Tuesday, March 27, 2012

give and take: words from my mother.

{photo by Oh Pioneer}

My mother is wise, and when she speaks, I mostly try to listen. There are moments, I forget, of course. Moments when I roll my eyes or my tongue bleeds from biting it so hard.

But mostly over the years, she has proven herself to be right. She offers wise and honest counsel, and I'll be lucky if I can grow up to do the same.

This weekend, we were talking about friendships, about how true friends look and act. I've heard before — surely you have too — that quality relationships are a give and take, a push and pull. You offer much, but you receive much in return. Good friendships are hard work, but they are always worth the effort.

It's the ones that sometimes aren't worth the effort that I wondered about, wondered about how you know when the giving has become too much and the taking too little.

There's a friend I've had since I was 8 years old, a friend I met while shyly standing in the corner of the school playground, waiting to be talked to. We loved each other almost instantly. It was serendipitous, I think, but good friendships have to move beyond serendipity, and so, over the past 18 years — a lifetime, it seems — we have worked hard to maintain our friendship. We have moved beyond late night sleepovers and the angst and pains of middle school. We've surpassed runs in the park and giggles over inside jokes. We speak fondly of the time I helped her move out of the house she grew up in, the day she stood beside me on my wedding day. We have moved passed the serendipity, and we have made it work. We talk once every few months or so, which may surprise some, but it works for us. We are busy, and when there is time, we talk and we visit, and it is always the same.

We have changed, but — perhaps there is serendipity after all — it is always the same. Our love is just the same.

They are rare, aren't they, those lifelong friends who are content to wait quietly in the background, to offer encouragement and prayer when needed, to talk or visit when the opportunity arises, but to let life happen? Friends who are there in the beginning but somehow stick it out gracefully to the end?

I talked with my mother about this friend, about how through the years she has been faithful, how I love our friendship because she is so, so good for me, and, I think, too, because I am good for her.

My mother spoke up from the other end of the telephone line: "That's it, isn't it? A good friendship is double-sided. You are good for them, but they are good for you, too."

And she continued with this beautiful little exercise that has begun to put all of my relationships into perspective.

Annie is good for                    , and                      is good for Annie.

I've put a lot of friends' names in those blanks, and for the most part, I'm happy with my results. I have so many relationships that are truly that give-take, that push-pull. Friends who pull me out of the pit, friends for whom I would, given the chance, do the very same. These are friendships that are sometimes hard work, but they are always, always worth every bit of the effort.

Then there are a few other names in those blanks, names that are mostly give or mostly take. Friends who I have taken advantage of or who have taken advantage of me. And it may be time to practice my boundary-setting, might be time to close the door on certain seasons and relationships because, for one reason or another, they are just not fair or right or good.

My mother is wise. Her words were simple (most wisdom is), and they were just what I needed to hear.

Maybe you needed to hear them, too. Maybe you needed to be told that it's okay to let go of the friends who just aren't good for you; it's okay to say goodbye to the friendships that are mostly give and very little take.

It's okay.

That's what my mom would say, so now, that's what I'm telling you.


Chelsea said...

Beautiful post.
That photo is awesome!

Erin said...

I did need to hear that, not so much because there are friendships that I can draw boundary lines with externally (as in closing the door on the friendship), but because there are boundary lines that I need to draw in my heart so that when things do not go as well in certain friendships as I wish they would, I will not be so heartbroken about it. There are certain friendships that will probably never be as deep and sincere as other friendships I have, but maybe one day, as we have more years to bond us together, they will transform. And maybe they won't. But I think some boundary lines in my heart would be helpful.

The Runs said...

There is this great movie about friendship called I Love You, Man. It shows that friendship is like marriage and it takes work. While it may be a little profane at times, it shows the give and take a friendship involves and how it can erode if not properly nurtured and cultivated. If you have not seen it, I would HIGHLY recommend it. Just sayin.

Elizabeth Dean said...

My mother says something similar: you have to be a friend to have a friend. This is more appropriate for me as I am more likely to be a taker than a giver. I have to be encouraged out of my naturally selfish ways.

I have some friends that I've managed to keep despite distance and years and I get that whole idea that calling every few weeks or months is enough. It is. Sure, I wish we all lived within miles of each other and could spend all our Sundays at bible studies and after church lunches, but life gets in the way of that. But we work and because of that, it works.

Jennifer said...

What a beautiful post! It certainly is a give and take when it comes to friendships and relationships!

aPearantly sew said...

Annie, it's like you wrote this post for me. I have a post sitting in drafts about something very similar, that I have to say, I'm a bit scared to publish. I have started to realize that some people just don't know how to be a good friend. Some people take a lot, and give very little in return. And those people..well, it might be time to let go of them. That's a hard thing to do. My husband has asked me about these people "why are you still friends with them", and my response is always, "well, because we have been friends for so long". But I'm realizing now that that's not a good enough reason. I need to surround myself with friends who love me, and care for me. Friends who give just as much as they take. Otherwise, I will be left feeling used up, worn out, and bitter.

ashleycartwright said...

Thank you so much for this post. When we moved over two thousand miles, I tried so hard to make new friends. I thought church would be the best place, but when our congregation split, those who I worked so hard to become friends with turned the other way when we chose a different path for our family than they did. But how wonderful God is and placed a wonderful friend in my path, that I didnt have to work at being a friend - the wisdom from your mother is in this friendship. It still hearts my heart when I encounter the old friends, but God is healing me. And, having a forever friend from childhood is great, I got to meet up with mine a few months ago for the first time in four years, but it was just like old times only with kiddos!

Erin said...

I love your mom's line as an evaluation. The give & take comparison never seems quite right to me. I know some people are just users. But, I also don't want to discard a friend, because they don't give as much as I do. I don't want to leave someone I care about friendless, because they don't have the ability to give much. You know what I mean?
BUT. When you step back & ask, am I actually good for them? Is that one good for me? That is just what we need to know, right?

Erin said...

I love your mom's evaluation question. She nails it! Now you can just look and see, is this friendship good? Are we good for each other? Rather than comparing the whole give & take scales. While I get the point of that, it isn't right. Friendship is not about making sure you are getting as much from your friend as you are giving. Somehow that evaluation seems to spoil things

Kristin said...

Annie strikes again with another fabulous post on friendship! :-) I'm still working on writing about it over at my place. I'm having such a hard time gathering both my thoughts, and the thoughts from people I've communicated with about it, into some kind of semblance of order. Hopefully next week I'll be ready to dive in!