Around the end of last year I noticed something. Relationships in my life started changing. Well, not even changing so much as hemorrhaging. Seemingly out of NO WHERE. Relationships that, from my perspective, were totally fine, functional and clearly communicative were overtaken by misunderstandings, disappointment and hurt feelings. After much discussion all of these problems were easily traced to one source: expectation.
During this season, people I’ve been really close to and considered my best friends all started having ‘crisis’ or important moments, and when they turned to me for help and consideration, somehow I failed to attend to them in any sort of ‘helpful’ way—and disappointment was the result on both parts. Disappointment that neither of us knew the other the way we thought we did. Disappointment that the person did not respond in the way that we wanted, and yes, expected them to.
And what makes this especially hard is that many times we aren’t even aware that we’ve put these expectations on our friend until after they’ve/we’ve failed to meet them. We get angry, hurt, or offended because the expectations that no one ever verbalized or agreed to have not been met. Yeah, that makes sense.
I find more and more as I get older that the relationships that hold real meaning and value in my life are starting to go through ‘growing pains’. Of course, with the people in those relationships we both realize that we will be better for it on the other side, but in the midst of it, it really sucks. I started wondering why this was a new experience, why I’d never witnessed this in previous friendships in my life. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I’d never had these kinds of friends before. I’d had people I was close to –even ‘best friends’ with for various seasons in life—but time and space or some kind of misunderstanding eventually separated us every time.
When I realized this, part of me felt really crappy —-but another, smaller-feeling part felt accomplished in the fact that I now have friends who have passed a certain ‘bar’ that previous friends did not have the capacity or desire to hurdle. I now have people who are willing to fight with me and have disagreements but that I know will be there (though maybe bruised and smoldering) after all the smoke from the bombs and fireworks have cleared. At times it can seem like a lot of work, especially for friendships. It’s not like I’m dating these people, these are my girlfriends! So why do I feel the need to have DTR conversations with old friends, or hand people pamphlets on “How to be friends with Kira” when I first meet new people. As Renee was fond of repeating for a season, “Friendship shouldn’t be this hard.” The first time she said that I thought, “What do you mean? Of course relationships are difficult.” And then all these misunderstandings just started popping up every where and I started thinking, “Friendships shouldn’t be this HARD!”
Though it can be confusing to fight with people about your inadequacy when you aren’t sure what you’re even fighting about or what the expectations are that you’re fighting against, it is comforting to know that the other person cares enough amidst all that confusion to stick around and sort all the feelings and misunderstandings out.
I think that’s what’s been most hurtful in my life in the past. People that I counted as dear friends who didn’t care enough about our relationship to bring up hurts/discrepancies/concerns to me and instead allowed those things to silently break and ruin that friendship. In high school my best friend stopped talking to me all of sudden and I didn’t know why. What was worse, a lot of our other friends stopped talking to me or even acknowledging me when we passed in the hallway. Finally, the end of senior year, I got her to talk to me and she told me that I’d said something hurtful that she knew I didn’t mean and she probably heard wrong—but that she just couldn’t get over it so she stopped talking to me. Wow.
I didn’t realize until she tried to friend me on facebook a year or so ago (mind you, this is like 7 years after the fact) that that experience STILL really hit me in a terribly uncomfortable way, after all these years. And so I waited and let the friend request chill in my inbox for like 6 months. I didn’t delete or ‘ignore’ it; I just let it sit there. At the time, I remember, I was reading through Ephesians 4, and this section in verse 15 kept rolling through my mind as I struggled with these feelings, “15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
I decided that I didn’t want to be the weakening ligament. The small bit of muscular support that added pain instead of strength to the overall body. In that moment, it might sound hokey, but I really understood the larger picture of what God’s family and kingdom and purpose is. That as strange as it might sound, by holding anger against someone here in the US, I am somehow harming (no matter how seemingly minutely) a fellow believer I have never met in China, or Africa or in the jungle in some unmarked territory. After meditating on this for a couple of weeks, I finally wrote her an email explaining myself. Explaining how hurt I still felt and how sad I’d been that our friendship just ended and that it seemed like she didn’t even care.
She, I hope, also older and wiser, after several weeks wrote me back. Now I’m at a point where I don’t harbor any ill will or hurt feelings towards her—but I’m not exactly eager to try to learn to be real life friends with someone I don’t even know anymore who lives hundreds of miles away. I know I’ve changed a lot in the last 10 years and I’d like to think that she’s been learning and growing in the process too. But that doesn’t change the fact that, if I’m honest, I have no desire to see or speak to this person ever again. I don’t need her. And I’m not saying that to be mean or petty. It’s just the truth—I have other people in my life now who fill that important role of confidant and goof-around pal. And I wonder if that’s the way it was supposed to be?
Acts 15: 36-41 has become one of my favorite passages as of late. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just the honesty and humanity of this interaction. It brings this huge, accomplished, intimidating man, Paul, down to a relatable level. It makes him more human I guess. And it shows how God can bring greater things out of personal difficulties and scenarios that initially can seem like personal failures. . Now granted, I am not Paul, but I would like to think that the fact that this happened to a person as ‘grown up,’ humble and patient as Paul—means that it’s understandable that it could happen to someone like me. As Paul and Barnabas are contemplating going back to visit the churches that they’d help to build over their previous missionary journeys, they have a disagreement about a friend John (who is also called Mark). These two men who were great friends, traveling companions and strong leaders who’d worked together for years got into a huge fight. Barnabas wanted to bring John along, while Paul thought they ought to leave him behind because he’d flaked on them during a previous trip. It says: They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:39-41). They had a big ugly fight, and ended up splitting up, but in the end, covered twice as much ground. Hm.
From where I’m currently sitting, I’m trying to decide how I can apply this affectively in my own life. It’s often said that friends are for a reason, a season or for life. Maybe sometimes, God allows these disagreements to split us up because our ‘season’ together is over. Being so tightly and dearly devoted to certain friends, perhaps we would never willingly be separated from them—and maybe being together, would keep both parties from the ‘bigger plans’ that they are being individually brought into. Still, I want to be sure that I never use this thought process as an excuse for giving up on a relationship before that time has come. I never want to give up just because I’m tired. If I give up, I want to know that it’s for a reason—that the season is over and that it’s time to move on. I’m still deciding on whether this is the right frame from which to approach these relationships, or if my own stubbornness and achieving mentality causes me to hang onto things long past their expiration dates. I’m really not sure.
But one thing I have learned through these experiences. Despite the difficulty and the hurt, I have received so much healing from those friends who have soldiered on through the trial and come out the other side, still friends. And stronger friends. Maybe they are different people than I’d originally pictured, but maybe I’m a different person than I’d imagined too.
This weekend I had brunch with a friend from college. We haven’t spent much one on one time together in the past 3 years and I think we were both a little unsure as to what was still holding us together (aside from the growing experiences of living together in college). Though those experiences are certainly valuable for me, I realized that they are not enough to sustain an ongoing friendship in the future. At the same time, I didn’t want to go into brunch with this huge game plan or some kind of intense DTR discussion in mind. And I’m glad I didn’t. Before I went in I just prayed what has been my ongoing thematic prayer over the last year, “Help me not to expect anything in particular, but instead, to just show up and be present in the moment.” And that’s what I did. We had a lovely time, light refreshing conversation, and through those simple things, I think we were able to adjust our ideas about the people we were before, and the women we have become.
Though it can be exhausting, I’m amazed and surprised by the organic creature-like nature of relationships. To see that they change and grow and stretch and sometimes shrink and fade away. I know these changes are happening for a reason. As I have said before, I am learning how to maintain relationships across long distances of time and/or space to prepare me for my trip across the sea—and the people that I will encounter when I arrive in that new and yet somehow familiar place.
And I think what I have learned through all of this, the mantra that beats like a drum within my heart keeps reminding me to let go and live more simply. The voice encourages me to: be present in any given moment, and not to carry any specific expectations with me, but to just ‘show up’ and see what happens. Sounds so simple, right?…I’m still working on it.