We’ve been evaluating different aspects of relationships and how to be authentic in an appropriate way. Today I want to dive into the area of friendships–interacting with those who are close to us (and may or may not necessarily be in our inner circle).
At the age of fourteen I attended a conference where I found myself at dinner with several high schoolers. I listened intently to the conversation as I ate slowly and focused on blending into the background. I was genuinely having a good time listening and then laughing when someone would say something witty.
But then all of a sudden, the conversation shifted to me. I wasn’t prepared to answer such a daunting question when the guy at the head of the table asked, “Cristine, what year are you?” I froze. As an eighth grader I had never heard this question before and I honestly didn’t know what it meant. “I’m the class of 1989,” I answered very hesitantly.
The table erupted with laughter. And if I hadn’t been so worried about what these people thought, I may have laughed, too. But I was mortified. Later that night I made a vow to myself that I would always do my best to make people feel comfortable, even and especially in a potentially uncomfortable conversation or position. I signed myself up to be the underdog’s wingman and an advocate for the unfortunate. It became a mission of mine and although it often served me well, there were huge downfalls:
Helping out of obligation
Putting others’ needs before my own
I’m shaking my head as I write this because these are actually MAJOR issues that were partially birthed out of an uncomfortable dinner 30+ years ago and I ended up spending years in counseling working on balance in my life. Today my interactions with people, especially my friends, are far more healthy than the behavior I displayed as I made a pledge to help make the world around me a happy, safe and comfortable place for all at any cost!
As I’ve learned to be authentically authentic (lol), I now understand that discomfort is often a part of healthy relationships. We have to learn to respectfully disagree, and to share our honest thoughts but in the context of James 1:9 (NIV), “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We have to mix empathy and compassion with honest convictions and truth. But here’s the beautiful part, when we do this with a motivation of love, our words come across as sincere and caring.
One of my friends and I had to have a difficult conversation this week that was birthed out of my perception that there had been a violation of boundaries. I was frustrated, and they were surprised and taken aback by my response. In the conversation I owned my part, that I had not been clear about the boundary lines AND that I had allowed boundaries to be crossed over the years without communicating my level of discomfort. We had to do a reset. In my earlier life I would have done everything I could to make sure this person was comfortable, but unfortunately at the expense of my own personal comfort.
The healthiest friendships I have are the ones that have safe, defined and healthy boundaries. My friends and I give each other honest feedback and articulate when we can or can’t handle or do something. Yes, I want them to feel validated and comfortable in our relationship, but I also realize that the authenticity component means me sharing my needs and them sharing theirs and seeing if we can find a good meeting ground.
Remember, the goal is to love others as God has loved us. This requires work and adjustment; it’s authenticity blended with genuine empathy and healthy boundaries. If you have a friendship that needs a slight course correction, ask God to reveal your part in it and then take the next step to reach out to that person and verbally own that part. We can be honest AND loving at the same time, and we can find that comfortable place by facing the discomfort together and articulating needs. This is the good stuff that true friendships are made of.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.