend. Don’t take things too personally. Yet friendship is very, very personal. That’s kind of the whole point. Lean on God for the wisdom and discernment to strike a happy, uncomplicated balance.
11 Don’t make your friend feel like an item on your to-do list.
12 Continually surrender your friendships to God and trust Him to protect them. Ask Him to bring to mind friends you need to pray for or connect with.
13 Invite. Include. Text. Reply. Show interest. Show up.
14 Practise living in two places at once – the chaos of life and the quiet of His presence – because when you’re constantly mindful that you’re not alone but in the presence of the King – you’re kind and confident, and you don’t need to get your security from your friends.
15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. (And eat cake with those who eat cake.)
16 As time barrels on, one or both of you might start living at a different pace, or needing space. Agree that while life blows hot and cold, your hearts toward each other can stay consistently warm.
17 We’re each the common denominator in all our relationships. So if we keep tripping over the same things, they’re probably our own feet.
18 Promise not to make promises unless you mean to keep them. Only say, ‘We should have coffee!’ if you totally mean it.
19 Judge your friends on their good intentions. Judge yourself on your actions.
20 You and me and your friend and every other human wearing sweatpants or skinny jeans – we’re all people Jesus would run to, and rescue. Always be kind.
. . .
Here’s what’s on the menu, if you’re reading this in an email: