Beyond Friendship 101
I have been thinking a lot lately about how to love others well, particularly those who are our closest friends.
I keep being struck with the fact that sometimes we assume way too much about our ability to know what others really need to feel loved or how to truly help a friend when a need arises. The truth is, we sometimes need help to be a good friend to another person, don’t we (and vice-versa)? We may assume they are blessed by the same things we are, or that they communicate exactly in the same way we do, thus wondering why on earth they misunderstood what we were were trying to say, etc. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it. People have their communication styles, their own “junk” that affects the way they receive messages, and have had different life experiences (including family life), just to mention a few … and we think that our friends should always just “get us” or that we will always “get them?”
Here’s an example … I have a friend with whom I have enjoyed many rich experiences and who played an important role in a certain stage of my life. However, we never quite seemed to break the barrier to really go deep with one another relationally. I often felt like we were two ships passing in the night, but I could never figure out why. After four years (!!) of being friends, we finally had a conversation one day in which the fact came up that I felt like she had never truly cared about what was going on in my life because she never asked questions of me. And do you know what? She felt like I didn’t care about letting her into my life because I never volunteered information about what was going on … and I was just waiting for her to ask! As we talked more, she shared that in her family, you didn’t ask the deeper questions of life of each other, so she didn’t feel confident asking questions. Plus, she thought if I wanted to know, I would just volunteer information about myself. On the other hand, I have always been one who loves to ask questions to really get to know where a person is coming from and what makes them tick. However, that can be threatening to someone who takes the approach of, “If you need to know something about me, I will tell you.” Wow – it took us four years to figure that out about each other … just think of the things we missed out on in each others’ lives because of that particular difference.
But, staying with that example, where would we as friends go from there? Decide that because we prefer sharing about our lives in different ways, we should probably not be friends? Not if the friendship is worth it to us! (however, this is where the potential hard and or sometimes awkward work would come in)
I think that’s where helping each other be better friends comes in. This friend was uncertain about what things to ask me, but I could easily give her a few examples of questions to ask or areas of my life that I would appreciate her asking about. I have also encountered friends who won’t ask questions of me because they don’t want to be ‘pushy’ or ‘nosy.’ I assure these friends that they can ask me anything, and if I don’t want to share, I won’t, and again tell them that I feel loved when someone inquires about something that is going on in my life.
But there’s another side to things. I needed to be a better friend to this friend as well. Now that I knew her heart and her difficulty with formulating questions, I needed to be willing to volunteer information about my life, even though that didn’t come as naturally to me. I needed to think the best of her and not assume that because she didn’t approach me in a way that communicates love and concern to me, she didn’t care about me. And I needed to be careful about the manner in which I asked questions … I sometimes, in a situation like this, will now ask if it’s ok if I ask a question and explain that I love to get to know people better by asking to hear more about their hearts and lives.
And this is just one such example. Overall, I now ask more questions of friends – “Do you usually wait to be asked about things in your life or do you like to volunteer information about yourself?” Or in a situation where a friend is hurting; “I know you’re hurting – do you want to talk about it or do you need me to just sit with you right now?” (rather than assuming that I know) Or in a situation where someone has just had a baby; “I would love to help you out in someway right now – what would most bless you during this time?” (rather than assuming that I know) It has been humbling to discover that (gasp!) I need help to be a good friend to others; that sometimes I have no idea what the best thing to do for them is, even though I would like to think that I do.
I guess it comes down to whether we’re willing to learn from our friends how to be a good friend to them. And if they’re willing to teach us (and vice-versa). I hope each of us will do the hard, but best thing – humble ourselves, admit we will never win the “world’s perfect friend” badge, and be willing to learn.
I think we have a lot to gain.