I have this friend. She is funny and passionate, deeply serious sometimes, loves to dance. We have a great time together.
She has cancer.
I struggle with weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice sometimes. I don't always know how to be, or what to say around people who are facing circumstances I've never faced, difficult, or lovely, or both.
Last night, my friend and I were talking with some other friends and we asked her about this. How should we act? What should we say?
"Just be normal," she said.
What does normal look like? For me, it means asking her to come to dance class (even when she says no because of the chemo), it means telling her my silly jokes that no one else seems to find funny, and dance parties to pop songs in the kitchen. It means trusting God, and walking forward with her, knowing that He holds her firmly in His hands. It means praying with and for her.
I've been challenged a lot recently to get outside my comfort zone with people. God is showing me that my words are powerful, but not always needed. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is be silent. Sometimes, the bravest thing that I can do is be a real friend: not a follower, or a fan, but a friend. The kind of person who says things with grace, but also truth.
Friendship is messy and tricky at the best of times. Humanity is unpredictable, impossible to understand even from the inside, and a constantly moving target. People are unique and beautiful and frustrating and broken.
True community is a miracle.
Maybe that's the point.
These words from my friend were given for a specific situation, but I can't help thinking how crucial they are to relationships of every kind. What a great gift it is when I act normally around someone: no mask or agenda or attempts to control what they think of me. When I relax into community, I feel like I really connect.
I don't do this for just anyone.
I'm getting better at picking up cues from people, but I'm also getting better at asking the questions: what should I do? what should I say? These are brave questions, but they are normal. I've never met anyone yet who knows what to say in the face of cancer, or great pain and suffering of other kinds. Maybe asking the question is the first step to commonplace. Maybe that is where we can settle in and start to feel at home.