I am thinking about two different themes in this post. How do you, or does one, determine if a person is a friend? And then I also wonder, how do we help our children and young people determine or distinguish about types of friends?
And here is another question, can the category of BFF (Best Friends Forever) be determined in the first months of friendship, or is it something one can determine, only after years of solid history, looking back from the other end of time? Being someone’s BFF can be a lot of pressure.
The best compliment anyone every gave me as a friend, came many years ago, more years than I want to count. They said that I was very accepting as a friend; that I did not judge them, but accepted them as they were. I liked hearing that, and tried to be that person to the best of my ability. My ability has not always lived up to the ideal described by my friend (what was his name?) so many years ago. See what I mean? I can be very “out of sight, out of mind.”
In addition to that, I procrastinate, and live with the “shoulds.” I should give “so and so a call,” but maybe later. Later, turns into much later until I am embarrassed. As I recently said to a friend of over 40 years, “Well, the phone does work both ways.” I really wish I hadn’t said that. It was immature and even if it is a truth, it does not excuse my failure to call a good friend with whom I have a long term shared history.
Oddly enough, Facebook has helped me to see the need to think about different types of friendly relationships. I think Facebook’s categories are useful, (Friend, Close Friend, Acquaintance and Unfriend), but I also think that is a starting place. To them I would add the following:
FRIENDS FOR A SEASON: I met Gloria in Spanish class at the then, Pensacola Junior College, when I was a lonely and confused Navy wife in Pensacola, Florida. She was also a Navy wife and our husbands were not in Pensacola. She taught me so much, made me laugh and cry. She was Lutheran and I was Catholic and we went to church with each other and bemoaned not being able to take communion in each other’s churches. We spent some real quality time together, but lost touch after I moved way. I am still grateful for her and miss her, but it was a relationship for a season.
WORK FRIENDS (Colleagues) I am an itinerant pastor, which means I go where the Bishop sends me for as long as I am sent. It is part of my ordination vows, and something I knew going into the process. I live and serve in a defined geographic area (Central Pennsylvania ~ from the Maryland Line to the New York border). It is not unusual for our moves to create a crisscross pattern, like a team building exercise where a group tosses a ball of yarn back and forth, creating an acrylic web. In the process, I have had some colleagues that fit all of Facebooks’ criteria, but that has also made me think of other criteria as well.
CONFIDANTS That is not a noun I use very often, but, ask yourself this question. Out of all the people you connect with in your life, especially if you are the gregarious, extrovert type of person, how many of them do you trust with your most personal thoughts, experiences, hopes and dreams? As far as I know I have never been burned in this area, but I know people who have been very hurt by a failure to be trustworthy.
I think for many of us at least this is, and probably should be, a very small number, compared to all of the other people who we relate to in various capacities. Twice in twenty years, I responded to a colleague’s question by saying, ‘We do not know each other well enough for you to ask that, or for me to answer.”
I read somewhere that there is a limit to the number of sustainable friendships a person can manage. That makes sense to me. While one can have a lot of acquaintances (should they be forgotten?) close friendships require an investment of time and the development of history. I am not talking about those relationships that are sometimes, truthfully or callously referred to as “high maintenance.”
PROFESSIONAL FRIENDS (Mentors, mentees and others.) Not splitting hairs, but I see this category as a little different than work friends. When I was going through my process toward ordination, I had several very good mentors. At the time we worked together they seemed like friends, and I suppose they were. But our friendship and relationship had time and content boundaries. When that stage was over, and it was a relationship that was assigned by our supervisor (District Superintendent), it was time to move on to the next phase and the next mentor.
Pastors are in a slightly different situation than other professionals, like doctors or counselors. For instance I have had many people say to me in recent years, “You are not just our pastor, you are our friend.” Pastors are, hopefully human, and we are expected to have good boundaries and we are expected to love the people we pastor. We are also expected to move on at the end of our time, and that makes the ‘pastor/friend’ category somewhat challenging.
FRIENDS YOU LEAVE BEHIND:
Every move that I made as an appointed pastor, I cried the first two weeks in the new place, not because anyone was mean or unkind, but simply grieving the loss of the previous relationships. It was a little bit like housekeeping for the heart, making space in my heart for the new flock, meant setting aside the prior relationships. Not ceasing to love them but ceasing to relate to them for the most part. When I retired, I cried. A lot.
FRIENDS WHO ARE LIKE FAMILY: My brother whom I love, is only six years older than I, but I lived almost half my life in a place he never lived. We have seen each other through the toughest of times. I cherish our relationship. For most of our adult lives we have lived at opposite ends of the country. While that relationship is important to me, I am also very grateful for friends who are like family. Friends I did not grow up with or even know in the first half of my life. But they are a present and ongoing part of my life, work and daily experience. Every time I pray, I give thanks to God for family and friends who nurture and enrich my life.
BLOGGING FRIENDS: A new category! Strictly speaking I have only been blogging since just before Christmas, 2019, although I have been writing for years. I realize that it may seem premature to label the connections I have made with other bloggers as “friendships.” Yet, while these women and men are unknown to me personally, having read their thoughts and experiences and their having read some of my most personal and formational stories, provides an interesting sense of connection. I am grateful for their feedback on my writing and stories. Perhaps because writers need to be readers, and bloggers especially, need to read other bloggers, a new depth and richness has been added to my experience of writing and to my life.
PIVOTING TO AN EXTENSION OF FRIENDSHIP:
Even for all of the categories and types of friendship I have described, I have probably just scratched the surface and that is part of my argument against an early declaration of someone as a BFF. I am not, however, arguing against close friendships; I think that we need them. Further, I think that close, trusted friendships are part of our mental health and are genuinely good for society.
I do want to suggest before closing though, that the best qualities of friendship can be part of healing the world. We do not have to be friends with someone in order to treat them with respect, honor and kindness. We do not even have to agree with them politically, religiously or otherwise. When I shop, I try to engage the cashier in a brief conversation, ask about their day and how they are being treated during the busiest seasons. I admit to having favorite cashiers, but I never mistake those relationships for friendships. Just simple humanity. A simple opportunity to help make someone’s day better, because it can affect everything that follows.
CALLED TO KINDNESS: My friend Donna says that she sees herself as “Called to Kindness,” during this Pandemic especially. She says that it is not that she is trying to impose that on others, but it defines her understanding of who she is called to be, especially now. There was a movement a few years back, perhaps more than a few years, encouraging people to practice “Random Acts of Kindness” I think now, we need more than Random Acts, but Intentional and Frequent Acts of Kindness. It can make such a difference and it is not superficial. Kindness won’t cure illness or disease, but it undergirds compassion. It seems to me that kindness and compassion ought to be the middle names of a group of people known as humankind. Kindness fueled by compassion and simple respect can be part of healing the world. I.M.O.
Not holding back the tide,