Our senior pastor read a quote a few weeks ago during a sermon that has since worked its way through every part of me. I missed the reference but searched it out and found more that I needed to wrestle with, and it has brought me to this post and a decision in a new direction, the first of many I am sure. I’ll share the decision next week, but first, the quote.
The quote is by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,
I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest. I find I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be. The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.
God bless Anne.
When I first married Grizz and moved to Tennessee, I moved away from comfort, a home I owned and all my roots. Deep roots, in my home state and in my community. My DNA could be found all over the white sandy shores of the Emerald Coast, my sweat and tears in the grounds at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, so many close friends and mentors in Tallahassee, family scattered from the Panhandle to Port Richey. Grizz was worth it, of course, but settling in the new was harder than I expected. First, we live in the country and I literally cannot even see my neighbor. While I love it now, there were times I felt like I moved to Mars! Women here knew each other, like for generations knew each other. Women were sweet, southern and wore orange bows for the University of Tennessee. I was loud, Puerto Rican, wore big earrings and my orange was for the Florida Gators, which I only wore when I wasn’t wearing blue and gold or green for my Fightin’ Irish. Needless to say, I felt all needle in all the haystacks in our fields.
It took years before I started to feel like this was where I belonged. I knew I belonged to Grizz, but to the rest of the people in my area, it was a slow, bumpy, lonely, sometimes straight backwards road. Adding to the challenge of establishing a network of solid friendships, I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up. The bottom-line of that long story was that God was directing me away from the practice of law, and of government work (hard to do from out in the country unless you are an elected official). God was leading me in unchartered waters, so in every direction I saw nothing familiar. Or all new opportunities if that’s the way your brain works.
My brain wasn’t working that way at the time.
I was lamenting all this to my new friend (and only friend if you don’t count my husband’s cousin’s wife who technically is family). She was a lovely woman in her upper 60’s. We were at a Ruby Tuesdays and I remember tears were shed. Mine. I remember gutting out this phrase, “I feel like building meaningful relationships with women right now is like sucking a thick milkshake through a straw…it’s a lot of headache without sweetness and I’m starting to doubt its worth it.” She also just so happened to be the women’s ministry director at our church, but that didn’t restrain me from being wholly myself and wholly a wreck. She was kind, patient, listened, showed empathy, held my hands, offered to study “Battlefield of the Mind” together with me over that summer since I was clearly losing the battle in mine. I remember laughing, agreeing that I would do it with her, but remembered how marked up my copy was already from the many times I’d used it, that I’d have to get a new copy!
I say this to invite you into my shock when an hour later back at her office she sat me down to say I was being considered as her replacement, the next women’s ministry director.
And all the women said, “You have got to be kidding me.”
I know, I said it too. No, but I did. And I reminded her about the tears at Ruby Tuesdays, and the lament over how hard it was for me to build relationship with women that season.
So much changed over the next 4 years, I certainly met a lot of women with 1500 accounted for in our local congregation. I was good with the numbers, the masses were never a problem for me. What eventually started to happen though was that I went from 1-2 close connections and tear-filled confession lunches, to dozens of in-and-out conversations weekly. It was the natural result of leadership of this kind, being surrounded by women who know you, but no one to see a movie with for a girl’s night.
Now I’m not fishing for sympathy, though this would be a good moment to reach out to someone leading anything at your church and tell them you see them, and appreciate them, and take them out for a meal or coffee!
When it came time for me to step down to take better care of my soul and my family, it became clear to me that my social relationships had become a mile wide and an inch thin. As I read and listened to wise folks I admired, I decided I wanted to make some changes to my life so I could experience relationships in a different way – an inch wide and a mile deep.
I’ve been moving toward this other way of being in friendship since August of 2015, and it is a hard practice, but it’s worth it. Hard because our culture holds the number of “friends” or “followers” we have like brand approval. Our like-ability is literally quantifiable if you use social media as a barometer. Let’s not, by the way.
Slowly, inch by inch, I have moved into a rhythm where in each season, like a semester, I identify 5 or fewer women God is directing into my life, women that align with the vision God has for my life that give me life when we are together. When I get some childcare lined up or have an urgent prayer need, or a joy to share, they are the ones that get the text or call. It doesn’t mean they are the only ones I enjoy, hardly! But let’s face it, we just cannot manage a social calendar that runs in the double digits, and be sincere, authentic and mutually edifying…not for long.
Again, God bless Anne.
Today I had childcare lined up for one lunch this week. This would be the one undistracted eyeball-to-eyeball meal I’d have with a woman this week, so I picked from my inch wide. I needed space to be completely honest, and shed a little more hypocrisy today. Oh, it was a good call too. I’ll take 12 of these lunches a year over 300 exhausting meals a month where we all look and sound so pleasing. It just so happened that tears were shed over this lunch too. Mine. But what a rest, too.
Are you exhausted, friend? Too many friends perhaps, and not enough honest and rest? This won’t come overnight, it could, but more likely it will start with a simple prayer asking God to direct you toward these relationships. It will also require a little courage to let some people go, some commitments and social opportunities to pass you by…but you can do it. Inch by inch, find the ones that let you shed the layers safely, and let them in. I know, it’s risky. Do it wisely, but then put your trust in God, not them, and root deep even though they have the ability to hurt you.
The milkshake is worth it.