I had a best friend once, when I was in 6th grade. Since then, I really can’t say, “such-and-such was (or is) my best friend.” I would like to know how it feels to have that kind of special status… someone who knows you and loves you anyway and actually calls you “best friend”. I know it is a special thing to be able to have a “safe place” where you can say something stupid or make a dumb mistake, and not let it be held against you, or remembered, judged, criticized. It is wonderful to be able to be yourself, and feel safe being yourself, whatever that may be, without worry or fear, or share things that can’t be shared with just anyone. I would like to know that kind of freedom, living in that kind of relationship. What is that like? It must be freeing, comfortable, happy, safe. I would like to know what that must be like. Perhaps some people find this with their spouse, perhaps others have friends like this. I wonder.
I wonder how I can be a better friend. I certainly can’t change other people, and I have no expectations from certain relationships in my life that are clearly dead, and I’ve moved through those stages of loss and grief that needed to occur for those. But in terms of friendship, I think I can learn and do better. What must a friend want from me? Am I the kind of friend I am seeking?
There is something that bothers me, and it’s when people think that there must be something wrong with your faith by telling you that it must mean God isn’t enough for you if you feel this type of relationship or “safe place” is lacking. How does one respond to that? I look at it this way: God made me with two arms. Now what if someone says to me, “Forget that your left arm exists.” If I’m standing here and staring at my left arm, how can I forget it exists? Didn’t God give me two arms? So, if God made me for friendship, companionship, community, and it’s lacking, how can I pretend it doesn’t exist? How can I ignore that? What are we doing to each other when we don’t acknowledge how we are made? Does it mean there is something wrong with us, or we are deficient in our faith in some way?
Perhaps our faith truly is deficient in some way, because no one’s perfect or even near it, and we all struggle with our faith and doubt and belief at some time or another. But that’s not the point I’m making. By not acknowledging who we are and how God made us, it’s minimizing and undermining that person. It’s not wrong to call someone out, if they need calling out on something. But it’s not right to say to someone that somehow there is something wrong with them if they are seeking these things and to tell them they lack in faith or make them feel “less than” because it must mean Jesus isn’t enough for them.
Perhaps you have a “safe place”, and I’m truly happy for those that do. That is how it should be. We all “should” have such a place (i.e., such a person). It ought to be that way. Some of us who don’t, like me, may feel a small tinge of jealousy. I confess that I do. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but sometimes I feel it creeping in. Because it’s a club I’d like to belong to as well. And see– a true friend wouldn’t judge me for that. But some would.
I will say, though, that the long famine and desert of being here, in this place, has certainly brought me closer to God. That’s one of the benefits of being in valleys and deserts: you get to know a character and side of God you may not have otherwise known. I shared something yesterday called “iron ore”, and in that piece, I wrote of a famine and desert and wilderness. I was thinking of these deserted places where you feel as if you are walking alone (I don’t think it’s that obvious that’s what I meant, but that’s what I was thinking of). The wilderness or desert is being in those places like that, with something vital that is missing.
Today it is my birthday (not a special or significant one, just a birthday), and I just celebrate I’m still here, that God gave me another year. I’m thankful for my kids, that God trusted to me for a time. I don’t for a second believe they’ll call me every day when they leave and go out on their own, though I’ll always be here for them. They will be busy with their own lives.
I don’t know what is ahead, but I only know who and what God is. That’s about it. Nothing else is constant or dependable or reliable. People get sick, people die, people leave, relationships change or fall apart, jobs change, jobs get lost, money gets depleted, and friends may leave or are nonexistent. All of it is possible and for most of us, we’ve been through some, if not all, of those things. Nothing is sure except God, and who He says He is, and what He says He will do.
And it may sound funny to say this, after what I just wrote above, but this is how I’ve always felt: loyalty toward friends. If you are my friend, then you are my friend! You can count on me. I want to be the “safe place” kind of friend.
Someone posted this poem on my facebook wall today:
My hundred-year-old next-door neighbor told me:
Every day is a good day *if you have it.*
I had to think about that a minute.
She said, Every day is a present
someone left at your birthday place at the table.
Trust me! It may not feel like that
but it’s true. When you’re my age
you’ll know. Twelve is a treasure.
And it’s up to you
to unwrap the package gently,
lift out the gleaming hours
wrapped in tissue,
don’t miss the bottom of the box.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
First of all, this friend is just an acquaintance I’ve never met in person, but we were in the same writing workshop, and all of us in the workshop shared a common love of poetry, so she knew I’d like the poem, and it was a small blessing that she actually took the time to post that. So, today, I celebrate because “I have it” to celebrate, and can be thankful for what is in front of me. I may lose everything one day, family, friends, money, I don’t know… but God is still in charge and faithful. That’s about all there is to cling to. It could be painful to learn it, but it’s also a blessing and joy to know it. It can sometimes be hard to believe it (trust me, I struggle with that, too). But God has been faithful to me even in times of doubt: He has sustained me and kept me from falling down an abyss of doubt. I may make some stupid mistakes or assumptions, but God is there to walk with me through my own foibles, and also whatever storms I may have to pass through.
And, just because, here is a poem I wrote many years ago (in the 1980s!):
A Prayer For You
One fine day, when the time is right
When the moon is shining silver white
I’ll throw my reins up to the sky
And God’s strong hands will hold me tight.
But until that day, I’ll be here
Praying and hoping that day is near
Not just for me, but for you too —
That in your heart, you’ll hold Him dear.
© prasanta December 1986