A recipe for loneliness:
“They have a perfect life.” –> “Therefore mine is unacceptable.”
At a wedding reception, you see a friend from school who you’ve heard is now excelling at her career. Your think to yourself, “Wow. She’s a real go-getter, actually making a difference in the world. I really need to try harder at work, and maybe then my career would look like hers.” You’re too busy plotting and you don’t stop to care about her, ask her how she’s doing, or find out the reality that as her career is booming, she also sometimes feels exhausted and unsure.
You see an older family-friend at the grocery store, picking out healthy vegatables, of course. “She and her husband are so wealthy and content and wise; my husband and I are never going to get there—we’ll always be broke, and she knows it. ” You head towards the ramen noodles and away from your friend, missing out on her kindness, wisdom, and grace, as well as a chance to encourage her by intentionally catching up with her.
While walking your dog in the park, you see your friend and her husband, glowing newlyweds. You think to yourself, “I’m never going to make anyone that happy.” You walk the other way, counting your bad qualities. If you would have just taken the time to say “hi, how are you doing?” she would have told you that she really misses you and wants to catch up, and that they are both unemployed right now and would value your prayers.
You spot your friend and her two adorable kids during your lunch-break run to Target. Remembering the last time they had you over to their house, you think, “Wow, they really do have it all—the cute kids, the nice house, the great marriage.” Practically power-walking to the check-out line at just 12:20, you tell yourself you better hurry back to work. You miss the chance to encourage her and tell her she’s doing a great job, and you miss out on seeing her momma-grace in action when her son knocks over 500 boxes of fruit snacks.
Yes, these snippets are all fiction, but friend, I have been this person.
Over and over again. Probably ever since high school. Ever since I started seeing real life as a giant version of The Game of Life: Graduate, get a great job, get married, get cute little pink and blue pegs in your tiny plastic car, er… have kids. Keep moving along, and make sure you don’t fall behind.
I’ve avoided friends because my assessment of their life situation compared to mine felt like night and day, a difference too heavy for my heart to hold up. Have you been there? I think sometimes it’s an emotional reality. But also, I know for me it’s often self-destructive avoidance and selfish comparison.
I’m so preocupied with weighing my life against hers that I miss the opportunity to share some grace bundled in a conversation. I forfeit the chance to encourage a friend who may be hurting but hiding it well. I miss out on sharing my own complicated hurts and receiving sweet, sweet grace.
Power-walking away from awkward situations isn’t going to deepen any of our friendships. Having a hard conversation will sometimes be rough, but the gift of friendship is worth it.
This post by Shauna Niequist is pure gold on the subject of pursuing friendship even within the tension of your friends’ celebrations being the painful opposite of your personal hurts and tragedies. She writes so much wisdom, but I think about this particular piece all the time when a friends’ pain or my pain once again make life hard to take. Please. Read. It.
I have some friends in my life that are safety-goggle-givers like Shauna’s friend, and they are invaluable. I want to be that friend. I want to care more about my friend’s heart than keeping my frustrations hidden and festering. And, I want to care more about my friend than her score vs. my score in the game of life.
May you have the deep sense that whatever you’re longing for, you’re not alone. Pull back the curtain, and you’ll find that we’re all yearning for something, managing the pain in the meantime, praying desperate prayers.
– S. Niequist