December 1, 2016

Making Friends When You're Shy Or Insecure

When I was a child I was painfully shy. When adults spoke to me, I'd hide behind my mother, answering their questions from behind her skirt, afraid to look them in the eye. I rarely spoke to other children at school unless they first spoke to me or invited me to join in whatever game they were playing. Perfectly content with one or two close friends, I remained quiet in most social situations. I was never the initiator, the includer, the leader, and most definitely never the life of any party.

And then, prior to my 6th grade year, my family and I moved to a new city. I was petrified and cried myself through that first year of middle school. My poor parents; they probably had no idea what to do with me or how to help me adjust. I signed up for softball and warmed up with my teammates in silence, hoping they'd include me in their conversations. I joined the youth group at church and sat in silence, waiting for girls to approach me. And then I'd go home, uncertain and overwhelmed, and cry my eyes out to my mom once again.
One day, as we were warming up for a game, a girl on my softball team named Kimberly said something to me that immediately etched itself into my memory. Kimberly was pretty and bubbly and friendly, one of the most popular girls at school, and just the thought that she was speaking to me made me instantly nervous. Standing beside me during warm ups, she stopped, looked right at me and said, "You know, I used to think you were a snob, because you never said anything to anyone." I just stared at her, gaping at her directness and wondering if "used to" had ever really changed. It felt like she was trying to send me a message, in a helpful sort of way, but the words stung bad. How could she think I was a snob? Didn't she realize that, being new, I was extremely unsure of myself and that, in fact, it was her duty as an insider to come toward me, the outsider, with friendship?

After the sting subsided, however, I realized Kimberly had given me a gift--an outsider's perspective on myself. My quietness wasn't the invitation and opportunity for others to come toward me that I'd hoped it was. Instead, my quietness had built a wall between myself and others that sent a loud and clear message: don't come near.

The gift Kimberly gave me changed my life, because that day I realized that if I wanted to have friends in my new city, I'd actually have to talk to people. (I know, revolutionary.) I'd have to carry myself in a way that invited rather than repelled. Above all, I'd have to do things that felt unnatural and uncomfortable.

I am who I am. To this day, I am still shy, reserved, and don't mind a bit being by myself. However, I still very much want to have friends, and sometimes this combination of personality and dreams can be tricky. I often find myself reverting back to that 6th grade girl's expectation that others should do the work of coming toward me and helping me and befriending me.

It just doesn't work like that, not for me and not for you either. Waiting for others and hiding away (literally and figuratively) quickly builds a wall between others and ourselves and very few, if any, women will try to scale our walls in search of friendship.

Friendship is hard enough. I don't want to put obstacles in my own way. As an adult, I've obviously learned to look people in the eye and speak, but I think the greatest lesson birthed out of Kimberly's words is that I should do things that feel uncomfortable to me. For example, it's uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for me to attend women's ministry events at church--and I'm in charge of them! I would much prefer to stay home in my pajamas. But after the fact--after a retreat or a gathering of some sort--I'm always glad I went. Always, always, always.

It's not only worth the risk of doing uncomfortable things, but now I know something I didn't know when I was with Kimberly on the softball field: I know that I'm enveloped in the sure love of Christ.   I am secure, so secure in his delight and approval, that He's become a anchor for my soul. He has me so securely in His hands that I can go toward others with friendship and not worry if I get the response I hope for. I am hidden in Christ, so I don't have to be afraid to be who He's made me, but I also don't have to self-protect. I can go toward others with confidence, extending an invitation rather than building a wall.

November 17, 2016

Friendship for the Pastor's Wife

A few years ago I took questions from an audience of women. One woman raised her hand and wanted to talk about her pastor's wife. She said, "I really want to be a friend to her." I smiled, said  wonderful, and began listing off ways she could specifically care for her. Things like prayer and letting her know she's being prayed for, saying thank you for the many unseen things she does, and perhaps helping her with her small children on Sunday mornings. The woman interrupted me to rephrase her question. She wanted to know how to become friends with the pastor's wife and expressed frustration that her pastor's wife seemed hard to know.
Her question sat with me for a long, long time. In the moment, for a reason I didn't yet understand, I bristled. In the weeks following, however, I realized why. The questioner presumed friendship with her pastor's wife was inevitable, and she seemed personally offended that her pastor's wife hadn't come toward her to welcome her into her confidence.

I wish I'd thought of all this during the Q&A. I would have told her I stood with my first answer, even after she rephrased it. The way to get to know your pastor's wife is the way you get to know every other woman. Show interest in her, ask questions, engage her when you're around her, pray for her, or serve her in some way. For a pastor's wife who often gladly initiates, gladly carries conversations, gladly helps others, gladly rallies others to help, gladly hosts, and gladly listens to the cares and concerns of others, a well-placed question or a simple thank you is truly a delightful gift. A woman who cares for her, even in the simplest way, absolutely stands out as a friend and possibly a good friend.

And if I could do it over again, I would have gently explained to the questioner that her pastor's wife is just like every other woman in the church when it comes to friendship: she gets a choice who she lets in.

I couldn't think of an eloquent answer, because questions about friendship and relationships within the church often get me very flustered. This topic feels vulnerable and sensitive, because I've gotten it wrong far too many times, and I've nursed silent wounds that might affect my response with bitterness. Also, it seems that everyone has an opinion about how the pastor's wife relates to others, and I wonder if people who ask me about this will listen, really listen to my flustered, fumbling answers.

Meanwhile, the pastor's wife my questioner asked about is probably struggling to navigate all her relationships within the church. Are they friendships? Or simply warm church relationships? What can she share and with whom? Can people see her as a real person? Who can she bring into her confidence and will there ever be a person like that for her in her church?

A pastor's wife, as one recently told me, often feels as if she's relationally a mile wide and an inch deep. She may even believe the oft-repeated charge that she is not to have personal friends within the congregation, or she may feel she is stretched so thin from church-related demands that friendship isn't logistically possible for her.

I've felt all of these things and believed all of these things, even tried to live as if I were responsible to maintain friendships with everyone I possibly could within our church. For many years, I resigned myself to the idea that I didn't have a choice in who my friends were, and I walked myself down a path of loneliness, self-pity, and isolation.

Pastor's wife, I have good news for you. You do have a choice in the matter, and friendship is a very real possibility for you. Friendship will require your vulnerability, however, and this is the first obstacle you'll have to hurtle yourself through with purpose and intentionality, because vulnerability is something we tend to tightly lock away. We point to the caveat--"but make sure you are vulnerable only with safe people"--as permission to remain holed up and self-protective. This doesn't win friends, dear reader. Here's what does:

Root out bitterness and self-pity. First of all, other women sniff out bitterness and self-pity and they don't know what to do with it, especially if it's emanating from the pastor's wife. More importantly, however, bitterness is sin against God. God sees how you've been legitimately hurt. He saw what that person did to you, and He'll deal with that person's sin, but don't become the sinner yourself in your inability to entrust yourself to the Lord's care and comfort. The Lord is your defense (Psalm 5:11-12) and gives such secure love that you can put yourself back out there and keep trying relationally.

Don't believe your own press. You are introduced everywhere you go as The Pastor's Wife. You may feel unspoken expectations regarding the role. You may find yourself trying incredibly hard to be what you think everyone wants you to be. But you are ultimately not a role; you are a person. The more you think of yourself as a role, the more you will find yourself performing and overanalyzing relationships, and the less you will be able to engage other women as the real person you are.

Don't take the attitude of a martyr who can't ask for help or receive help from others. If you want deep friendships, you absolutely must reveal your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs to others. Think about how you would feel if you tried cultivating a relationship with another woman who never expressed an uncertainty, a discouragement, or a physical need. You wouldn't want to be friends with her! Start with small things, but start somewhere. (And know that friendship struggles aren't unique to pastor's wives. Don't play the martyr by using your role as an excuse to not try. Friendship rarely falls into the lap of any woman. Those who have friends have intentionally cultivated them.)

Take steps that will move you from mile wide, inch deep to life-giving friendship. We all feel the tyranny of the urgent. Ministry can, at times, feel very reactive. We don't have time to stop and think about who we'd like to have coffee with or get to know better, because we're just reacting to the latest need. So what do we do? In order to move away from mile wide, inch deep relationships, we have to plan ahead. Who do you want to get to know better? Who are your growing friendships with? Who are people that fill you to the brim with life and fun and joy? Get times with those folks on the calendar before the church related activities fill it up. Make time in your schedule for friendship.

Know how to share. Sometimes we feel as if we can't talk about one of the most important things in our lives--the church--with even our closest friends. But I think we can. Of course, there are details upon details that should never pass from our lips, but we can share from our own perspective without crossing any lines. In other words, if there is a difficult situation going on, I can say to my very closest friends, "Kyle has been dealing with a difficult situation and it's spilling over onto me. We feel discouraged. Can you pray for us?" Good friends will respect the boundaries but also care and pray and come alongside.

Live in a need-to-know relationship with your husband concerning the church. You don't need to know everything. In fact, you need to know very little about what's going on behind the scenes. My husband discusses the details of messy situations with the other elders at our church and other pastors he knows. This frees me up to just have normal relationships with people within our church.

Relate with honor. Here's a template that's helped me enormously, so much so that it's become something I literally say out loud to myself when the "shoulds" come barreling at me: I'm not responsible for everyone. I am to honor all, be friends with a few, and serve how God leads me. This means that when we go to church gatherings, we have an opportunity simply because we're the pastor's wife. We have the opportunity to honor people with our words, our demeanor, our affection, our listening, and our helping, and we can shower folks with honor. Friendship, in which we share our innermost thoughts and feelings, is for a few who've proven true blue and wise and who can hold a confidence. Friendly with all, friends with a few.

Friends, I could probably go on forever about this topic, because friendship for the pastor's wife is complex and often complicated. It's difficult to cover it all in a blog post. I'd love to talk with you more about friendship and ministry and answer any questions you have. Send them to me by email and then let's jump onto Facebook Live for a chat on Monday, November 28 at 8 pm EST. To participate, simply be on my Facebook page at that time and you'll see me come on live. For reminders, "like" my page on Facebook or follow me on Instagram

November 9, 2016

Church, This is a Call for Familial Friendship

In all of the controversy over Jen Hatmaker's statements on same-sex marriage, the phrase that continually rings in my ears is Rosario Butterfield's: "The cross is ruthless." She referred first to the ruthlessness between the cross and an unconverted person and then described how the cross is equally relentless toward the converted. This latter relentlessness--how the cross requires me daily to come and die to self and live to God--is something I've not always understood. Nonetheless, the cross has been relentless in my life, pursuing and crucifying my claims on self-rule and self-glory. The gospel, because it is by nature sacrificial, requires my self-sacrifice.
Church, the gospel lays claim to us all. Christ lays claim to our ambitions, our money, our minds, our work, our children, and, yes, even our sexual activity. We cannot lay out for the unconverted a Christianity that will "make life better," when in fact faith in Jesus often makes life more difficult, because the priceless value of knowing Him comes at a cost to self. We become no longer our own; everything we are and do must be submitted to someone else--namely Christ.

We certainly can't lay out the benefits without the costs for the unconverted, but perhaps even more so we must be careful about this within the church. We must be talking about the costs of following Christ with one another. What does the gospel cost you, unmarried Christian? What does the gospel cost you, Christian businessman? What does the gospel cost you, Christian mother pregnant with a baby the doctors tell you to abort? What does the gospel cost you, faithful pastor? What about you, college student studying at a public university antagonistic to faith? What does the gospel cost you, widow or widower? What does it cost you, dear reader?

The costs and demands of the gospel are some of the most vulnerable stories we hold, because they are sensitive and they are difficult and we're not always sure we're getting it right. These are the stories where our doubt and wrestling reside.

I can tell you what the gospel has demanded of me. Even typing that sentence brings tears to my eyes. I live where I live, write what I write, parent the way I parent, spend my money and my time the way I do because of the gospel. I've said goodbye to people and places I didn't want to say goodbye to, I've struggled with loneliness, I've overlooked offenses, I've had to place others before myself in ways that has made me feel invisible at times--all for the sake of the gospel. The cost of following Christ has seemed unbearable at times, especially when self rises up, bucking for a fight.

The truth is that there is beauty in self-sacrifice. I look back at all my wrestling against the claims of the cross and I'm beyond grateful that the cross has won. I'm still here. I'm still walking forward. The benefits of submission to Christ are becoming more and more joy-filled to me. And I also see the goodness of God to work on me slowly, otherwise I'd be crushed.

Do you know what encourages me when I'm faced with the call of the cross in a newly exposed area of my life? It's when I look around at the beloved people in my church and see that the cross is just as relentless in their lives. My single friends who want to be married could be traipsing around the city dating and sleeping with anyone and everyone. They could be taking their future into their own hands rather than waiting on the Lord and entrusting themselves to Him. My married friends who have experienced difficulties in their marriages could be taking their husbands to divorce court. My same-sex attracted friends could be succumbing to their desires. They hold steady in truth and grace for the sake of the gospel, and their stories not only compel me to do the same, but they also solidify our bonds of unity and friendship and show me anew the surpassing worth of the gospel.

We're in a new day, Church. We can no longer think of church as something we do, as if its a social club or somewhere we go to get a shot of "feel better." We must instead help create a culture within our churches of familial friendship. Kevin DeYoung says that friendship is the most important-least talked about relationship in the church, and I tend to agree. We must be actively pursuing deep relationships with others within our churches in which we bravely share how the gospel is laying claim to our lives. Of course, this requires vulnerability, and not vulnerability simply for its own sake, but so that we can know and be known in a way that helps us endure in truth and grace. If we don't do this, everyone stands apart as individuals, either not realizing how the gospel lays claim to them or believing they're the only ones having to give something up and, therefore, counting the cost as too great.

Church, this is a call to pursue and value familial friendship. We cannot call, for example, same-sex attracted people to submit their desires to Christ, quite possibly abandoning a dream for marriage, without offering the safe haven and deep companionship of lifelong family. We cannot call for singles to submit their sexual desires and hopes for marriage and children to Christ without also offering ourselves as their family. Church, listen to the words of our Christ:

"Peter began to say to [Jesus], 'See, we have left everything and followed you.' Jesus said, 'Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'" (Mark 10:28-30)

The call of the gospel is to walk away and never come back. We belong now to Jesus. But He says that those who leave everything behind will be enveloped into family--the Church. He describes the benefits of the Christian family as far outweighing the costs of submitting ourselves to Christ.

This is our way forward in these times. This is how we hold both grace and truth together rather than simply condemning or, on the other hand, loving without truth attached. We share our stories--because we all have them--of how Christ has laid claim to us and how we're wrestling to submit to Him. We continually call our friends to die to self and live to God. (I believe this willingness to address sin is what makes friendship distinctly Christian.) We allow our friends to do the same for us. And as we call each other to walk away from who we once were, never to return, we invite them into a Church that looks like family more than anything else.

October 26, 2016

Lonely for a Friend? Here's One Thing That Might Help

In my early adulthood years, I struggled desperately with loneliness. Around our first wedding anniversary, my husband accepted a church staff position in the town where we'd attended college, so we moved, bought a house, and a few years after that, had the first of our three children. My college friends were scattered, my best friend from high school and her husband had moved across the country, and I was left trying to form adult friendships in the town I'd known only as a college student.

I didn't try very hard, if you want to know the truth.
We lived in that town for seven years and those were some of the loneliest years of my life. I'm not sure that I had a single friend, at least one that I felt comfortable calling to take care of my kids if I came down with anything more serious than a cold. That was my litmus test--Who would I call in an emergency? Who would I call if I needed something? The answer was a shrug, which always elicited a pang in my heart. Friendship--or the lack thereof--became a source of insecurity, pain, and even shame for me.

I now see that a portion of that loneliness was God's work: He allowed those seasons of relational dryness so that I wouldn't put anyone else in His place, so that I would rely on Him to meet my deepest needs. Through loneliness, He forged my dependence on Him.

I also see so clearly now, looking back at those years with matured vision, that I was insecure and nervous and arrogant. I recognize that I actually had seedling friendships during the very times I was in tears over my want. I couldn't name my friends then because I couldn't see them, but I can name them now: Ashley and Jamee and Niki and Kelly. Ashley and I had a raw conversation about our children at the pool one day that swung wide the door for friendship. Jamee and I had a standing playdate. Niki offered me encouragement when I needed it, and Kelly was always so easy to be with. But I wasn't satisfied, to be honest. I wanted something more, while at the same time doing nothing to have more.

I can also now understand why I couldn't see those friendships for the gifts they were--because my vision was blurred by my idealistic standard of that One True Friend to Rule Them All. My own dream, though it seemed beautiful and attainable, was actually piercing me through. My dream by its very nature held prerequisite stipulations: my One True Friend needed to live in my town, attend my church, be married and have children, have a husband whom my husband liked, and be a friend who empathetically understood the demands ministry placed upon us. My friendships were the equivalent of Jerry's dating rotation on Seinfeld: I rejected perfectly good seedling relationships because of ridiculous and petty details such as Man Hands. Or, in my case: age, marital status, or a so-so conversation.

When we hold an ideal of friendship in our minds--who it will be, what they will be like--we hold a standard above the heads of real women God has placed in our lives, and then we wonder why we're constantly disappointed and bitterly lonely.

Are you feeling lonely? I would tell you what I wish someone had told me in my early adulthood years: cross categories. What I mean by that is we must drop the mental picture of what our friends should be like. Why do we assume our friends must be in our same life stage, have the same marital status, and understand all the nuances of our lives? Those categories, if we let them, only serve to cage us in and cultivate our loneliness more.

So why not cross categories? Ask a woman 20 years your junior or senior out for coffee. Strike up a conversation after church with a woman with a different marital status than you. Ask a new mom to come hang out with you and your teenagers. Spend time investing in a teenager. Befriend a woman of a different race.

In order to cross categories, we have to realize it's going to be inherently challenging, therefore we must cross boundaries with compassion instead of standards of expectation. As a married person, I don't understand what life is like for my single friends, and I shouldn't pretend to know or have the answers. As a white woman, I don't understand everything about what life is like for my black friends. But I can ask good questions. One of the best ways to cross categories is to arm yourself with a simple question: "Will you tell me more?" Tell me more about what it's like to parent a child with special needs. Tell me more about what it's like to be in the military. Tell me more about what it's like to be an immigrant.

For those who are willing to cross categories with compassion, there are rich opportunities available for friendship. It took me a long time to figure this out, but I finally did. I no longer seek a One True Friend to Rule Them All; I found that holding a standard above other women's heads only increased my own loneliness and frustration. Those standards were actually acting as blinders to the women standing right in front of me.

If loneliness is an ongoing pattern for you, I wonder what's keeping that pattern in place? Could it be your perspective on who are potential friends? What might happen if you crossed categories with compassion?

October 20, 2016

When There is Unexplained Distance in a Friendship

A few years ago, one of my friendships disintegrated, and it was largely my fault. For the world, friendship disintegration may involve screaming matches or slanderous accusations, but for Christian women, it typically means going radio silent or slowly distancing ourselves from relationships we once considered close. We think, in doing so, we're being "nice", because this route avoids gossip and stirring up unnecessary conflict, but in fact it is as equally hurtful as a spoken wounding word. In fact, it may be more hurtful, because in the silence, we leave others with many unanswered questions and inflamed insecurities.
My friendship disintegrated in this pattern, and I was the one who pulled away in the guise of niceness. This friend and I are polar opposites in personality, but we also have many commonalities: a love of Jesus, dreams for our families, and a passion for ministry to women. She was, to me, sharpening iron, but she sharpened me in ways I didn't particularly want to be sharpened. Sometimes that sharpening hurt and I took offense, but I didn't say anything to her about it. I didn't ask for clarification, didn't seek understanding, and didn't give the benefit of the doubt, but instead I slowly distanced myself from her.

I was asked about this in various refrains from blog readers:

  • I have a friend who has drifted away and I don't know why. Do I forgive her and just let it go or do I tell her that I am hurt by our friendship drifting away?
  • I'm mourning a friendship. I've done everything I know to do to make peace but the relationship no longer exists in the deep and intimate way it once did. How do I continue to love her while mourning how it's changed?
In my friendship, I was the drifter, the one who left a mourner in my wake. Somewhere along the way, I gave myself permission to give up on our relationship. 

After much distancing between us, my friend came to me in gentle conversation to call me on it. If you want to know the truth, I wasn't ready for that conversation; I wasn't ready to listen. I still had my personal excuses as to why distance was okay. 

Several months later, through the simple yet piercing question of another friend, God convicted me that distancing was not "nice" but rather a willed wounding. After all, this wasn't a woman who had moved away or whose schedule made it difficult for us to see one another. That would be a natural distancing. This was an emotional distancing, a hurtful distancing, and I'd willfully chosen it, primarily because I didn't want to have a hard conversation. I hadn't wanted to share how her words had touched some sensitive parts of me, how I'd felt misunderstood, how I'd been hurt. I didn't want to have to go through the sharpening that working through challenges in our relationship might require. So I'd just walked away. 

I couldn't ignore the Lord's conviction, however, so I called her up and asked if we could talk face-to-face. She came over, sat on the couch with me, listened, and forgave. We confessed all the crazy thoughts, insecurities, and assumptions we'd made about one another in the silence between us, and I think we came to a better understanding of and a deeper compassion for one another. The only way to that point was through a hard conversation.

God put her in my life specifically for the sharpening. I learned that lesson almost too late, but I learned it nonetheless. I looked back at my life in acknowledgement that, typically, when someone in my life makes me feel uncomfortable, my knee-jerk reaction is to avoid them. I need to consider instead if God has them in my orbit for a reason. 

But the primary lesson I've taken away from my restored friendship is this: There are times when I need to have hard conversations. All of those many months of hurt could have been avoided entirely if I'd been open and direct. I've often believed that avoiding the hard conversations is the right way because it's avoiding potential division or will be unnecessarily hurtful. I've come to realize that avoiding the hard conversations is actually loving myself and my own safety and comfort more than it is loving other people in the way Christ would have me love them. 

Christians, especially in friendship, avoiding the hard conversations is far more wounding than having them! And I believe that our inability or refusal to have biblical hard conversations is one of our greatest weaknesses in the Church as a whole. In most situations that women come to me for counsel--a discipleship relationship is falling apart, a friend unintentionally wounded them, a relationship is causing them consternation, there is frustration over a church decision--my first question is, "Have you gone to that person and talked to them about it?" This is typically the last thing they want to hear; they want any solution that allows them to avoid addressing the problem head-on.

Yes, there are many instances when offenses must be overlooked. Not everything needs to be addressed. We are imperfect people in an imperfect Church. However, we can know that we need to have a hard conversation, as opposed to overlooking an offense, if we find ourselves having imaginary conversations with a person, avoiding them, or talking to everyone else but the person about the situation.

In the many months when I attempted to distance myself from my friend, I made many excuses for myself. I can't be friends with everyone. I don't have to be friends with everyone. This relationship is too challenging to be a good friendship. I should have recognized these thoughts as red flags. I have since gone back through them to consider if it's ever okay to walk away from a friendship, and I've come to the conclusion that there are very few times when that's appropriate. I believe God places people in our lives for our good and our sanctification and the people we often want to distance ourselves from are the ones we probably need the most. Of course, we can't be close friends with everyone, but we can certainly honor everyone and learn from everyone we encounter. Radio silence and distancing are not a form of honor and humility.

So for those asking questions related to this topic, here's what I've learned: 

If you feel distance in a friendship and you don't know why, consider having the hard conversation, but do so carefully. 
  • Do it in person, not over text or email. 
  • Do it only after much thought and prayer as to what specifically needs to be addressed.
  • Do it--this is the hard part--for the sake of the other person and with a goal of restoration. That's what my friend did for me. She helped me see myself by showing me how I was wounding her. She did it out of love for me and in an attempt to reconcile our relationship, not from a place of expectation. 
  • Do it with a readiness to forgive but also a readiness to listen. Are you prepared to hear if the friend's distance is because of how you hurt them? 
  • Do it with your trust in the Lord, not in expectation of a specific response from your friend. The relationship may not be fully restored or may be different than it was before. The friend may not be ready for the conversation. Have the hard conversation with Romans 12:18 in mind: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Do what you can do, do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, and trust Him for the rest.

Is there someone you need to have a hard conversation with? Is there someone you are distancing yourself from emotionally? What would God say to you about it today?

In my forthcoming book, I asked the friend I've written of here to join me in telling our story. We go into much more detail about how it all fell apart and how God put us together again. Preorder your copy of Messy Beautiful Friendship by clicking on the image below.