Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Thoughts on friendship . . .

Recently we had some friends over for a pool party, in theory to celebrate Jay's birthday but also on the occasion of one couple who was visiting from Round Rock where they are house parents at a children's home. We don't get to see them often so we invited them and two other couples who have become very close friends in recent months. Now all of these couples are much younger than we are, almost young enough to be our kids. Yet we find ourselves so comfortable with them that we are able to drop all the defenses and just be exactly who we are, warts and all. We feel free to express our thoughts, views and opinions with no fear of offending, seeming too liberal, or running into a conflict because of differences. This may not seem all that interesting or unique to some of you, but in my personal experience, this kind of friendship is a very rare thing.

I have always said I am an open book, willing to talk openly with anyone about anything. But in the last year or so, I've come to realize that is really not the truth. I am friendly and have many acquaintances on what I call the "surface" level. But I have realized that I have an internal roadblock, or maybe a personal defense system would be a better way to describe it, that keeps me from letting most people in beyond a certain level. I have realized that the reason for this is mainly fear that the person will disapprove or will not like me or worse yet will get angry at me if I let them know the unvarnished truth. The result of this mechanism is that I have spent a great deal of my life with only a few close friends, and since I have been a Christian and active in the church, the number and closeness of friendships has actually decreased. I believe it is because I am worried that my fellow Christians will judge me as I see many of them judge others who don't fit the correct profile. I do not. I have much in my past, pre-Christian life that I am ashamed of, but they are choices that have shaped who I am today and that God has used in many ways. But some of those things make others uncomfortable. I find myself being very careful about discussing politics, religion, movies, books, music, anything that I think might be controversial. Do that a while and see if it doesn't stifle the real you! Not that the "real me" is come sort of worldly hedonist, but I do have thoughts and opinions that some might get in a wad about, so I just keep them to myself.

Anyway, I ramble from my subject (oh shock!). I found myself pondering why it is that Jay and I find these friendships with much younger people to be so much easier to forge and maintain and so much more relaxed than others we encounter. Not to say that all of our friendships with folks closer to our age are only surface, but these recent friendships are those unique kind that just happened effortlessly. They developed to a great deal because of Jay's close relationship with two of the guys, which in turn branched into a friendship with the third couple who is very close to the other two. I just think that their younger generation is more willing to accept us for who we are without any preconceived thoughts about who we "should" be or how we "should" act, and are willing to get to know us during the course of our friendship, and letting us get to know them, without unwritten expectations coloring every conversation.

I personally developed a totally unexpected, close and dear friendship with one of the women after spending a week on a youth mission trip with her where I got to know her much better. She was someone I never thought I'd be friends with, as she has a very strong personality and that usually puts me off of people. But I found as I got to know her that she reminded me so very much of myself 15 years ago, and our friendship has grown over the last year. We have developed a mutual trust to the point where we can share confidences comfortably, something I rarely do with anyone but my husband. I feel that she is my friend but that I also have a bit of a mentoring role with her and the other young women. It's an odd paradigm for me, but one I am enjoying very much.

I used to watch the TV show Thirtysomething, way back when I WAS thirtysomething, and I found myself wishing so much that we had friends like those on the show, friends that just dropped by unannounced to hang out, without agenda or formal plans, but just as extended family. I thought that would be the most wonderful thing in the world. And yet I found in real life that those kind of frienships were very difficult to form and even harder to maintain. It takes a lot of time and a commitment on both parts. And yet sometimes it just seems to work like it is supposed to, and if you find that, count yourself doubly blessed.

My other observation about friendships is that you can only keep up with a finite number of friends at one time in your life and still have any time for yourself. As you change jobs, cities, churches, or whatever, the inner circle of people you actually want to give up some of your precious free time for will shift and change. I have often found myself feeling terribly guilty for not keep up with old friends like I should, and yet I realize this is part of the natural cycle of life as we know it. I have found that e-mail is the best tool to stay in touch with friends that you don't see on a regular basis anymore. I love to send and receive e-mails, so much more than talking on the phone. I think it's a great way to communicate.

So, here's the thing . . . I think friendship has more to do with shared values, interests, culture, and personalities and much less to do with age, religion, or economic status. We are all searching for those kinds of friends who will love us no matter what stupid thing we may say or what foolish point of view we may take, and who are close enough to tell us the truth when we need to hear it and to hear the same from us. You just never know what package those friends may show up in.

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