Hi friends! I have a special treat for you all today. I’ve invited my friend Lindsey to talk with us about friendship and what it looks like to find freedom in Godly relationships. To give you a quick intro, I met Lindsey via Instagram and have loved her ever since. I found her through her account Confessions of a Pastor’s Wife, where I quickly connected with her honesty. She’s just the cutest little southern thing with a huge heart, a good dose of spunk, and great fashion sense. She’s married to a pastor (and now church planting) husband, and they have 3 beautiful children. With no further ado, here is the wonderful entry she wrote on finding freedom in friendship!
Freedom in Friendship: A guest post by Lindsey Cunningham
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about friendship?
For some of us, we think about coffee dates or play dates with our kids. We think about friends who are more like sisters. We think about the new friendship that just formed with the neighbor across the street.
But for some of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think about friendship is hurt, betrayal, and just how stinking hard it is to make friends at this age and stage of life. If you are fortunate enough, you have friends that you have grown up with. For others of us, we have jumped and skipped around the globe and had to make new friends in every new place. I have come to learn that the older you get, the harder it is to make friends.
A few weeks ago, when I picked my 4-year-old daughter up from preschool she erupted into sobs. I couldn't even understand what had happened because she was crying so hard. Once I finally got her to calm down she told me that "Susie" said she didn't want to be her friend anymore. I tried to reassure her that maybe “Susie” was having a bad day and didn’t mean what she said. All day long she kept bringing up "Susie" and each time tears would fill her eyes. She'd ask me, "Do you think she'll still be my friend?" I of course said yes, but deep down I knew that this was only the beginning of friendship woes for her and that as much as I'd like to believe that "Susie" would still be her friend, I knew that there was no guarantee.
As I sat with my daughter that afternoon and held her tight, I thought about all the moments in my life when I had felt just like she did. Like the time I was 10 years old and my mom thought it would be a good idea to let me get a perm and cut my hair chin length. Some girls at church kept whispering to each other and later I found out they were calling me "mushroom" head. Or the time that I was the “new girl” in high school. There were a group of girls who called themselves the "cult" and there was talk that they were going to "mayonnaise" my car, all because I was new and they felt threatened.
Have you ever had any moments like that? Have you ever felt like you were on the outside looking in? Felt rejected or unwanted? I am sure you probably have and not just when you were 4, 10, or 17, but also now at 32, 36, fill in the blank with your age. This isn't something we grow out of. Truth is we never really graduate high school.
I often wonder if women back in the 60s and 70s struggled with this. Struggled with friendships, on making and keeping true friends. I am sure they did to a certain extent, but I feel like this day and age where EVERYONE and their mama are on social media; we struggle with it from a slightly different angle. If you were to look at my Facebook you would see that I have 2,493 friends or my Instagram account where I have 1,208 people following me. Listen, I had no idea I knew that many people and I can GUARANTEE you that I don't talk to all 2,493 of them much less interact with them in a face-to-face encounter on any type of regular basis. All these names and pretty profile pictures surround me, but I feel so alone. Anyone else out there or am I the only one?
I believe what's happened is that we have settled for pseudo-community instead of real community. All of our relationships are just projections of who we want people to think we are. For example, my profile picture on Facebook looks like this perfect little family of five who are enjoying a sweet photo shoot on the beach. But what you don't know is that I used about a pound of gummies to bribe them with and every 5 seconds I have to keep fussing at them and telling them not to throw sand at each other. But we look so sweet and put together don't we? At least that's what I want you to believe.
Making friends and nurturing friendships is hard. It doesn't get any easier the older you get, and often times we have been so jaded by others that we just want to throw our hands up in the air and say that we are done with people all together. Can I get an amen?
There are three key aspects that God has been teaching me over the past few years as it pertains to friendship and specifically how we can experience freedom in our friendships.
1) Freedom from past friendships:
At first this sounds like freedom from past friendships gone wrong, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. Let me explain what I mean… Almost 10 years ago, after saying our "I Do's" my husband whisked me up to Ohio in the dead of winter. We moved 600 miles away from family and friends and knew not another soul except for each other.
Not sure how many of you are from the South, but there is this saying and it goes like this…"You can take the girl out of the south, but you can't take the South out of the girl."
I had a really hard time making friends. I was so afraid that if I made new friends in Ohio then that meant somehow, I was being “unfaithful” to my friends back home.
If you had told me when we first moved to Ohio that I would make some of the best friends, friends that were more like family, I probably would have laughed and told you that’s not possible. But let me tell you I was blessed with the best group of friends, my “Whirlybirds”.
Honestly, I have no clue how the 5 of us came to be or how we all just “fit” each other like missing puzzle pieces, but we did and it was beautiful. And don’t even ask how we got the name “Whirlybirds,” it’s a long story!
Anyways, we did life together, and I mean we truly did life together. Every weekend we were at each other’s houses, we celebrated babies together, we celebrated holidays together, we surprised each other with coffee or flowers, we swapped kids, we worked out together and well, you get the picture. These 4 other women helped in the “construction” of myself.
When it came time for my husband and I to move back to South Carolina, these same friends were the reason why I didn’t want to move. In my perfect world, I would move back to South Carolina and make my friends move with me. But moving back to SC and trying to make new friends this time around proved to be been even harder than when I first moved to Ohio.
If I’m honest, I tried to find my “old friends” in new friends and I wasn’t very successful. I tried to find my “Sarah,” my “Emma,” my “Denise,” and my “Missy,” only to end up lacking in the friendship department.
As followers of Jesus our hope is in resurrection and not resuscitation. Resuscitation is the bringing back of something old—resurrection is the introduction of something new. Often, when we experience change of any kind, we experience a sort of loss and the lie we sometimes believe is that things will never be good again unless they go back to exactly how they were before, that’s resuscitation. That’s not how life works, and that’s not what Jesus offers us. Jesus offers us resurrection, which invites us to trust that just because things can’t go back to how they were doesn’t mean they can’t be good. At the same time, when our hands are clinging to what is behind us they aren’t free to embrace what’s right in front of us.
What does this look like for you? Maybe you’ve experienced some sort of change and transition and you’re struggling with the new normal. Even good change can be hard because we still have to get used to something new and different. Maybe you have lost a friendship or a friendship has changed and you are, in your own way waiting for things to go back to how they were. I want to invite you to trust resurrection and to be open to God doing a new thing.
2) Freedom from expectations:
I’ve heard it said that expectations kill relationships. Of course, this is easily seen in a marriage relationship, but I think this is true of friendship as well. When we moved back to South Carolina from Ohio, I had this one particular friend who I had known for years. Actually, our husbands are best friends. We had long dreamed and prayed for the chance to be able to do life and ministry together, and then it finally became a reality. To be honest, I had really high expectations on my end as to how this friendship would just pick right back up and do ALL THE THINGS together. Unfortunately, as time went on, my feelings got hurt when my expectations weren’t met. I slowly began to pull away from this friend. In fact, I told my husband that I was done.
Later that same night, I heard God quietly but clearly say, “Have you even given me a chance to do a work in this friendship? You’ve been wringing your hands and searching your mind for what else you can do, when really you just need to let go and let me take control.” I’ve come to realize that courage isn’t found in the tight grip of control, but in the loose surrender of letting things go.
Ecclesiastes 4:6 says, “Better is one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and strife—a chasing after the wind.”What is interesting is that the author speaks of hands two times in this verse and uses a different Hebrew word each time. When they speak of two handfuls the word here is chophen. It’s referring specifically to a closed fist; it’s this idea of grasping and reaching. It’s when we are essentially trying to squeeze the life out of something; when we are holding on to something too tightly. When we are asking something or someone to do more for us than they can. Sometimes we do this in our relationships when we smother others with unfair expectations. The author of Ecclesiastes says this is a chasing after the wind; its leaves us worn out and empty.
When the author speaks of the one handful with peace and tranquility the word there for hand is the word kaph and it is actually referring to an open hand that is palms up. This is the posture that leads to peace and tranquility. It’s about holding the things and the people in our lives loosely and not asking them to do for us what only God can do. I've learned that when we stop asking people to complete us, then we can actually enjoy them.
3) Freedom from hurt:
It’s as true as the sunrise, we will experience hurt in our lifetime, especially in our friendships. When we put ourselves out there, when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable with someone…we risk being hurt. But the alternative of not taking the risk with friendship is even worse.
You and I have been hardwired for connection, for community. We have been made in the image of a God who is best understood as Trinity, this three in oneness. I don’t think any of us could actually explain how this works, but we can be sure of what this means. God isn’t just in a relationship, God is relationship. We have been made in the image of this relational God, which makes us deeply relational creatures.
This is why when you think back over your life, your favorite memories probably have something to do with your favorite people. At the same time, your most painful moments probably have something to do with a relational break; a divorce or a breakup, someone passes away or moves, or we are rejected, misunderstood, or pushed away. Relational wounds go deep and as a result we hide from one of the things we need the most—each other.
He created us in such a way that we crave community, and I’d even say that God does his best work through others. But because we are broken people, we are like shards of glass rubbing up against each other. Being hurt is inevitable. I’ll be the first to admit that when someone has wronged me or hurt my feelings, I put up a wall and harbor resentment. I will write that person off and move on. But what I am learning is that instead of instantly erecting a wall, I need to wade into the discomfort and vulnerability of my feelings. I need to be able to feel the whole gamut of emotions, to lean into the discomfort of it all, to talk about it, and then turn around and rise. One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown says, “we can’t selectively numb emotions–when we numb the dark, we also numb the light.”
So, what does it look like for you to embrace Freedom in Friendship?
Maybe you’ve experienced some sort of change and transition, and you’re struggling with the new normal. Even good change can be hard. Maybe you have lost a friend or a friendship has changed. I want to invite you to trust resurrection and be open to God doing a new thing.
Maybe you’re smothering a friendship in unfair expectations? Or maybe you are asking it to do something for you that it can’t do? What you need to do is go from holding your friendship with closed fists to an open hand.
Or maybe you need to allow yourself to be seen. When we’ve been hurt, the temptation is to hide or to build a wall—but when we close ourselves off from one another we simultaneously cut ourselves off from one of the primary ways in which God works in our lives—through each other. Lean into the discomfort of vulnerability, allowing yourself to be seen. Trust that God will meet you in the midst of it.
Freedom in Friendship requires us to:
Let go. Open our hands. Be seen.