The Art of Mirriam Neal

//the art of confident friendships

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I’ve been trying to write this post for over a week, but every time I open it up, dormant emotions kick up and I opt out, writing something a little less painful, something that doesn’t hit me quite so hard. Friendship is a tricky, frequently painful subject to personally discuss. I can talk about friendly acquaintances, I can write fictional friendships until the sun goes down, and I can enjoy being a friend and having friends – but personally, it remains a somewhat knotted, complicated thing. There are times I wonder if I even know what friendship really means. I was best friends with someone through most of my teen years, and it was the toughest thing I ever went through. What started out as a mutual fire for God and love for storytelling bent out of proportion over the years and became a relationship in which I felt trapped and confused. I couldn’t tell up from down. Breaking it off was messy, painful, and could probably have been handled better – it wasn’t even all the other person’s fault. It takes two to make a mess like that.

But it left me with the realization I no longer knew the first thing about friendship. I developed trust issues and mortifying insecurities when I wasn’t looking, and I was left holding the broken pieces of what I thought was friendship and wondering, how do these even fit anymore? What am I supposed to do with them?

Most of my acquaintances most likely think I’m the opposite of these problems. I have many friends and friendly acquaintances. I talk to strangers and approach people with a smile, I send cards and letters and go out of my way to let them know I care, and yet.

And yet.

Some days are fine, and other days I can barely talk to my closest, dearest friends without crippling doubt. Just saying ‘Good morning!’ raises a dozen questions. If I’m the first one to say ‘good morning,’ does that make me sound clingy? Do I come across needy? What if they don’t want to talk to me today? What if they’re afraid to say ‘Hey, I’m busy and don’t have the time, can we talk tomorrow?’

It’s funny, how laid-back I am when it comes to others, and how uptight I am when it comes to me. It’s hard to offend me or hurt my feelings (unless you know which buttons to push). I laugh things off and I mean it when I say, no, don’t worry, that didn’t bother me.

Loyalty is hugely important to me. I cling to stories with strong themes of loyalty and friendship, close bonds where two people lift each other up and keep each other on track. I’m beyond blessed to say I have several of these friendships – enduring, deep relationships where we sharpen, encourage, uplift, and tease each other and I hope these friendships last forever.

And yet, even saying ‘forever,’ makes me wonder about that word. I was digging through the letters and notes I’ve saved over the years (there’s a trunk of them) and I ran across a package of letters from ‘her.’ (Not saying her name may sound dramatic, but hearing it actually gives me that lovely brand of PTSD, so I don’t.) Before I threw them away, I glanced over the content, and saw one word repeated over and over: forever.

I thought that word meant something, that it held weight – at least I did back then. The older I get, the more I realize that not all relationships are the same. Not all relationships are meant to be ‘forever friendships.’ Not everyone is with you to the end of the line. Sometimes people pass through your life to either teach you a lesson, or be taught. But who doesn’t want a forever friendship? I think I have forever friendships. I think I have several, in fact; but lingering doubt gives me second thoughts and makes me question everything.

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Last week, I was discussing David and Jonathan with my old-same (a friendship I truly believe is forever) and she brought up something Jonathan, the Prince of Israel, said to David. “When you are come into your own as the rightful king of the land and I stand beside you.”

Jonathan didn’t say, “By the way, David, um, when you’re King, we’ll still be friends, right?” He assumed with all rightful confidence that when David was crowned, he would choose Jonathan to stand beside him. Was Jonathan overstepping? I don’t think he was. Their friendship was a kind we don’t often see – they fought together, they saved each other’s lives, they swore oaths promising nothing would tear their friendship apart.

It was an unlikely pairing – the Prince of a nation, and a shepherd-turned-warrior, and yet we never see them question it. It was never a problem for them.

I grew up listening to Jamie Lee Curtis narrate Little Women (on cassette tape, no less) and one of the lines that stayed with me was this:

“The big house did prove a Palace Beautiful, though it took some time for all to get in, and Beth found it very hard to pass the lions. Old Mr. Laurence was the biggest one…the other lion was the fact that they were poor and Laurie rich; for this made them shy of accepting favors which they could not return. But, after a while they found that he considered them the benefactors, and could not do enough to show how grateful he was…”

We’ve been conditioned by society to believe we can only be friends with someone of equal standing. Someone of the same age, the same skin color, the same income. David and Jonathan were anything but societal equals. The idea that friendship exists only between physical similarities like money or position is an old song, but an incorrect one.

Friendship – true friendship – looks beyond money, skin, and social standing. Those things don’t matter, because the soul matters. The person matters. This is something I know with my head and willingly embrace when it comes to my interaction with others, but I’m still learning it myself. I’m learning that I don’t need to have tons of money to go out with a friend. I’m learning that I don’t have to second-guess every little thing I say, or backtrack and say, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Slowly but very, very surely, I’m learning the art of confident friendships, of David and Jonathan friendships.

And I want to say, a few nights ago, I cried. I cried because in one evening, I spoke with Arielle and Lauren – my old-same and my girl-bro, my closest friends in the universe – and I could not fathom the enormity of this blessing. Of the full-hearted grace my God gave me when he handed me these two women who are friends of the truest kind. Friends who delve deep and uplift and encourage and cry and laugh and soothe and slap the back of my head when I need it (we all do, now and then). They are what friends should be, and they are teaching me how to be the same. We’re teaching each other – which is, coincidentally, what friends are supposed to do.

“Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A, but A’s part in C, while C loses not only A, but A’s part in B. In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” — C. S. Lewis

 

 

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