April 12, 2012

What a Nursing Bra Taught Me About Friendship

It may sound strange, but I have a hard time pinpointing who my friends are.

Each week, I spend time with various kinds of people in various situations, both official ministry events and informal social situations. Many of these people attend our church and, often, we talk together about intimate things. But sometimes the lines between ministry and friendship become blurred. Am I having coffee with a friend or am I having coffee with someone who needs counsel? Is this a person who desires to know me or who desires to know the “pastor’s wife”?

Most of the time I can distinguish between the two easily, but sometimes I can’t.

I’ve discovered, however, that when I have physical, emotional, or spiritual needs, the lines become clearly drawn.  Who can I count on to listen, to pray for me, to carry some of the burden with me, even ministry burdens? Who can I trust?  

My friend Jessica unknowingly helped me develop a friendship litmus test a few weeks ago when she had her third child. With three children under 3, she confessed her difficulty in getting out of the house and asked if I would be willing to run an errand for her. She then handed me a broken nursing bra to exchange at the mall. As I left with her nursing bra, I realized that not only did she trust me with her money, but she also felt completely comfortable handing me her underwear. Women don't ask just anyone to do that. In that moment, holding a broken bra in my hands, I felt privileged and extremely thankful that she would consider me her friend. I also recognized this as my litmus test for friendship.  Who, I wondered, would I ask to exchange a nursing bra for me? Or more accurately, since I no longer need nursing bras (sigh), who would I ask to carry a heavy burden for me?
A few faces immediately popped in my head. When I interact with these women, I leave feeling refreshed and full of life. They ask about me. They know my needs, my concerns, my faults, my joys. They share their own with me, even their doubts and weaknesses.

These friendships have not come easy. In fact, I have experienced seasons in life where I would not have been able to think of one person who lived in my town that I would call to exchange my nursing bra, or take my kids when I was sick, or pray me through a difficult situation. Adult friendship is HARD. I don’t think this is unusual for women in ministry, but I also don’t think it’s unusual for all women. In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with women of all life stages and situations who have bemoaned their lack of heart friends.

If we desire friendship, we have to start somewhere. It will probably entail trusting, letting people into our hearts, taking a risk, or asking for help. It will take work: cultivating, seeking out, maintaining, investing. Perhaps we start with a tangible need, an invitation, a window into our hearts.

Or perhaps even a nursing bra.