Thursday, September 13, 2012

Meditation on Friendship

I think Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons have always been hard times for me; down times. I understand people who don’t like church; during a period of depression in my life, I found church an actively painful place for me to be. But usually, I really enjoy church. (Well…except when it’s infuriating, but that’s another post.)
I love Bible study (when it happens); I love greeting everybody (when I’m not busy and distracted); I love seeing (and teasing) the kids and youth; most of all, I love being in worship. In high school, once I started driving, my family made fun of the fact that I was always one of the last people to leave the building. Church is a high for me.

Wednesday night late, and Sunday afternoon late, I have the letdown. Coming back to Earth. Returning to the everyday grind.

Since I went on church staff full time, this has been far truer than ever before. It used to be that I went to church to worship and to see my friends. That was true at FBC Mauldin (and certainly with BSU), at Brookwood, and at EBF. I suppose churches have the reputation, unfortunately richly deserved, of being judgmental places. But for me – whether with the youth at FBCM, or in BSU, or my div school friends at Brookwood, with the fellow pilgrims at EBF – church was a place of acceptance. I was at home. I was known and valued. I was active, I did stuff, I worked – but first and foremost it was a place of friendship. So the letdown was that I’d been with my friends and then had to leave them.

Now, I go to church to work. And I don’t have pure friendships at church anymore; everyone has some expectation of you or from you. And you’re there with people who (whether correctly or not) see it as their right and function to judge you, your performance, whether you’re good enough. They decide your salary, and your day off, and they talk about you to each other without any sense of shame or discretion. That’s just how it is. There are many people at my church that I feel great affection for, and trust that they do for me (as well as others that I know do not, but that’s also another post). Like it or not, church since I went on staff full time is a place where I am judged. I’m on display among a crowd.

For an introvert like me, this is a big deal. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t love being around people; as I said above, that’s one of the reasons I love coming to church. But it’s draining. On some low level, just being with a crowd draws my energy away. And knowing that the crowd is watching you, weighing you, judging you…that amplifies the drain enormously. I work hard to stay authentic, to be as real and transparent as I can…but working hard is hard work. It’s tough, as an introvert, to be open and transparent with a group that’s judging you. And there are some (many) that I just can’t be fully authentic with. So some portion of my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs has to stay hidden. And that, too, is draining. Generally speaking, by Wednesday night or Sunday afternoon, I’m exhausted completely, physically and emotionally.

Now, interestingly, when real worship breaks out, when I feel my focus and the room’s on God, that gives me energy. During those moments, I don’t have to be hidden. We’re in God’s presence and I can be free to be me.

So anyway, part of the letdown of church ending is that worship is over, and the sense of being judged returns, sometimes intensified by people telling you what was wrong with worship.

But I’ve found that, introvert though I am, not everyone drains me energy. There are some folks who (generally) give me energy.

Friends. Pure friends. People who don't want see me first for what they expect of me. People who purely enjoy my presence.

Not just people I'm friendly with. You know, friends.

I’ve been thinking, off and on, lately more on than off, about the nature of friendship. For a single person, friendship assumes a significance and importance that you married folks lose, I think. Your family, rightfully, becomes top priority - under God, hopefully. For me, under God, friends make the world go round.

For me, some things are non-negotiable for friendship. Two biggies are mutual respect and trust. I need to know that I’m valued by the people that I value; few things are more unpleasant (hurtful) than finding out that you’re less important to someone than they are to you. So that mutual sense of respecting/liking/valuing each other is important. And trust. I have to know that I can trust you. That you’re not judging me, that you can see my flaws and weaknesses as well as my strengths, and still value me. And I have to know that you’re honest with me, that you have that same trust in me. Without that, there’s no basis for friendship.

But with that mutual trust and respect…ah. There’s magic in that. I’m an introvert, even people I like drain me. But if you’re a real friend? If I respect and trust you and believe in your trust and respect for me? 

Well then, I don’t have to work to stay hidden. I can trust you and relax. And I don’t have to work to be authentic. I can let go and let it flow. I can be sarcastic or sentimental, obnoxious or compassionate, supportive or mocking, say what I think and mean what I say and not worry that what I said is going to come back to bite me, that someone’s going to judge me for it and try to take me out with it. 

There are people whose simple presence relaxes me. If I sent you an invitation to see this post (not an exhaustive list, by the way), you are one of those people, at least sometimes. We’re all human and far from Heaven. Sometimes family can annoy me, sometimes friends become distant. But for the most part, your proximity gives me rest and renews my strength. In that way, you are the presence of Christ to me; Christ, who said “come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Simply being you, being someone that I trust to trust and respect me, just that. Not anything you say or do. Just…the fact of you. 

This is why, in college, I could spend a full day in class and a full night at church, and still stay up til midnight talking with Tom Smith, my mentor and friend. This is why, after the enormous energy drain of being among church people and being friendly to church people and teaching SS and leading worship, going out to lunch with some of our college students refreshes rather than exhausts me. 

You give me rest. You show me Christ. 

So friendship…it’s big. Jesus said to his disciples that he saw them as friends, not servants. Friendship is a picture of Christ and the church, just as much as the more often repeated picture of marriage. 

Friends, I admit that sometimes I may be tempted to cling to you, rather than to the Christ you help me see. I value you greatly; sometimes, I overvalue. Moreover, I fear that for some of you, rather than giving you rest, I drain you. 

You see, I value that mutual trust and respect. So if I ever feel some barrier to that? I will fight for it. I will confront the barrier and try to get past it. That, of course, takes energy, and strength, and courage (far more, I think, than the silent “grin and bear it” path that our culture encourages us, especially men, to take). I fear for many of you it stretches you outside your comfort zone. I’m sorry. I’ll probably do it anyway, trusting in friendship to get us through it, trusting in your respect/trust in me to make you speak up if I push too far. 

Yes, friends, you give me energy when you’re near. So lately…I’m tired. Things aren’t going poorly or anything. I’m just…not near. Christ be with you, friends.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I know I like it when you come visit. I know I love it when our family has time together. Who lists "board games with my family" as a favorite activity well into their thirties? Me. Love you. Wish you were closer.