Monday, April 20, 2015

Redefining Friendships (Letting the Gospel Impact our Relationships)

One thing that chronic illness has done for me is redefine the image of friendship in my life.  Before my diagnosis a lot of my friendships were based on connections of strength.  I found other people who shared my mutual passions or interests or skills and we discussed them from positions of strength.  We both came to the table with something to offer, and we had mutually beneficial relationships.  

Some of these friendships came in the form of friends in certain classes at school; others were at church where I was able to volunteer and get involved in a variety of different programs with others equally dedicated to the cause.  In looking back on it now, I can say that most of my relationships were relying to some degree on my ability to "hold up my end of the deal" so to speak.  Whether my end was to continue being involved in a certain program at church or affirming some belief that my friend held dear or even dressing a certain way that my friend approved of.  

Acceptance was definitely dependent on certain factors which varied according to which friend was in question at the time.  Needless to say, in this type of atmosphere of friendship, my deep friendships were a lot of mental work to maintain.  Not only did I have to keep straight the criteria for keeping each friend happy individually, but I also had to work hard at times to avoid letting one friend's criteria break offend a different friend.  Those years were exhausting.

Then came the years where no matter how hard I tried I just could not keep up with the demands (whether external and real or internal and imagined).  I worked harder but fell farther and farther behind.  I was swamped with life itself, and completely drained.  My mind was completely drenched in stress on a daily basis, and I felt so intensely alone.  I gradually wandered into some new friendships while keeping some of the rare ones that didn't involve a lot of mental gymnastics, but the damage had been done.

Then came my diagnosis.  Fibromyalgia.  Those years of being inexplicably tired no matter how long I slept.  Those years of being in pain no matter if I was exercising regularly or not.  Those headaches that would not go away no matter what OTC pill or hot pack compress I tried.  Yeah, it was all real.  It wasn't going away.  That anxiety that would creep in from nowhere and stay as long as it wanted.  Those long periods of darkness that sometimes lasted for months without hope of relief.  They were probably going to be a fight for the rest of my life.  So why am I telling you all of this in a post about friendship?

In a lot of ways Fibromyalgia has complicated life for me, but in regards to friendships it has simplified things greatly.  I can no longer limit myself to friendships where I feel that I can enter from a position of strength, because to put it bluntly, I am weak.  Physically, emotionally, often spiritually and mentally.  I can't be the person whose entire friendship hinges on meeting someone else's expectations or fulfilling a need in their life, because I am often struggling to keep up with things inside the four walls that constitute my own home.  

I can't go through life viewing myself as a strong person and trying to surround myself by other strong people, because I have seen the truth.  We are weak people, and we need a strong Savior.  No one is going to be able to fulfill my expectations except Jesus (and that's only when my expectations are right, which is not always).  No one is going to be available all the time to drop everything and come to the rescue.  No one is going to always have a good attitude and tell me exactly what I need to hear or quote exactly the right verse to prop me back up on my feet.  No one is going to be all of what I need in a friend except Jesus, so what audacity do I have thinking that I can play substitute for Him?

This realization has freed me in a lot of ways.  It has been hard to see some friendships slip away from the past (but who hasn't had that happen?).  It's not always intentional on anyone's part, but sometimes people get to different places in their lives and no longer have the connection they used to.  I am genuinely grateful to God for every true, deep friend He has ever brought into my life for however short a time because I know that was His mercy and grace at work.  But honestly it's hard to stay connected with people from the past when your connection was based on what you could do and now you're....just....sick.  

Some of my closest, deepest relationships that have Gospel written all over them are people that I have known for years, who I used to think were invincible, and in recent years we have been able to connect in weakness as well as strength.  We are no longer trying to convince each other that we have no needs, but we are humbly sharing them with each other and encouraging each other to look to Jesus who is our mutual friend.  

I am also making new, deep connections with people all over the country and world who are willing to be open with their weakness and share it as a way of connecting in the Gospel.  It is refreshing and encouraging to share your struggles and weakness with someone who is honest enough and brave enough to share their own in return.  No one wants to be an emotional charity case, and the Gospel pictures the Body of Christ as a family that cries with those who cry and laughs with those who laugh.  We are to be sharing in each other's grief and bearing each other's burdens.  How can we do that if nobody knows what they are?  

I have written many times about being willing to reach out to those who are struggling with weakness, but it occurs to me that sometimes the most effective way to reach out to a weak person is to share some of your own weakness, and in the process to connect on the deepest level possible -- your mutual strength and hope -- Jesus Christ.  He is our comfort.  He is our strength.  He is the reason that the darkness does eventually lift, and the days are worth it inspite of the pain.  He is the reason we carry on. 


1 comment:

  1. Greetings, Katie.
    Katie, you are such a sweetie. Youth is on your side. You can do this. You can control your pain so that you are happier as a person. My son, a graduate of Yale '93, helped me sooo much. His advice: there is no reason for a person to be in constant, severe pain, in this day and age. I agree. I go to a pain specialist. I wear a pain patch, take Norco during flare ups or at night, and even have a topical pain compound cream to apply directly to my pain spot. Am I tired? Yes. But, pain is under control. Universities and big cities have hospitals with pain physicians. Perhaps you even should try medical marijuana? Forget what others think. Put on blinders and run your own race. Find what works for you at this point of your life. When I was younger, I swam, saw chiropractor weekly, and had acupuncture and cupping. For nine years, I continued to teach and coach sports. Now I am retired. If you cannot work, perhaps social security disability will help you pay bills and survive? Please forgive me if I talk too much.
    I am a real chatter box. ...giggle...giggle... Take care.