A few months ago, I wrote an article for Legacy about friendship. In it, I tried to be as honest as possible about the struggle of being a transplant in Mississippi’s foreign culture, and my own hang-ups with making new friends. I hit send.
Weeks passed. A couple of months. Then the article went live.
And I had more than one friend reach out to me and ask me if we were okay.
“I thought we were friends!”
Undercover Trust Issues
I’m not a journaler, and I try not to use my articles as thinly veiled diary entries. However, there is a certain element of vulnerability that comes with sharing my thoughts in cyberspace. We cut to the chase here. There’s no small talk about the weather in one thousand words or less.
But there’s also a very controlled sense of messiness in the one thousand words or less. Because I’m being vulnerable, true, but I’m deciding just how vulnerable I want to be. There’s intimacy here, but it’s anecdotal, at best, because I always tie it up with a neat bow at the end.
Even if I’m struggling with an issue — like making friends, or fully trusting the friends I have made — I’m speaking as more of an outsider and observer than showing you the ugly truth of my inner struggles.
But behind the words on the page, I am a flesh and blood woman with flesh and blood trust issues.
The Woman Behind The Curtain
I’m sure many a pastor’s kids can relate to feeling unsafe in relationships. Do people really like me, or do they just want to get close to my dad? If I mess up, will they love me anyway, or will they use it as a weapon against my parents? Am I a normal person to them, or some type of poster child?
Best friends, boyfriends, family friends… all types of relationships have fallen apart when church drama jumped off. In some cases, those relationships themselves were the source of church drama. And when I was hurt after a breakup — romantically or platonically — I couldn’t be a girl with a broken heart; I was my dad’s daughter. So I had to put on a brave face, give diplomatic answers, and make nice when I was falling apart inside.
I’m not a PK anymore, but those lessons stick. Vulnerability is dangerous if it ever comes down to a power play; be careful.
The day Phillip and I started dating, I told him that if we broke up, I needed to be the one to do the dumping. “My boyfriends dump me,” I told him (all two of the ones I had before him). “It’s so humiliating. I can’t do it again. So I need to be the one to dump you.”
Yes. I was planning my exit strategy before we even got together. Typical me.
The Friends Beside The Woman
Here’s the thing, though: I’ve been blessed with people who pursue me in spite of my friend fears.
The un-neat and untidy fact is that my relational dysfunction hurts other people, not just me. Just this week, I had a friend confront me over the way my fears had manifested in our relationship. I had been feeling a bit neglected by her, so instead of continuing to pursue her, I stopped texting as much and started slowly putting up my walls.
She was having none of it. Even though making me talk about my insecurity was like pulling teeth, she did it. And even though I’d much rather be vulnerable behind a computer screen than sitting across from someone I love, I survived it.
I have survived tearful conversations about connection. I have survived awkward moments of being the only brown face at Bible study or book club. I have survived difficult confrontations with colleagues.
And after every single conversation, I realize something: the deeper I dig, the more Mississippi feels like home.
Anne Shirley talked about kindred spirits. C.S. Lewis wrote about the “You too?” of commonality. And God’s Word has David and Jonathan.
1 Samuel 18:1 describes Jonathan as loving David as his own soul. We’re so unused to this kind of bond that there are those who think theses dudes had to be gay. We can’t possibly fathom a non-sexual relationship of this magnitude (Sam Alberry offers some amazing thoughts at the 29-minute mark here).
But the depth of their relationship didn’t come from a sexual connection, but a brotherly one.
That connection is enviable… and frightening. Because opening myself up to the intimacy of friendship feels incredibly exposing. I want you to love me… but I also want that exit strategy.
The greatest commandments in God’s Word are to:
- Love God with all of my hearts, souls, and minds
- Love my neighbor as myself
I want to be loved well. But am I ready to love well?
The Safest Place
The messy work of making a home in other people has required a lot of introspection. I’ve had to realize that they’re not always the problem. People can be as welcoming and safe as they possibly can, but if I’m not willing to be vulnerable, their safe spaces are to no avail. And no matter how welcoming and safe people try to be, they are imperfect and need grace and forbearance in the rhythm of relationship.
The people who read my friendship article and texted me after were my friends. But I hadn’t shared that part of myself with them yet.
During my influx of friendship articles, my husband asked me if I thought Mississippi was unwelcoming, or if I was unwelcoming. To my chagrin, I realized he had a point. However good my reasons for being a little gun shy about friendship, I was pushing people away.
I still do that sometimes. I’m working on it.
I don’t have a neat and tidy ending for my friend saga — but I’m finding the beauty in the process.
I’ve been in Atlanta all week with my husband. We’re here half for ministry (for me), part for work (for him), and part for some quality time with just us two. We left on the heels of hosting my family all the way from Zambia. In fact, seven of my siblings, my mom, and my dad are back in our eighteen hundred square foot home with our sons. I should be laying in a hotel bed binging Parks and Rec with my husband. And I will be soon. But I have something to say about motherhood and mom guilt.