October 5, 2016

What I Learned About Friendship From My Military Friends

My family and I live in a transient place: Charlottesville, Virginia. When we moved here from Texas to plant a church, we didn't realize just how transient it is. This city is so transient that my first question when I meet a visitor at our church is, "Are you new to the area?" If the answer isn't yes, it's typically that they've moved here within the past year or two. Not only is Charlottesville an undergraduate college town--home to the University of Virginia--but it also attracts law students, graduate business students, and medical residents and fellows. There is one group of people, however, I was surprised to encounter so much of when we first moved here: military families. We get JAG lawyers, as well as current and former military folks who work at a national intelligence center just outside of town.
Most people live in Charlottesville for a few short years, so at eight years and counting, we're longtime residents of the city. We've seen many beloved military personnel come and go in those eight years, most of them here for only one or two, and nearly all of them have left a profound mark on my family and our church. They are, as a group, energetic, optimistic, servant-hearted, and get-it-done kind of people. But perhaps the most impactful lesson I've learned from them is about friendship.

Here's what I see: these military families bounce from place to place every few years. They start over constantly, always having to find a new doctor and dentist and also having to find a new church family. They settle into a home that they know they'll be leaving in as little as a year, possibly more, but oftentimes they don't even know when they'll be relocated and where. Many of them tell me when they first move to a new spot, especially one without a base, there is a sense of immediate distance when they share they're military, as if the locals have already decided they can't be friends with a short-termer. 

I've tried to put myself in their shoes, considering what it'd be like to be so transient. It appears to me that community and friendship would be difficult. I'd find it challenging to open my heart to people that I know I'd be leaving so soon. I'd likely struggle with frustration and discontentment at having my life uprooted so frequently. But in reality, that's not what I see from them. My military friends astound me at the way they just jump right in to their new community. They hit the church-ground and the friend-ground running, as if to suck out the marrow of wherever they are before time runs out and they're on to a new adventure. Whereas I imagine myself being closed off, they are instead extremely open and eager in relationships with others. I find this fascinating.

Honestly, I've needed this lesson from my military friends regarding friendship. Sure, I can make all kinds of excuses as to why I don't have time with friends or energy for friends or whatever. My calendar and life are filled to the brim, I'm a pastor's wife, blah blah blah. But if I have excuses, my military friends have more, and they don't seem to be playing them. What gives?

It seems the ticking clock gives my military friends a sense of purpose and urgency that motivates them to take action and move outward rather than just waiting for something to happen to them or for them. They don't have time for waiting. Perhaps also they've met so many different people from different places and backgrounds that they've found out how fascinating people can be when they really get to know them. Finally, it seems they have a sense of freedom regarding friendship. The job has forced them to learn the secret of lasting friendship: that each one is a gift from God to enjoy but not to be held too tightly.  

If I ever move again, I want to be like my military friends and act wisely but quickly: get in a church and jump right into serving and getting to know people, seek out friendship with people who are different than me, make time for it as if the clock is ticking down, enjoy it. 

Wait, what am I saying? If I ever move again.. 
Doesn't God have me here in this city for His purposes? Am I somehow different from my military friends? Do I hold a clock that's not ticking? Why do I use my excuses to my own detriment? In other words, what is stopping me from just jumping right in and going for it right now?

What's stopping you?
Friends, you may have noticed that I'm writing posts about friendship this fall in preparation for the launch of my forthcoming book, Messy Beautiful Friendship, which I absolutely cannot wait for you to read. (Read the Introduction here.) In the next few weeks, I'd like to write posts based on questions you have regarding friendship. What do you want to talk about? Loss of friendship? Hurts? Practical tips? The weird combination of friendship and ministry? You tell me and I'll tackle it. Email me your questions or leave them in the comments below.