Name Your Friends
Sometimes I forget who my friends are. Once, it came out of me like a wail lobbed in my husband’s direction: “I’ve been thinking (read: emoting) for the past five minutes, and I’ve come to the very scientific and rational conclusion that I don’t have friends anymore!” (Pause for garbled crying and pitiful nose blowing.) “No one likes me, obviously, because right in this moment of my greatest need, although I’ve not told anyone except you that it’s my moment of greatest need, no one is here to validate me as a person.”
Or something like that.
Kyle interjected to name off all the wonderful women in my life and to remind me that I spent time with said women as recently as the night before.
“That was last night! This is now. Relationships change, you know.”
(Pause forlornly in order to grab a fresh tissue.)
Despite all evidence to the contrary detailed by my husband, at times like this I am absolutely convinced that my relationships have suddenly evaporated or, if I’m really feeling all the feelings, that they’ve never existed in the first place.
I’ve learned—after riding far too many emotional roller coasters—simply to name. Well, ok, I’ve learned to first check the calendar. But then I name.
I literally get out my journal and write names in the margins. The names I write are my friends—the women I’d call or text if I needed something, those I’d ask out for coffee just because, those I’m drawn to and enjoy, and even those I’m interested in getting to know better. I don’t ask permission to write their names in my journal. I don’t call them up beforehand and say, “Are we friends? Can I write your name in my journal?” They don’t even know that I’ve written their names down, which is probably well and good, because they might consider it kind of creepy. I don’t write them down in order to feel better about myself; I simply write them down to remember.
Naming gives me pause to consider if I’m pursuing my people and giving attention and priority to my friendships. Naming causes me to reflect on my relationships and, in turn, to thank God for them—both the burgeoning friendships and the deepening ones.
I think most of us don’t necessarily feel like we’ve got all our friendship ducks in a row. Unless I’m a weirdo, which is highly possible, I think we all tend to have moments where we think, “Just who are my friends?” In my humble opinion, I think this occasional question can actually be a sign of doing relationships right rather than wrong. If we can’t point to any relationships at all, that’s certainly an issue; but when we have various relationships in various stages of development across different life stages or in different locations or from different circles, it can sometimes feel like we are doing it wrong, because we don’t have a BFF or a tight-knit circle of friends. That seems to be what everyone envisions and everyone wants, but if we’re a Jesus-loving, others-minded person, we’re likely going to have many different types of relationships spread across multiple circles and, therefore, we may not always be sure who are friends are. There will be occasions where we need to privately name our people.
My friend Marylyn is that kind of person. She lives with roommates who are also her friends. She disciples younger women. She purposefully seeks out the company of women from different life stages. She is intentional about visiting her college friends, all of whom live out of state. She maintains relationships with friends who have moved away. She also serves faithfully in our church. But she told me recently that she doesn’t have a best friend and that she was sort of sad about it. I can see where she’s coming from, and I get it, but I also look at her life and am astounded at how faithfully she loves and serves so many people. She has her foot in multiple circles, and she’s a blessing in all of them. She’s doing everything right. She just might need to name every once in a while and remember.
Naming is not the same thing as favoritism or exclusivism; we never want to use naming as a fence to keep people out. Rather, naming is simply a marker for stewardship. What relationships are priorities for me in this season of life and how can I invest well in those? Am I stewarding well the friendships God has given me? We are limited people and can’t spin infinite relationship plates. We are to be friendly with and honor everyone, but we cannot be close, intimate friends with everyone.
So we name, prayerfully, while submitting ourselves to the imperatives of Scripture. When we name, it should not elicit in us a need to protect or maintain, to cling or clamor. Naming, rather, should elicit praise and thanksgiving to the God who have given us “our” people for such a time as this.
I’ve found it helpful at times to also name out loud. I’m not saying I ask a friend for coffee and pester them with questions about whether we’re friends or not. Please, whatever you do, don’t corner another woman with the pleading, “Can we be friends?” or the pressurized, “I want to be friends with you.” A good rule of thumb is that if you have to ask or demand, it’s probably not a close friendship.
I have found it helpful, however, to throw around the word friend with those who are written in the margins of my journal, as in “I’m thankful you’re my friend” or “You are a friend that I can share things with,” or even “You are a friend who feels like family.” If they don’t think of me that way, they can run far away in the opposite direction–and that definitely helps to make things clear–but if they also consider me a friend, those words go a long way in clarifying and solidifying our friendship.
Sometimes you and I are going to have moments when the emotional alarms are going off because we feel alone or hormonal or some crazy concoction of the two. Let’s not panic or go into self-pity mode. Let’s simply go again to the question, turn it over in prayer, and let God answer it for us: Who are my people?
And if you truly don’t have people yet because you’ve just moved to town or you’re in a new situation, go be the people for someone else. In time, you will be able to name, too.
This post is an excerpt from Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships, which explores the joys and complexities of friendship among Christian women. Find out more about Christine at www.gracecoversme.com.