two friends sitting on the car

What Keeps Us From Going Deep in Friendships

When I first found out that my thirdborn was a girl, a real part of me was afraid.

In my then-testosterone-dominated household, pint-sized males regularly calculated the highest step they could jump from without a trip to the ER. They sprinkled around the sides of the toilet. Children’s books taught me terminology for construction equipment I never knew existed.

I should have been happier to welcome a girl. But the thing is. . . female friendships had left me limping. In high school, I much preferred guy friendships. Guys meant what they said. No backbiting or whispers or veiled kindnesses.

Sometimes it’s easier to avoid misunderstanding or judgment or rejection than it is to be with other people. In fact, my desire to control (avoid) rejection, at its ugliest, led to a near-eating disorder.

I wish I could say, But that was then! Yet whenever I’m stressed, my reflex is still to clam up and isolate. The risk just seems too high.

But as it’s been said: She who waits for perfect friends finds herself…

Alone.

Thanks, but I prefer dysfunction

I appreciate blogger Christel Humfrey’s thoughts on how vulnerable women in ministry should be. She writes that isolation is spiritual dysfunction.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). When I choose aloneness, I choose against God’s design of a whole body. My independence stems from pride—I’d always be the one helping others, rather than needing help.

Even when it’s tough to be vulnerable, and no one seems to really understand my experience, this verse reminds me I can’t function on my own any more than, say, my pancreas can.

Furthermore, people catch a poor image of Christ when they glimpse me without others—people know we’re His disciples by how we love each other (John 13:35).

I am actively working toward more vulnerability with safe people—those whose listening ears and body language say, I can stay open to what you have to say. I want to hear you out first.

I am working toward relationships with a few more sinks of dirty dishes in the background, and a little less lipstick in the foreground. To make hospitality about connecting rather than impressing. To share something I’m struggling with, or proud of, or haven’t figured out yet.

Sometimes the effort feels herculean. I’ve been guilty of offering just enough appearance of authenticity—a “curated imperfection.” Sure, I attempt to pry myself open a bit about ways I’m biting it as a parent, my own failure, my own stupidity.

But, I tell myself, no one wants to see all the ugly beneath this mask. I’ve convinced myself people like the version of me that serves them and makes them feel good—so helpful and pleasing and bubbly. And no one’s asked about the version of me that’s depressed, doubting, and exhausted. Besides, I don’t think she’d have many fans.

What if friendships are the one choice you have?

I know personal stories of a growing number of women who’ve literally had a mental breakdown in part due to isolation.

What if our facades and efforts to keep it all together are contributing toward our implosion? If you’re wondering what your “false self” looks like, examine the weak points of your strengths. Perhaps your careful rule-following has a side that lacks grace. Perhaps your tenacity manifests as domination. Maybe your need to achieve beyond all obstacles lend to an inability to tend to what’s real and painful in you and others.

If you’re tempted to isolate, what steps outside of your comfort zone to which God might be beckoning you take? Do you need the regular community of a small group, or to invite a friend to ask you the painful questions, and not look the other way? Do you need to volunteer information about yourself (in a safe space), when you’d rather hide?

Of all the uncontrollable factors in our lives, what if defeating isolation is the one choice we do have in staying healthy?

As someone wrote me this morning, emotional health and vulnerability allow us to actively participate in God making us holy.

Choosing community means choosing to grow and depend on each other. Trusting each other, even when it feels strikingly like a naked-in-the-mall dream.

Wondering how to share a need without overburdening someone? Start with gently asking for their “permission”: “Hey, I’m struggling right now and would love to talk to someone. You’ve been a friend to me, and I trust you…but I’m struggling with a lot of embarrassment, and wonder if I might overwhelm you. Do you feel like you have capacity to just listen to me process for a bit?”

Or maybe you’re on the other side, wondering if you have the capacity for others’ needs. Talk to God about what it looks like to both wash someone else’s feet, so to speak, but also maintain healthy boundaries as an image-bearer of God. (Throughout the New Testament, Jesus did both.)

“…from [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every joint…makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:16

Turns out my fears for my daughter weren’t unfounded. Girl drama abounds in middle school. But together, we are learning to choose the relationships that make us more whole.

What’s the baby step you’ll take with me to choose vital friendship?

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