Let's just call it what it is: super challenging. If our path to heaven is the vocation of motherhood and the nurturing of a family, especially a large family, it's a hard path. It's a trail run uphill and the hardest part isn't at the beginning; it's well into the run, when you realize that you've agreed to carry a heavier pack then almost everyone else on the trail and there's no leaving anything or anyone behind. You've got to keep on running.
That's when it's super-helpful to have someone who understands run alongside.
My friend Linda called one morning. We talked for a few minutes before I had to dash out the door and deliver a teenager to work and a second-grader to dance. I apologized for my hasty hangup, and she understood perfectly. We quickly discussed schedules and decided I’d call her back in the early afternoon. And then I didn’t. Because I forgot. I forgot because I’m the world’s worst correspondent, and because I have a very hard time being still. So, the phone slips my mind.
She called me by mid-afternoon. This is why we’ve been very close friends for more than 15 years. She knows that I want to talk to her. She knows that I need to slow down. And she knows that if she calls, I’ll be very grateful. We had a long talk while I cleaned my kitchen and put dinner in the crockpot. The conversation began with the obvious fact that 2:30 was way too late to start a crockpot meal. It progressed to a lively conversation about the “robber barons” and then was summed up with a genuine sharing of my heart on a matter I’d never expressed to anyone.
I hung up feeling grateful and relieved. I was understood, and I knew it. There’s nothing quite like being understood. There’s nothing quite like an old friend.
In The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, Meg Meeker writes of friendship: “No perfection is needed. Love is required, but even that can be woefully broken, because at the end of the day what we really need as mothers is a friend who simply stays. Because when she stays, we know that we are loved.”
I think this speaks to the quality of friends that allows us to trust them with our hearts. Over time, we learn that they are connected — bonded, if you will — and so they can be trusted to keep loving us even if we show our failures and our weaknesses. For some women, baring our souls in this way is extremely difficult, and it takes years to build that kind of trust. Bruised and broken relationships in our past or childhoods without unconditional love can make women skeptical that such a friend even exists. It takes loving patience to befriend a broken woman and to show her that faithfulness in friendship really does exist.
Meeker continues: “The hallmarks of inner circle friendships are trust, maturity and faithfulness, all of which work together to cultivate the deep love between us.” I have thought about this quote for months. I've weighed it against every good, solid, longterm friendship I have. I held it up to the friendships I've seen die. Yes, it holds up. She nailed it. Those are the hallmarks. I might add that a shared faith is also necessary, but maybe that's just for me.
Not all friends are very close friends. Those close friendships are ones we cultivate and care for and ones where forgiveness flows both ways. Says Meeker, “(Inner circle friendships) require attention, diligence and emotional elbow grease on our parts. Like a marriage, they need honing, sweat and time.” To this, I would add that friendships lack the sacramental grace of marriage, and they lack the commitment. It is acceptable to walk away from a friendship. Sometimes, it's the right thing to do. The challenge is to know when to stay and work on it and when to acknowledge it's time to move on.
I’ve come to understand that true friendships are of immeasurable worth. With passion, Meeker writes, “Women friends are vital because they help us become or stay emotionally more stable. They lift us out of despair, they make us laugh when we want to sob, they force us to keep living when we don't want to.” There was a time in my life when I would have thought this statement melodramatic. But now I know the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know that the person on the other end of the phone is in so much pain that she just wants the world to stop turning. And you can't turn back the clock. And you can't change the horror in her life. And you can't alleviate the pain. But she needs you to say something, anything. Because she needs to hear your voice and she wants, somewhere deep down, someone to tell her how to keep going. And you know why she called you.
She is secure in knowing that you are truly a friend. “The deep mystery of friendship is its intense security which accepts us exactly as we are and, at the same time, yearns for us to change, to improve and live a better life.” Intense security in a friendship: I don't think that can be overstated.