This post is the fifth in a BreakfastinMoscow series on friendship. To see more on the subject, click here.
Do you feel like you have close friends and authentic community? Are you in a situation or place in life that makes it more challenging to build close friendships? This guest post from my good friend Jennifer Dougan offers a bit of advice on a question to ask yourself when trying to relate to others and build friendships…
Atop creaky honey-colored bleachers in middle school, Sara Hepner* crushed a wad of chewing gum onto my hair, smushing it far into the strands. The basketball game of high school boys raged on below us, and foul horns bellowed. Lanky high school boys lined up at the free-throw line, and my fingers crawled behind my head on reconnaissance.
Later that night under harsh fluorescent kitchen lights, ice cubes and shears flashed and twisted the light in my mom’s gentle hands. In angry tears, I poured out the story. She listened and then asked the question I knew was coming. “How do you think she feels?”
It always flared my temper –that question. Wanting my mom to grab swords and armor to join me in the battle, she instead compassionately listened, asked questions, and then ended with this doozie each time. “How do you think she feels?”
Adult friendships rarely involve gum battles. But in my talks with women from all ages and seasons of life, other hurts, wounds, and struggles appear.
Home alone for hours with an infant and toddler, Jill was desperate for some adult conversation. “All the women around me are too busy, or don’t initiate relationships,” she confided sadly one day. “I call people to get together, but I don’t really feel like I have a close friend.”
Later, other women opened up further. “I’ve been at my church for years and keep trying to get to know people by volunteering, but I still don’t feel close to anyone” or “There are lots of people I know but no real friend. A friend calls you at home, and not just for work or ministry reasons.”
Women of all walks of life are crying out for community and close relationships. This need for “authentic community” is so palpable that churches and organizations everywhere are researching and publicizing these buzzwords. Deep adult friendships are treasured and priceless. They seem rare some days too. Instead of gum wads, we women wrestle against the crunch of busy lives and our best intentions; against the insecurities that follow us and our desire for close relationships.
On a crisp evening stroll through sleeping suburban streets, we talk, a friend and I. There had been misunderstandings, flared tempers, and hurt feelings. Children hung in the balance and mama bears reared up. Stumbling over uneven asphalt, we whispered and shared. Suddenly in the dark, my mom’s question blurted to the surface before I could catch myself. “How do you think she feels?” In the pause that followed, I laughed sheepishly and explained.
Lacing all my interactions now is this insidious question. In conversations with my kids, interspersed through vehement discussions with my husband, and in my other relationships now, the refrain of “How do you think he/she/ they feel?” echoes through my mind.
And as my fingers crawl back through my head on reconnaissance trips now, and people line up on their sides of the free-throw line, it slices deep into my heart and mind. “How do you think he/she feels?” and it throws fluorescent light on any interaction.
P.S. Jennifer Dougan is a long-time friend of mine. She spent part of her childhood in Africa, and has also lived in Europe. She and her husband lead the youth program at the church I went to growing up in MN. Jen’s posts so frequently inspire, encourage, and make me think. If you enjoyed this post, head over to Jen’s blog “Jottings from Jennifer” for more.