I was kind of smart when I was a child. Not “gifted” smart, but smart enough to be weird. Maybe you know someone like me? Maybe you are me. I never did fit in, no matter how hard I tried. And believe me. I tried. Oh, how I tried! I just didn’t quite fit. I’m not saying that no one ever sat next to me at lunch or spoke to me on the school bus. It wan’t like that. It’s just that the people sitting next to me were often the same ones that enjoyed poking fun at me. It was the very same good citizens that seemed interested in being my friend that led the pack in their teasing of me.
We were just children, and for the most part children just follow the leader. That’s not uncommon. I say all this to point out how confusing it was for me to figure out if people really were my friends. I was always questioning if their efforts were sincere, and I made a lot of adjustments to myself in my efforts to avoid being dumped by my peers. I would pretend not to get it when they made fun of me. I played dumb. I tried to just ignore them, like my mom always taught me. Still I couldn’t get away from those taunts. They were all there, looking at me and laughing. Whispering. The whispers weren’t a secret to me. Tears were frequent to follow me home.
I couldn’t switch classes every time I got picked on. I had to learn another way to cope. I needed an ally, and the teachers were my best shot at that. I was called the teacher’s pet. It was a grand addition to my “cool credit.” I’m sure.
I tested once to be advanced ahead. I could potentially have skipped a grade. This compels me to wonder if things might have been different had I been smart enough to advance. Would that have yielded a peer group that wasn’t threatened by me? I wonder.
I studied hard, but I didn’t make the cut. I went back to my same old classroom where I never had fit, and I was the same weirdo I was before I’d failed that test. Now I’d just been singled out for it all. You know, to see if I qualified as “special.” I didn’t.
Now why do I tell you all this?
It’s about shortcuts. When does it benefit us to take them? And do we ever suffer because we did?
I always longed for that friend that made me feel like the rest of the kids seemed to be with their friends. I wanted to know the things about them that proved we were friends. I wanted them to know all those things about me. I tried to force it when it wasn’t there. Have you ever done that?
The problem with that is that some systems can’t be cheated. The friendship I long for deep in my soul isn’t like that at all. It’s not an instant connection, but rather something much deeper. It’s a bond that’s proven in the staying. And the truth about me? I never stayed long enough to forge this kind of bond. The kind that is lasting and true. I was a runner. Afraid. And I was pretty good at hiding. I hid from them and lost myself. I never gave friendships a chance to grow into the something real and beautiful they’re meant by God to become. I ran and hid from the true and lasting because I was afraid of what I might see.
Is it just me?
I’ve gotten a lot better at all that because God is so very good. He’s brought me a long way from that lonely little girl that refused to let others in. This is what I’m discovering. The good stuff takes time. You can’t shortcut it. It comes through the staying. The uncertainty of showing up when it would be way easier to just give up and start all over again. The best stuff can’t be rushed. It’s all the awkward in betweens that craft the splendor in due time. Without all the questionable middle parts, there’s no meat in the finish. Do you get it? The key to great friendship is NOT in the manageable and safe. It’s NOT in the instantly clicking and overly predictable expectations. It’s in the pushing past all of that to be who we truly are. So we can do it all together. Because we’d rather do that than not.
Relationships take time. It’s okay not to know all the things. It’s okay to feel all the weird things you feel on the way to the sweet spot. It’s coming, you can trust it. Because you’re doing the time. Even the very best pretending can’t do the work that you’re doing by sticking it out. All that fades. What you crave is the end game. That’s what we all crave.
It’s the sitting with someone in the silence because you’re totally secure in the absence of words. It’s the coming and going freely without checking in for even years because you never question the strength of your bond. Or maybe you do, but you show up anyway. Because that’s what friends do. It’s the knowing without a doubt that, from time to time, must even express itself in a scream or a shout. A special knowing that lets you feel the ugly feels. Those are feelings too, and even they need somewhere safe to be felt. What we all need is friends that stay when things are ugly. It’s not the “me too” besties we crave in our souls like we all seem to think. It’s the regular, nothing special. Just there. There anyway friends we need most.
The good stuff isn’t meant to be managed. You have to let it in as it is. And it gets good.
If I had passed that test to skip that grade, chances are I would’ve been in over my head. I likely would have totally bombed. Shortcuts don’t always benefit our purpose. They can’t bear the fruit of all the hard work in our learning as we go. It wouldn’t have served me to cheat that system. And it doesn’t serve me to cheat friendship either.
Life is richer with friends to enrich us. As they are, and as we are. The getting there together starts with being here first. Give it time. Keep showing up. Just trust it. Be totally here, and feel all the feelings. That’s all part of what’s coming. The staying’s where the fruit is. So stay the course because your blessing is coming!
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13