What We Talk About When We Talk About Friendship
This is week two in a four week series about friendship. To read the first post in the series, click here.
When I was quite young, I had a simple strategy for making friends in Sunday School. I would sidle up to my target, chat with them briefly, and then ask this question: “Do you want to be friends?”
This strategy worked very well. I would regale my mother in the car, on the way back from church, with stories about my new friend.
I don’t remember most of the children from that long ago Sunday School classroom, but I do remember one girl. Her name was Isabel, and she had dark curly hair. I remember her because when I asked if she wanted to be friends, she said no.
When I was in high school, I collected friends. I wanted that elusive group of close knit companions always present in fiction. I wanted to effortlessly plan coffee dates and excursions around the mall. But it became clear, as I got to know my friends, that we meant different things when we said that “f word.” This lack of communication left them frustrated and me disappointed. After months, sometimes years, of trying, I would move on from relationships which weren’t reciprocal. Even “friends” were better than no friends, or so I thought. I didn’t realize that, like Isabel, many of these people were saying “no.”
It was only in college, in a rhetoric class with a beloved professor, that I began to think in earnest about how we talk about friendship as a culture. We say that we want to “invest in the relationship,” and about “making friends” and “growing relationships.” Finding someone we really like, to date or to befriend, is a “numbers game.” As we continued thinking through these words, it wasn’t hard to make the leap: we see friendship as a commodity, just like money.
I don’t mean to suggest that friendship isn’t valuable. On the contrary, I’d like to suggest that it is more valuable than money, and that financial terms do nothing to describe the heart of true friendship.
I’ve always been a romantic. I’ve dreamed about marriage and love since I was very young. But even before that, I was dreaming of friendship. I dreamed of shared confidence and language as shorthand for ideas already understood. I dreamed of love, just as legitimate and strong as any romantic love story. I’m learning that most people don’t share that dream.
As easy as it would be to dismiss my ideas about relationships as unrealistic, I’m choosing not to do that. Instead, I’m echoing the words of Jesus in John 17, as He prayed for His disciples, and for us: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one. As You, Father, are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)
I look forward to a time, not so far off, when perfect unity will exist between us. I anticipate a time when misunderstandings and miscommunications will be things of the past. I am suspended in hope, waiting for a time when our languages will be unconfused, and when we will hear and speak with perfect understanding.
For now, I am learning to speak as clearly as I can. I am learning to recognize kindred spirits. I might not always ask for friendship in so many words, the way I used to do in Sunday School, but I am still asking, and listening to them when they tell me what they can manage, with words, or otherwise. I am spending less time worrying about the scarcity of good friends, conversations and lovers. I am praying for unity, one little step at a time.
This is the second in a four-week series about friendship, culminating in a synchroblog. I'd love to have you write a piece about friendship and link up with us on January 26.