Trust is not the same as being like-minded

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

Even as a child, I learned one particular non-negotiable relationship issue. It was trust. I learned that the difference between someone my grandparents were friendly with and someone for whom they counted on was predicated on trust. My grandmother was wicked smart; she watched people; she let people have the time it took to teach her whether or not she could trust them. I’m not sure if others necessarily knew which list they were on, but my grandmother was crystal clear. She could be friendly with everyone, but she trusted only those that taught her they could be trusted. She was patient; she waited for people to teach her who they were and if they could be trusted with her most vulnerable realities. For her, trust was NOT about total agreement on all subjects, it was about whether or not a person had the capacity to care and be cared for as circumstances dictated.

My grandmother maintained a certain amount of watchful but kind distance in some relationships, she even had a couple of notable compassionate endings to relationships that proved incompatible with the community she was part of. Many benefited from her quiet ability to be a good friend to others and choose her own friends wisely.

Make space for your friends' shortcomings

To review:

1. Do not impose my interpretation (and expectations) of how the world SHOULD work on others and 2. Believe folks when they teach me how they believe the world should work. If I fail to embrace either of these two practices in all my relationships, I might miss an opportunity to develop a lovely friendship with someone who at face value seems really different from me.

It is possible to adore people who voted for the candidate we did not vote for. I know - this sounds crazy - but it is true. I suspect this is a bit more challenging today than it was in the past and I wonder why. I fear it is because we have gotten careless with our relationships. Maybe we take them for granted. Perhaps our tendency toward upward mobility, or just mobility in general, has made it too easy for us to disconnect from difficult people.

My grandparents lived within a four mile (maybe less) radius their entire married life. They had relatives and lifelong friends who lived within walking distance. “Back home” was a drive out into the country, and the country was not that far from the city. I suspect their web of relationships made it harder to pout or withdraw from relationship.

It certainly made it hard to keep secrets. My grandmother was the keeper of confidences. Countless times I was shooed out the door as she welcomed a friend to her back door for a quiet, and often lengthy conversation. Rumor had it that my grandmother knew every secret in Durham but never shared one with others. I suspect this is true. She certainly held mine. I do not know if it was an expression of core values or a real sense that folks needed each other or what. But people looked out for one another, people who were very different from one another socio-economically, educationally and in other less quantifiable ways too.

True friends are your family

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

Never, ever underestimate the value of friendship. When I was a kid, there were aspects of my growing up years that were lonely and challenging for me. I’m sure that many, many others in my shoes would have thought that our family situation was wonderful. I don’t want to communicate a lack of gratitude or misrepresent the times that were not only fun but quite adventurous. But for my particular personality, our vagabond tendency to move from city to city was stressful.

My saving grace was the time I spent at my grandparents’ home. In the summer I was allowed to go stay with them, and their block welcomed me like one of their own - particularly the Harwards who lived next door. I’ve written about them so many times, I’m sure that if you’ve hung out with me or read our blog - you feel like you know them too! These folks extended themselves for me. They went out of their way to be kind. They reminded me of who I was when all the moving often left me feeling uncertain about my own identity. They held the memory of me over the long haul.

When my mother died, they mourned with me. When their dad died, I mourned with them. Much of what I believe about hospitality, kinship, kindness, love and generosity have their roots in the deep and abiding foundation of the friendships we forged over decades. I may have been a rolling stone gathering no moss, rolling but Ruby Street was solid ground and provided a firm foundation for growing up in a loving environment.

Friendships may come and go, but we should fight to keep them if at all possible. Because a friendship can not only save a life, it can redefine it, redeem it, restore it, and even give a lonely little girl something to hold onto with joy.

True friends give you extra chances

To review: 1. Do not impose my interpretation (and expectations) of how the world SHOULD work on others and 2. Believe folks when they teach me how they believe the world should work. If I fail to embrace either of these two practices in all my relationships, I might believe that someone is a trusted friend when they really are not. This does not mean that they are an enemy, or that there is something wrong, the relationship just may be different than we thought or hoped.

Trusted friends are not necessarily obvious choices. Because this is such a challenging thing to figure out, I hope we will all exercise a ton of compassion towards ourselves and others as we sort out what it means to have a trusted friend.

We do not have to agree on much of anything to be a trustworthy friend. What we MUST do is have our friend’s best interest as a top priority. We need to be not only willing, but eager, to set aside our own interests for the sake of theirs. (For this to be a trusted friendship, this is a mutual give and take, otherwise, this is not a friendship, it is a ministry opportunity. Or 12 step work.) We celebrate their victories; we grieve their defeats. We find joy in their joy; their sorrow is ours and vice versa. This doesn’t mean that the relationship will be EQUAL, although of course, over the course of a lifetime, we hope it evens out. But it may not. If we’re hoping for equality, we are not talking about a friendship, we’re negotiating a deal.

A trusted friendship is one where there is a shared commitment to not only compassion, but carrying each other’s burdens. A real friendship will involve inconvenience, hurt feelings, and aggravations from time to time. On a practical level, when I think about my dearest friends, I would say that they are the kind of people that make watching paint dry together fun. Getting lost together is an adventure. Losing together is a comfort. Standing together at a graveside in the rain and wind is a privilege.

Some of us trust too easily or too long. Relationships change. It’s important to pay attention, be honest, and not assume that once a friend, always a friend. Or, for that matter, once an enemy, always an enemy.

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

Making enemies out of friends

I am not prone to thinking of others as my enemy. Oh, I do have enemies - but to me they are things like: substance use disorder, abuse and neglect, poverty and prejudice. All these things that, to my way of thinking, whittle away and endanger a world that welcomes the kingdom of God in its midst.

In order to find compassion, I believe my work in evaluating all my relationships is twofold: 1. Do not impose my interpretation (and expectations) of how the world SHOULD work on others and 2. Believe folks when they teach me how they believe the world should work. That way, I can make a wiser, more informed decision about how we relate to one another.

If I fail to embrace either of these two practices in all my relationships, I’m going to be danger of making several crucial relationship mistakes:

1. I am going to mistakenly believe that someone is a trusted friend in life when they are NOT.

2. I am going to limit my connections with others who might make awesome friends even though we are very different.

3. I’m going to bail on relationships that I could maintain with a bit more intentionality.

4. I’m going to hold on too long to a relationship that deserves a compassionate end.

Do any of these options feel like experiences you have had in your own relationships? I wonder if we each tend to have a pattern to our relationship problems?

To be continued...