I sat at a table outside a local bakery and coffee shop. It sits in an old mill, and just a few doors down the covered sidewalk is a small restaurant with outdoor seating as well. As I situated my two children and moved my hot coffee out of the reach of my one year old, I noticed a group, nay, herd, of first time moms circling a table outside the restaurant, restlessly moving strollers around, adjusting blankets and trying to decide where to sit at the table to best reach said strollers. At first glance I thought about last June, when my coffee snatcher was still an immobile newborn who slept almost constantly. I smiled as I thought about my frequent visits to the bakery for coffee and muffins last summer, adjusting to life with two little ones.
Then I heard them talking. I heard words like sleep and Zantac and pediatrician. I was suddenly grateful to be with a grabby pre-toddler instead of lugging around a fragile infant and fragile, over- tired emotions. I looked over at this large assortment of strollers circling the table like Conestoga wagons and wondered what it was like to have so many friends at the same exact stage of life all at the same time. I wondered if they were all friends or if it was a group that advertised for each other on the Internet- like a Keep Mommy and Me Sane (through the first few months) organization.
I realized that friendship has always been a tenuous ideal for me. Life has bounced a me around here and there with a few circumstance precluding me from being part of the Ideal Lifestyle Groups found on the Internet for every stage of life. I have wonderful friends for whom I am truly grateful, but they are all over the friendship spectrum, geographically, age-wise, and career-wise.
When my oldest child was an infant, I didn’t sit at a coffee shop with my life long besties comparing spit up and nap lengths. I sat in a NICU alone for five weeks with a tiny baby, watching her grow and watching the clock tick until my husband got off work. I treasure those weeks however, where she and I sat alone, listening to music, reading books, and just being. When she was 13 weeks old, I left my house each morning at 6am to head off to work, precluding any infant and mommy social groups. When my second child was born, I switched work paths and am home more now. Ironically, either I am too busy or the people I know are too busy and I have no larger tribe of friends than before. Now, before you get sick of what sounds like a pity party, let me be clear. I am not putting out a wanted poster for friends. I have some of the most fantastic friends far and wide that a girl could ever hope for in a short life on Earth.
We spend a lot of time and energy on the friendship model. In churches, we are pounded over the head to be relational. I have heard women bemoan the fact that they have no older female mentors as if their very salvation hangs in the balance of a mentoring program.
Friendship is a gift beyond price. It cannot be bought, it cannot be replicated, it should not be cheapened by undervalued collections of friend lists on social media. Most importantly, Christ is our friend, our very best friend. One who sticks closer than a brother. The pendulum ride between rejection and encouragement in friendship makes me realize that clinging to Christ as our constant friend and salvation, finding our value as a child of God, is the only way to stay sane. Riding the roller coaster of friendship can be exhilarating and exhausting at the exact same time.
Some of us need friends more than others. Some of us are fine left alone with our own thoughts and imaginations. Friendship cannot be a one sized fits all container. What is true though is no matter what personality type we possess, Christ knows and understands us. His work on the cross covers the extroverts and introverts. He is the one relational being who will never fail us. I have failed my friends and mine have failed me. He never will. And, He also puts others into our lives at the right time and juncture to point us to Him. Sometimes, He ordains that we live less distractedly with few friends in order to accomplish the purposes He has for our lives, and to help us find value in His friendship and His alone.
So whether we are in a crowd of friends, riding the exhilaration wave, or we are wandering around alone, wondering if friendships are worth the effort, the great truth is that we have a friend who not only knows us, but made us. Made us in His image, to reflect His nature, to mimic His imagination, to learn to treat others with the love He has shown. Made us to be His children, to talk with Him, to relate to Him, with the understanding of our inner beings that only a parent can have for a child. And that is a friend worth having and a friendship worth modeling with all other friends we ever make.