Aug 15, 2014

Friendship: It's Harder Than It Sounds

By Cheryl Magness

If you’ve ever perused the greeting card rack at your neighborhood grocery store or spent any time at all on Facebook, you’ve seen them--those pithy sayings that aim to distill the definition of friendship down to a single, vividly drawn image:

“A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you today the way you are.” (Anonymous)

“A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.” (Walter Winchell)

“There is no distance too far between friends, for friendship gives wings to the heart.” (Kathy Kay Benudiz)

“A friend loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Beautiful sentiments, all. And each one carries a measure of truth. But to what extent are all those nice, neat little maxims borne out when it comes to real life? If a friend is critical of you rather than one hundred percent accepting, does she disqualify herself as your friend? If she is not there to support you in your hour of need in the way you think she ought, does that reveal her to be an impostor? Do all true friendships survive the separation of miles? If they don’t, is that somehow indicative of their worth (or lack thereof)? And what about that Proverbs verse? Those friends I have failed, or who have failed me—were they never really friends to begin with?

It would seem that perhaps friendship is not greeting-card simple, after all.
There was certainly a time when, for me at least, the friendship landscape was a lot more clearly defined. In junior high, the drama ran deep and emotions were often larger-than-life, but at least there was no mistaking who was a friend and who was not. Adolescence often gets a bad rap, and twelve-year-old girls can be nothing short of vicious to one another. Still, there is something to be said for the straightforwardness of youth. It can be liberating to know, before you head into the lunchroom, exactly which table you’re allowed to sit at.

But then comes adulthood, “maturity,” good manners, and the day-to-day reality of getting along at church or in the workplace or with the other moms at play group. Suddenly things are not so clear anymore, and the questions nag and confound.

Does she like me or is she just being polite?

Ugh. I hope I didn’t offend her with that stupid thing I said.

She’s nice enough, but I just don’t think we have that much in common. How do I gently let her know?

I would like to make friends, but I just don’t have the time.

Those ladies seem so close to one another. I wish I could be a part of that.

In junior high the drama was all out there, on display. In our thirties and forties and beyond there is still drama; it’s just much more refined and internalized. But whether we are 15 or 50, there is no denying that we need friends. We long for them. And as we struggle through the ups and downs of making and nurturing relationships with the women in our lives, we find that increase of years does not automatically lead to an increase in understanding.

In the coming weeks, Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife will be bringing you a series of articles on various aspects of female friendship. I volunteered to write the lead article, then promptly wondered what on earth I was thinking. Who am I to talk? As I look back over the last ten years, it seems that I have lost more friends than I have gained. If I have learned anything, it is that the path of friendship is neither simple nor predictable. Had you asked me a mere five years ago whom I would count as my closest friends today, I would have correctly identified some of the names. But there would have been other names on my lips that are not in my life today, and there are names I would speak today that I wouldn’t have anticipated back then. I have come to the conclusion that some friends are present for a season, and some for longer. But that doesn’t mean the seasonal friends are any less real or important. Friendship is not, like marriage, a bond instituted by God. When a close friendship dies or is broken, it may feel like we have gone through a divorce, and we may grieve the loss deeply. But the commitments we make to friends are not like the one which we make to a spouse. Sometimes circumstances change. People actually do grow apart. It’s okay, when that happens, to let go, at which point another aphorism may prove useful: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened” (Dr. Seuss).

Ah, yes. What about all those pithy sayings? The truth is, sometimes friends don’t accept us just as we are. Sometimes rather than standing steadfastly by, they throw up their hands and walk out. Other times they move away, and we discover that as much as we might like to bridge the gap, the intervening miles are a canyon too vast. And sometimes—make that most of the time—we find that our friends are human beings who don’t love us perfectly. But—surprise!--it turns out that neither do we love them perfectly. There is in fact only One who went the distance in the friendship department, loving to the point of death those who had nothing but scorn for Him. In Jesus Christ we have not only our best friend; we have an advocate with the Father, the propitiation for all our sins, including those times we have failed to be the best friend we could.

What is it to have a friend, to need a friend, to be a friend? We don’t promise any simple definitions or easy prescriptions, but invite you to come along as some of your sisters in Christ share their own struggles and insights in the area of God’s great, mysterious, and priceless gift of earthly friendship.


Cheryl is the sister of ten, daughter of two, mother of three, and wife of one. She was an English teacher in a past life but is currently getting a bigger return on her music degree than her English one. Her husband is a Lutheran cantor. When not accompanying one of his choirs, she can most often be found playing piano in the community, homeschooling her youngest, or caring for her aging mother. She blogs at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale.

Title Image: From "Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas" by Camille Pissarro


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