Friendship has been a hard thing for me to nail down since I finished college. That’s not true. Friendship has always been a hard thing for me to nail down. I moved every couple years through most of my childhood and early adolescent years. This made me really good at saying goodbye. I learned early on that it’s really easy to say goodbye if you just don’t put down roots. That way you really don’t need to mess with saying goodbye, you can just kind of disappear.
This helped me grow the skill of having relationships where I am, not where I used to be. My M.O. is that I’ll build relationships where I live, and then when I move I’ll let those relationships flounder and create a whole new set of relationships. This served me well as a child, but it has been costly as an adult.
I first learned how to articulate this pattern while I was going through a season of counseling. I realized that I started doing this because I was just a sad little kid and I needed a way to cope. It served me well at the time. Then I did what all people do. I turned my coping skill into a way of life. This is when it became a problem. I started moving from place to place, leaving people behind, but I didn’t need to leave them behind. I just thought that’s what a person did because it’s what I had always done.
Probably the most costly set of relationships I left behind were those I cultivated in college. I had some of the best friends a person could ask for. Then I moved. I packed up my little Honda Accord with all my stuff, and I packed the suitcase of my heart and drove on down to Abilene, TX. I left nothing behind in York, NE.
Over the course of the last 10 years, a lot has happened. The people I was closest to while in college have gone through the wringer. These friends missed my presence in their times of trouble because I was busy with the business of self-protection. I wasn’t willing to do the work to learn how to grow roots that crossed state lines.
I never overtly left these friends behind, but if you ignore enough text messages, people quit reaching out.
I don’t like to face my demons. Neither do you. For me, I leave behind friendship so that I don’t have to face them. How do you avoid the pain of personal growth and maturity? My life’s work is to help people grow as people. I believe the best way to do this is through learning that God actually likes you and that Jesus is happy for you to tag along with him. This demands an ongoing exercise in honesty about what we do and why we do it. Christians call this confession. Like so many teachers, I’d rather give the test than take them. To grow is hard. To be in relationship is hard. To learn new ways of behaving is hard. I’d rather scroll through my newsfeed…again.
I present myself as honestly as possible as a case study for how people turn coping mechanisms into walls of isolation. We create secret compartments of our lives. We rarely share each of these compartments with everyone in our lives. We may gain the feeling of security in this, but we give up true strength. For the past year I have been working as hard as I can to grow through these things. I’ve taken several painful steps, but none of them have hurt as badly as the fear that once kept me paralyzed. I’m learning to let people back in. More specifically, I’m learning to be honest about my demons and to slowly let down my guard.
I know your path is different than mine. But our common ground is that we want to get to the end of our lives and feel good about the experience we had. You’re probably thinking about these sorts of things as we wrap up the Christmas season and plunge into the new year- although these aren’t the things we like to talk about at this time of year. Let me invite you to take the first step toward anything new- begin finding the words to talk about the dysfunction that shapes your life. Once you begin talking about it, the fear begins to shrink. It’ll shrink slowly at first, but with time you’ll find it retreating to its proper place. Then you’ll be able to really start living.