During my early adulthood (high school and beyond), I had many friends. At least I thought I did. These are the people I went to school with, hung out with, watched movies and played games with. I had a good time with them. I was a private person, though, so I didn’t share much about my personal life and daily difficulties. When I was struggling with morality and relationships, I didn’t mention it. When I was dealing with stress and anxiety, I kept it to myself. When I could have asked for help, I instead tried to work problems out on my own.
Most of my friends, on the other hand, had no trouble sharing. They would tell me about their relationships, their problems, and ask me for advice. I was great at giving advice — the Solomon of my high school pals, you might say. I took on this adviser role without really realizing what that meant, and I became the epitome of wisdom and goody-two-shoedness. The problem with that is, as an adviser, I felt like my life should look perfect to be a good example to my friends, so admitting weakness to these people wouldn’t be OK. (I wonder if pastors feel this way most of the time; they have so many people looking up to them they must feel this pressure one hundredfold.) Taking on this role enforced my quietness.
I remember one evening sitting with one of my friends and chatting, when she admitted that she had feelings for a boy in our class, someone in our friend group. She talked about how she was confused because they had so little in common and was wondering if that mattered — were feelings enough? As soon as she mentioned his name, my heart scattered into hundreds of butterflies because I had a crush on the very same boy; I was also feeling frustrated about it for a variety of reasons. Instead of admitting that, instead of returning the honesty and openness she showed me, I bottled my feelings up, nodded at her confession, forced a concerned look onto my face, and gave her the best advice I could. And no, no matter how much I wanted to, I didn’t tell her they would be awful for each other and she should definitely look for someone else. I was miss goody-two-shoes, remember? I don’t remember my exact words, but they were probably something like “wait and see if the feelings continue.”
I was having similar frustrations and those horrible teen emotions, but I shoved them deep down because I didn’t want to seem weak. I didn’t want someone to know something so personal about me, because giving them that information was putting power in their hands.
My desire to appear perfect and my unwillingness to trust others created more of a chasm than a bridge in my relationships. I didn’t recognize at the time that being human, making mistakes, and struggling with life are important things to talk about in order to relate to one another.
Sharing with others
It wasn’t until after university that I really understood what it meant to be friends with someone. After a year of living and working in a city, I joined a church care group where we were encouraged to personally share with each other every week. I let my leaders know this was something I was not used to doing and it might take me a while to learn how. For the first few months, I mostly sat back, watched and listened as the other members shared their struggles and received not judgment, but support from the other group members.
For the first time it dawned on me that maybe my tendency to close myself off from others wasn’t protecting me; maybe it was hurting me. Acts 2 talks about the fellowship believers can have with each other, about the importance of community and support, and I was missing out on that. I started challenging myself to share my thoughts and feelings, to let others in on a bit of my life.
It was soon after that I experienced a time of intense stress and depression due to some outside circumstances. It wasn’t the first time I’d been through something like that, and I braced myself for the worst.
And it wasn’t fun. But I was shocked by how much easier it was with others surrounding me, willing to listen and help in any way they could — from having me over for dinner when I didn’t feel like cooking, to making me go out on a walk with them so I would get exercise, to just listening to me explain what I was going through.
People cared about me. About me! I didn’t have to be the strong one. I could be weak, I could let down my barriers, and my friends would help me survive the awfulness. It’s not always good — trusting other people means you will get hurt sometimes, because people are human. But it’s so much better than the lonely alternative. God didn’t create us to live without each other, and I am thankful for that.
Copyright 2017 Allison Barron. All rights reserved.