For those of you just joining us here, this is Part II – where I share the remaining 3 surefire ways to hinder healthy female friendships (just some things I’ve learned from doing it the lesser wise way). If you missed the first two ways, you can read them here. If you never read it, that’s ok too. You have limits, and that brings me to our 3rd surefire way to hinder healthy friendships:

Have (too) high expectations of her

There is a book that really helped me accept my season’s limits after getting married called Life Ready Woman. I was 31 when I married Grizz, so I had invested in a lot of friendships with women that ran deep, because I had the emotional energy and time to devote to nurturing them. I completely underestimated the emotional energy it took to listen well, respond with a full heart and support a new husband…as well as relocate to a new area and forge new connections. As a deep feeler, I also underestimated my own need for deep refueling emotionally. It was not long before I started to feel the distress of being pulled too thin emotionally, because I was stretched out too far relationally. I have had to learn to set limits for myself emotionally, which means relationally as well as in my commitments for work and service. This has been misunderstood on several occasions, when good friends feel like I’ve pulled away because of some hurt. Rarely has it been because of hurt though, just limited reserves! At the same time, I have forgotten this same principle for my friends, that they just cannot “be there” for me in every area and in every season. This is OK. I enjoy my friendships most when I keep my hopes for the women high, and my expectations low. It’s not that we don’t expect certain basic kindnesses shown, but we can give each other space to be where we are, who we are, and where or who we are not as well. They are not God, which brings me to the 4th surefire way we can hinder healthy friendships…

Seek your identity in her

This is a doozy for me, well, they all have been at some point. Just to reiterate, I am writing these as a friend who wants you to avoid some of the missteps I have made. If I can spare a woman from going too far down any of these roads, then God bless. This is painful stuff, it has been painful for me when I have been in these traps. I am constantly learning here too, no arrival ladies. No arrival.

I have heard it said that who we deify, we can easily also vilify. In other words, who we make our god we can also make our enemy, if they don’t do what we want them to do for us. I have noticed this in friendships, where we see a friend as a source for all things good and nurturing, but then when it seems to run dry, we throw blame for all our problems her way.

When I was in college, my freshman year, I was naturally anxious to make friends. I was an evangelical, low-income, hispanic girl who played the tuba in marching band but couldn’t run a mile at a school filled with Catholic, rich, two-parent home athletes. I thought the University of Notre Dame was the love child of Oxford and Disney World, but I was also terrified of being “found out” as a smart girl fraud. Though there is no Greek system at Notre Dame, the mandatory living situation is dorm-life, nothing co-ed, every girl’s dorm has a resident nun and sometimes a priest, while all the guy’s dorms have a priest. Every dorm also has a chapel, parietals, common spaces, floor and section leaders, and a mascot that you identify with as staunchly as a sorority or fraternity. You are assigned your dorm, floor, section and even roommate, so you know your place and identity before you even arrive to campus. Oh, and there is no changing your identity, not without massive petitioning and administrative hoops cleared with high evidence requiring such a change – and even then this is just not done.

I arrived to campus early for marching band practice, and immediately made a fast connection with a girl one hour from my hometown in Florida, Mary Margaret. She was as Notre Dame as you can get: Catholic, Irish, from a two-parent home, smart, athletic, but thankfully sweet and warm toward me too. Since we were alone in our relative dorm spaces, she and I would eat together and spend what little free time we had, together. Then my quad mates arrived, as well as the rest of my section, floor and dorm. Though I’m an introvert, I’m outgoing socially and can be funny, so I quickly made connections with girls and within the first couple weeks was elected Freshman Class Representative for our dorm on the Campus Class Council. It was a high honor, and I felt accepted and loved by all the new girls. As the weeks passed though, and classes started, my schedule got tighter with marching band, Mary Margaret, a boyfriend on campus, and a part-time job I needed to help pay for everything loans weren’t covering. The “friends” in my section were being convinced by a couple girls in particular that I was “too good” for them, and that this was why I wasn’t spending as much time doing what they were doing. Much of what they were doing was having drinking parties though, and I didn’t drink. There was little for me to actually “do” with them, and they knew this but made no effort to join me in activities either. By fall break I was hated, and they would leave notes on my things in the night saying, “We’re watching you sleep” and my backpack would be wet with alcohol they’d pour on it. I felt almost scared of a few of the girls and didn’t know how to make things better, but reached out to my roommates first, to no avail.

One night after a long cramming session for an exam, I came home to find over a dozen of them in a circle in my common room to address “problems” in the section. I knew nothing about this meeting, but quickly sat quietly in the back to be a part of what was happening in my community. As they started around the circle, every instance was related to me. Heather, I don’t like that you don’t come to our parties and drink with us. Heather, I don’t like that you are at band every night. Heather, I didn’t like how you spent so much time watching the news when that hurricane was going through your hometown. Finally someone stopped the conversation, apparently the hurricane complaint was even too ridiculous for someone other than me. (Side note: my family had to return home after trying to evacuate for Hurricane Opal because it was too late, and I hadn’t heard from them in 2 days, but watched homes wash away in my neighborhood. It hit my town directly at a nearly category 5 hurricane. Obviously I still feel the need to justify my obsession with The Weather Channel for 2 days straight.) The point was, I wasn’t doing for them what they wanted me to do, I had limits. Who they had once deified with cheering and support because I made them laugh and feel accepted as new girls, was now their enemy and had to be taken down.

When our resident nun learned of the mob circle, and the other incidents going on (someone told her, but it wasn’t me), she came to me and apologized, asked me not to transfer to another school like I was contemplating at the time, and offered instead to go to bat for me with administration to seek an on-campus transfer. Sister Kathy was a hero for my soul, she hugged me and said she wished she could get rid of the lot of them and keep me, and that advocacy began a healing process for me that continued for a year, maybe my lifetime. At Christmas break I packed all my things up and stored them to move into a new dorm following the new year, and I was again terrified of more mean girls and more rejection. Thankfully though, I got to choose my dorm, and I picked Mary Margaret’s, where the girls she knew already knew about me and my situation. One of those girls, Sara, would end up being the kindest, gentlest, most loving and sincere girls I had ever met, and soon she and I became the closest of friends. To this day, Sara has been more like a sister to me. We graduated together, went to grad school together where we lived together for four more years. We were bridesmaids for each other, she is one who convinced me to run marathons with her, and she surprised me for my 30th birthday showing up at Disney World to just be with me!

We’ve also been there for each other in the times when life can seem to stand still. I spoke at her mother’s unexpected funeral, and was in the room with her husband helping deliver her second child, the first baby she had to deliver without her sweet mama.

She flew up to see me when we had a baby shower for our little girl we didn’t know we would be allowed to keep, and I was there the first week to help care for her new twins. I will love this lady to the end of our days. The rejection before Sara helped prepare me to recognize the gift of friendship all the more, and for that I can say I am grateful for the pain. We don’t talk too often these days with work and kids (she’s a NASA PhD scientist with 4 kiddo’s and blows my mind with her endless creativity), so life seasons change and we have to stay flexible and change with them. But I love her, I am for her, and I trust all the same of her heart for me.

At the same time, she is not my god, she is a woman like me with limits and weaknesses. My ability to enjoy her as she is only came after I sought my identity from Christ first, and then let Sara be Sara second. Which leads to our last surefire way to hinder female friendships…

Believe the worst

True story, I have believed the worst about people before, and I’ve been wrong. I’ve believed they were trying to hurt me, when in truth they were upset at themselves and it looked like me. I’ve believed they were trying to tear me down, when really they admired something about me and were trying to imitate me in their own way. I’ve believed women hated me, but in truth they loved me but were limited and wished they had more to give me. Not everyone will actually like us, or everything we do or say, of course! A statistic was shared with me once of about 10% of people won’t like us. When I started on staff as women’s director at our church I looked at a roster of 2000 women which meant at least 200 women wouldn’t like me or my way of leadership. I think I met every one of them during my time serving, by the way, this happens. But if I started my day believing the woman in front of me was one of those women, I was on the defensive and mistrusting before she even had a chance with me. A wise mentor of mine use to say,

“Believe the best about someone until they prove to you that you are wrong.”

What a healthy way to live in our heads. The best is a beautiful thing to dwell on, and is more often the truer story. I have to actively apply this wisdom to my relationships because we live in a world where a deceiver constantly works against us in relationships, trying to get us to believe the worst. It is a major joy sucker, too, so that is just a win-win for the enemy of our souls.

So there. 5 surefire ways to hinder healthy friendships, but let’s not end on that note. Let’s leave light and free, shall we! There is big hope for us in having relatively healthy friendships as women, and I say “relatively” because there is no perfect relationship. Let’s take that off the table and move toward healthy as humanly as is possible, with God’s eager help!

I have been celebrating women who have nurtured my soul this month on Instagram, because this has been the bigger headline than the hard things. And in some of the women I will highlight, there have been hard times too, it’s just the way of humanity. But also human is the potential for reconciling, grace giving, love restoring, hope returning…and it is maybe even more beautiful than the relationships that never feel the bumps. We have permission, as broken beloveds, to celebrate all of it because in all of it God is growing us into something far more lovely than we can imagine.

There is no shame for those of us walking with Jesus in relationships that take hard turns and twists. No shame. We simply keep learning, keep confessing, keep taking in the wide grace of God that accepts us as-is, and empowers us do the same for others.

May we especially take in this wide grace of God as we move into the holiday season and reunite with family members with their own stories playing out in their heads. May we anchor in who God says we are, own our limits and believe the best…because with Jesus in our lives, there is good news upon good news…everything is going to be OK. Not because your friends love you well, but because the Gospel tells us so.

In His grip with you,

Mama Bear <3