Later this summer, my husband and I will pack up our two small children and several suitcases with what feels like half our possessions and board a plane destined for the other side of the country. At this stage in our family’s life, I wouldn’t normally volunteer myself for such a big trip, but in this case, I will gladly disrupt sleep schedules and normal routines and manage a jet-lagged toddler—because we are going to a friend reunion. Converging on the Pacific Northwest from scattered locations throughout the country, we’ll all come with our little people in tow for a week together at a lake house in Washington.
These women and their families represent my oldest friends that have remained my closest friends. We’ve passed a decade of friendship—and here we are, still willing to do whatever it takes to breathe the same air for a few days together, to let our children play together, our husbands bond together.
Seasons of Friendship
There are some people who pass in and out of our lives in seasons. Their relationships are deep and real and valuable, but over time or a big move or with a different season of life, they slip away—cherished in memory but no longer quite the same. And then there are those who steadily remain. Those who continue to be the first ones with whom you share the best and worst news, the ones you ask for prayer, the ones who get the texts that start “I need to just tell someone this…” These friendships, ah, they are like a treasure in a field, like something that finds us as much as we find it, something so precious that no matter how much we give, we find ourselves even more enriched. Friendships that last a lifetime are something like grace—or perhaps we could say a grace—something undeserved and unmerited, by which we are transformed.
When we talk of committed relationships, nearly always I hear it in the context of marriage. (Obviously this is an important conversation.) But rarely do I hear it in relation to friendship, as if there are friendships, too, in which we should be willing to make a commitment to a long-term relationship.
I remember a friend painfully emphasizing this point, when, in a difficult season, I’d asked for more support. “It’s not like we’re married,” she said, as if, by being only “a friend,” I had no right to make such a request, as if our friendship could only be burdened to a point. And it feels as though she’s often in the majority when it comes to how we approach friendships—they shouldn’t bear the weight of too much commitment. They’re fun, but they’re seasonal, we often suggest, and shouldn’t be expected to hold up too much. But I have found there is something significant and formative in those friendships that endure for the long haul.
The Gift of Companionship
“It is not good for man to be alone,” the Scripture tells us. It was the first “not good” of creation, even before the brokenness introduced by sin in the world. Even then, while humankind still walked in intimacy with God in the garden, it was not good for us to be alone. Even then, God said, we need companions. So often this verse is applied to a marriage relationship, and it certainly does apply to this unique God-gifted form of companionship. But I believe it also applies to all of those relationships that serve to support us as we live into the work of guarding and caring for the bit of creation entrusted to us, as we seek to live faithfully in our allegiance and submission to our Creator, and as we seek to live lives that flourish and multiply. This verse, I believe, also speaks of friendship.
This sort of transformative and empowering companionship can only come with vulnerability—actually opening our lives to other people, sharing our joys and sorrows, our struggles and our strengths, sharing time, and even “wasting” time together. And it can only truly be seen through longevity. There are certain things that can only be learned and seen and spoken to with a shared history.
Even as I write these words, what comes to my mind are not vague notions of friendship in theory but faces, faces with whom I have my own shared history. I see the ones who have encouraged me and cheered me on. The ones who have kept company with my tears. The ones I know I could call at any hour of the day, without apology. I see the ones I would fly across the country to be with, and they with me.
These relationships bear the stretch marks of geographic distance and morphing life stages and all the shifting forms of our becoming. They are ones who have stuck it out at my best and my worst, through my questions and doubts, and in those seasons when I, honestly, wasn’t quite so much fun to be around.
Committed to Longevity
Sure, friendships like this do not bear the exclusivity of a relationship like marriage, but they do bear—and to some extent require—a similar commitment for longevity—for better or worse—in all our forms and seasons. These are the friends who teach us what forgiveness looks like, what it means to “bear with each other in love.” These are the ones who can remind us who we are and where we’ve come from when life leaves us bruised and disoriented—and who walk with us as we slowly heal and discern where we’re going. They are the ones that know our history and can bear witness to all we’ve endured and all we will be.
These are the friendships that have formed me, shaping me into the woman I am today. The conversations, the shared experiences, the questions, the steady presence of another person committed to journeying with me even when it became difficult or inconvenient—they all became a place for God to work. They all are grace.