A number of years ago, a friend of mine shared with me that I had previously stood her up.
We made a plan to meet for coffee and I, in the midst of two big life changes (a new job and a new relationship), failed to remember to put our outing on my calendar. This friend didn’t text or call to ask where I was and didn’t tell me about my major faux pas until months later. I was mortified that I, though unintentionally, had completely bailed on her. I was not the type to commit to something and then forget. I was not the type to let a new relationship take precedence over my friendships. And yet there I was, keenly aware of how I had left my friend waiting on me. It was a humbling, rotten, “I am the worst friend ever” moment if ever there was one.
Sustaining Friendship Through Life Changes
Over the years and through many more friendships since then, I’ve felt the weight of change. I know what it feels like when friends totally slip off the radar after Mr. Right comes their way. I’ve felt the isolation that comes with new jobs and cross-country moves. On occasion, my calls, emails, and texts have gone unanswered under the feeble excuse of busyness. And, though I wouldn’t care to admit it, I’ve given the exact same excuse as well.
As I told a friend recently, “Someone needs to write a book about that!”; about how to faithfully and purposefully navigate friendship when change enters our lives. The Book of Sirach says that “a faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He who finds one finds a treasure” (Sirach 6:14).
How can we persevere through the tension of change while honoring the gift that is friendship? While I’m not in this to write a book, I do want to share five tenets of friendship that have helped me in my journey.
Perhaps the hardest change to endure in a friendship is when one or both friends marry.
If you’re anything like me you’ve seen more than a few friendships disintegrate under these circumstances. It breaks my heart. Not because the love of marriage isn’t good (and indeed it ought to be celebrated because one, truly, has found their vocation), but because I don’t believe friendships ought to hurt for the sake of marriage. On the contrary, friendships ought to deepen and become more rooted with the introduction of spouses.
If you are embarking on a serious relationship that is moving toward marriage, make a conscientious effort to have one-on-one time with your friends and include your significant other in gatherings with them. I’ve known the great gift of seeing the very best of a friend drawn out by the love of her spouse. I’ve also observed the great gift of a friend in helping a woman to discern if a man is the one whom she is called to marry. We lose these gifts when we forget the importance of friendship. So be attentive to friendship, even in the excitement of courtship.
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We all know the demands placed on a friendship during times of busyness. Perhaps you just got engaged (see above) or you know your work responsibilities will be particularly demanding over the next few months.
Spend time thinking about what is most important to you in regards to your friendships. Reach out to those friends (you know who they are) and say: “You are so valuable to me. My time is really limited right now, but I want to make sure I carve out time for you. When are the best times to connect with you?”
Or perhaps you have a friend who is expecting and you know you won’t be able to rely on your regular outings together once baby arrives. Be willing to be flexible. Bring her the Eucharist in her postpartum time, make a meal, and fold her laundry. Good friendships ride the waves of change because both friends are purposeful and flexible in spending time together.
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If you’ve been wounded, say so.
Three years ago, following my dad’s death, I was disheartened that I never received any communication from a particular friend of mine. No note of condolence, no phone call. Heck, not even a message via Facebook. Of all of my friends, I most expected her to reach out to me in my grief.
After a few months of feeling bitter and hurt by her lack of initiative, I wrote to her and gently but honestly said, “When I was hurting, I really needed you to be there. Where were you?” She responded right away, profusely apologized, and essentially said that her heart was breaking for me in my loss. She just didn’t know what to say.
I am so thankful that I shared my hurt with her, because if I hadn’t, I never would have known that it wasn’t because she didn’t care. On the contrary, she cared so much that she worried she would say the wrong thing. I was able to see my loss from the vantage point of her heart. I’m so grateful that our friendship deepened because I somehow found the courage (thanks be to God) to speak up.
Pray about your friendships.
Like all relationships, we pursue friendship imperfectly. When we pray about our friendships we give our Lord an opportunity to open our eyes to their strengths and weaknesses. Make the topic of friendship a part of your prayer or perhaps even a part of your examen before Confession: Have you been a good friend? Have you lent your ear to a friend in a time of trial? Have you willingly shared in her joy? If not, confess it and ask the Lord for the grace to do better.
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To everything there is a season.
Perhaps one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned about friendship is that they ebb and flow. There are times of great fruit (when everything with a friend just seems to “click”) and times of dryness, too. Perhaps you have felt the pangs of separation in a friendship, only to find that, years later, that same friend reemerges in your life under new circumstances.
If you are in a time of separation: pray, hope, and trust. And if the Holy Spirit prompts, reach out to say hello. The beautifully good news is that, regardless of separation on this earth, by God’s mercy we’ll one day meet again in heaven. I take great comfort in that.
Friendship is Ever-Changing. But It’s Worth It.
What I’ve learned about friendship (through many successes and a good number of failures, too) is that change tries friendship. Every time a friendship of mine undergoes change I feel a sense of loneliness:
“If only friendships would always stay sweet…”
“If only my friends would always be perfectly present to me and I to them…”
…But friendships aren’t static.
They are ever-changing and that, I think, is a good thing. Amidst the waves of change these friendships of ours demand that we love better. Our great gift is to cherish, honor, and cultivate them so that they can be a sturdy shelter for years to come.
What are your ideas and suggestions for sustaining friendship through life’s ups, downs, and transitions?
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Karen Schultz hails from the Land of 10,000 lakes, where she is often found in or near one of them. As a doula, lactation educator, and FertilityCare Practitioner, she finds joy in helping women to embrace the gift of their bodies. Downtime is found in quiet adoration chapels, farmers markets and gardens, listening to bluegrass music, and embracing the diversity of Minnesota’s seasons. You can find out more about her here.