Not long ago I received a four page letter from a friend.
It was probably the hardest letter to read I have ever received. The writer nailed me to the wall on a handful of matters. It took my breath away. I lost a day as I staggered around trying to recoup from the words that had been leveled at me.
After I got over my initial wave of defensiveness I began to see the truth in much of what had been said. Most of the charges had to do with relational matters, i.e. I don’t do friendships well.
I know this is true.
Growing up my family moved more times than I can even remember. A couple of years ago I asked my mom if she could help me count all of the schools I had attended as a child. She laughed (and never did help me… because she can’t remember either!).
The coming and going of my childhood established a pattern in my life that influenced how I handle friendships. I swoop in, make a big splash and leave. Be sure that I never intend for this to happen. In fact, right out of the gate I express my desire for permanency and soul intimacy (of course this does not apply to every person I meet… but it does apply to those “close” friends). I express this because it is what I want for myself and hope to offer my friend(s). These sentiments are spoken with the deepest sincerity and expectation that they will be true… this time.
Looking back over my shoulder, however, I see a trail cluttered with “friends” from the past; people I made relational investments in and who made investments in me; people I led to believe we would be friends forever who now wonder “where is he?”
Of course I understand, as you do too, that not every friendship will last forever. There are seasonal friendships that are often built on stage of life, geography, job, etc. that will last for a time and then naturally move on. That’s one thing. What I am talking about and am guilty of is a completely other thing.
I have done myself and my friends a disservice and for that I am grieved and sorry.
Many times, as a pastor, my relationships are skewed by my understanding of my role. Gordon MacDonald explains it like this (in his book A Resilient Life):
When you’ve been a pastor all your life, most gatherings of people mean serious conversations about problems and programs. You feel responsible to make sure every encounter has a purpose, and when such events end, you go home assessing what’s been accomplished. It’s work. A virtuous work, I hope. But work, nevertheless.”
Add to this the confession I have made above and it becomes clear, I don’t do friendship well.
I am 36. I have a beautiful family. Many things in my life are going well right now. One thing that is clear though is this… I must change how I approach friendships.
It pains me to admit this, but at the same time it sets me free!
I am aware that when I say this there will be those who offer their friendship. That’s awkward because I, like you, am not ready or capable of being “best friends” with everyone who offers that relationship. And I also understand that others may feel the same way towards my offer!
Clearly I have much work ahead of me, but I am confident of this, the past does not determine the future; the present does.
While I’m not certain exactly what the process will include I am persuaded of the necessity of striking out on this journey, of developing and nurturing healthy, lasting, meaningful friendships.
So to my friend who wore me out with that letter I say “Thank you.”