"Shut up and listen to each other!"

My husband and I went to see Captain America: Civil War. The Marvel movies are not his favorite, but he did it because he knew I would like it. I am easily entertained by action and lots of handsome men in tight fitting suits. Ha, ha. I could write about my husband and the friendship we share, but I actually wanted to think about something that came up in the movie. 

The basic premise of the movie, revolves around differences of opinion. I will not go into details, in case you haven't seen the movie and want to. It prompted me to think about differences of opinion in our friendships. We have friends, in part, because we have something in common. My girlfriends and I love to read books, get together and discuss them. I have another friend that I love to shop with and another that I love to walk with. Rarely, do we discuss things that we don't agree on, because frankly our friendship stems from our commonalities. That doesn't mean you can't have friends that have different ways of looking at the world. However, sometimes those differences of opinion can lead to a falling out, as our Marvel heroes, discovered. Just because you are a super hero doesn't mean you have nothing to learn.

The same thing is true in our friendships. Just because I am a Christian, doesn't mean I can't learn from other people. Often, we feel that we can't have friends outside our faith, because then we won't be in agreement on many fundamental issues. But being of different mindsets, doesn't mean you can't listen.

One of the things I noticed in the movie was that these men and women who had been forced together (in previous movies) to fight all the enemies of the world, had indeed, become friends. They cared about each other. Unfortunately, most of them suffered from egos as big as a building and it made it difficult for them to listen. Sometimes, when you and a friend disagree on something, it is not because one of you is right and the other is wrong, it is because you really aren't listening to each other. There were moments where I wanted to shout at the movie screen saying, "Shut up and listen to each other!" But I am pretty sure they would have escorted me out of that busy theater if I had.

dog - stocksnap

Friends need to listen. Not just listen, but really hear. Listening is an art form. It is done with the whole body, mind and spirit. Listening involves giving. When you listen you are giving your time and your energy When you listen you focus on what the other person is saying. Sometimes, listening is painful, hard work. Especially if you are a fix-it kind of person. I can  see you sitting there on the edge of your seat, wanting to interject your thoughts, opinions and how-to-fix-it comments. But don't! Just listen. Listening changed things. It even changes people, not just the person you are listening to, but you. Listening can lead to more open doors and deeper conversations than you ever thought would happen.

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
— James 1:19 (NASB)

Whether you are a super hero or not, it is always a good idea to slow down and listen to your friends. 

The Order of Friendship

Think about all the friendships in your life. They might be ones from your past or relationships you are currently in. What made those friendships work? What makes those friendships special? Friendship is important to all people. It is even important to nations. The Order of Friendship was established in 1994 in Russia. It was an award given to nationals or foreign nationals whose work or deeds bettered relations with Russian and her people. It can be traced back to the Soviet Order of Friendship of Peoples which was originally established in l972.

medal - order of friendship

A medal is a memorial of sorts. I would have never known there were such things as an Order of Friendship if I had not been looking around on the internet for article ideas. I think is is a terrific concept. Once again, I wrestle with the thought that we spend so much time complaining about what is not right with our lives: our marriage, our jobs, our health, our friendships. What if we were to design a medal of friendship? What if we began taking notes and watching people for the good deeds that they were doing? How many of your friends would get a medal? Would you get one?

The Russian government had the right idea. Obviously, over the years their reputation had diminished, perhaps not just in the minds of other nations, but maybe even in the minds of their own people. An award of this sort condones free thinking and getting along, in a society that had formerly condemned these very things we take for granted. Perhaps we can learn something from the Order of Friendship. While I probably won't be pinning medals to my girlfriends blouses, I believe I could at least thank them for the works and deeds they do to not only better my life, but better the lives of others in their sphere of influence.

Do you have a friend who is a nurse? Thank her for her hard work. Is one of your friends taking care not only of her own children, but her aging parents as well? Let her know how much you appreciate her. Do you have a gal pal that volunteers? Give her a high five for her efforts. Maybe you have a friend who is just struggling to stay married, keep a job, lose weight or love her rebellious child. Hug her and let her know she's worthy of a medal of honor!

Once again, the idea behind any memorial is remembrance. Why not remember your friends while they are still there to enjoy memories with you?

How Shall We Then Grow?

Knowing everything we know, we have to make choices about how we live. We have to decide who we hang out with, what activities we are going to do and what sorts of foods we are going to eat. We are also faced with choices about our personalities. Do I show my anger? Do I choose to ignore difficult remarks? Will I show kindness when I have been hurt? In our friendships we have the difficulty of choosing how we grow with people we don't see as often as our families, and with whom we may not feel as comfortable being honest. Vulnerability comes to mind. The word vulnerable means "capable of being physically or emotionally wounded" (Webster). Well, forget that! I mean who in their right mind wants to open themselves to physical or emotional attack? Okay, so I know that my friends are not going to harm me physically, at least not intentionally. Some of us are rather clumsy. But what about emotional harm?

If you have friends you are automatically open to emotional harm. I know that we all put up walls. If you have been through abuse your walls are thicker and taller than most other peoples. You may have a hard time opening yourself up to friendships, in part, because you don't want to be vulnerable with another person. But real, fruitful friendships must carry a certain amount of vulnerability. Becoming more vulnerable is a way to grow in your relationships. It's not easy and really you must be a fairly secure individual to be able to do this. It requires honesty and a back bone. I like to offer a few ways to become more vulnerable with your friends.

Photo Credit  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo Credit Rebecca Trumbull

1. Bible studies. Find a study you and your friends can do together. Host it in your home or  find one already in place at a church and go together. There are multitudes of studies out there on relationships, family, suffering, service and growth. Beth Moore has a plethora of studies on many different topics and all based on scripture. Check out her website at Living Proof Ministries. Another great Bible study author is Kay Arthur. Her website is Precept Ministries International. Bible study allows women to grow together in God's word. If the study is fairly small it also allows time for discussion and where women discuss vulnerability happens. 

books

2. Book clubs. Reading books together is a great way to be on the same page, pardon my pun, and also be able to openly converse. A book club can be a fun way to get together and provide a platform for conversation.  Maybe you want a light hearted, fun discussion so you pick books that will provide laughter. Perhaps your group wants to read things that are controversial and compelling. Maybe historical fictions or science fiction will provide ideas for questions and discussion that you had never thought of. Be creative. Let those who want to, pick out a book to read and then lead the discussion. Talking about books can be a great way to get to know each other and create new opportunities to be vulnerable. There are a few good websites that give suggestions for book club books: Goodreads, Flashlight Worthy, Litlovers, and more.

people walking

3. Be active together. Doing things together one on one can also be a great way to open up and be honest with your friends. Time together with just one friend can lead to much deeper and meaningful conversations than when you are with a group. Do a physical activity together like going for a walk at a park or in the neighborhood. Meet for a "friend" date: get lunch or dinner then go to a movie. Volunteer together. Donate blood together. Teach each other how to do something. Maybe you know how to play the piano and your friend knows how to knit. Spend time teaching each other your skills. Spending time together will foster a healthy habitat of trust and vulnerability.

knitting

Being vulnerable is hard, but creating a healthy environment of trust and fun will make it easier for you and for your friends.

Are There Roadblocks in Your Friendships?

I am sitting at a Barnes and Noble trying to type this post and next to me is a table with 4 women. They are obviously friends. They are smiling, laughing, sharing stories about their lives, families and other friends. It reminds me of my own experience with my own friends. When we get together we laugh, share stories and commiserate. But these types of relationships don't just happen. They take time and effort, just like our faith, our marriages and so many other good things like diet, exercise and prayer. This week I have been looking at things that stunt our growth, first with our faith and our marriages. We also can come up against roadblocks in our friendships. I have found with some friends our relationships continue to deepen and broaden; with others not so much. Sometimes that difference is due to differing personalities or wider age gaps. Once in a while a friendship struggles for other reasons. Today, I'd like to look at four friendship hindrances.

friends

1. Jealousy and competition. There is no worse feeling than to be jealous of your friends. When I was in junior high my best girlfriend and I loved going to amusement parks together. Being in junior high, the hormones beginning to surge, we would often look for cute boys and then follow them discretely around the park. My friend Stacey was a beautiful girl. She had some Native American blood which gave her a gorgeous tan in the summer. She also had lovely, full lips. I was your average tomboy with a bad haircut. I started to notice that boys would watch her and look at her or try to talk to her. I might as well have been a smushed piece of gum on the bottom of her flip flop. I remember feeling very jealous and by the end of the day I would be glad to go home. That attitude did nothing to solidify our friendship. Even as adults we can become jealous of what our friends have or don't have, their homes, spouses, careers or families. We feel that we have to be better, smarter, prettier. We have bought into the philosophy that says, "I am not enough." Having this mentality will push you to become competitive and bitter, because your life will not look like theirs.

2. Unconfessed hurts and sins. If you read my other two posts this week this will sound familiar. If we allow jealousy, competition or other bad attitudes to dictate our actions and thoughts it will, eventually affect our friendships. We need to be honest and we need to ask the Lord to help us in this area. Paul admonished us to be content.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
— Philippians 4:11 (NASB)

Learning to be content takes focus and practice.

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

Taking every thought captive. Every time you feel jealous of what your friend has, take it captive and give it to Jesus. Follow this up by being honest with your friend. If they are a true friend they will help you walk through the difficulty rather than running away. Do the same for them.

3. Technology. This is a tight rope walk. Technology can enhance friendships with the ability to text, call , Skype, Twitter and so on, but it really is a double edged sword. It gives us little or no time to check our facts before we send along a piece of news (gossip) about another person. It also allows us to text one friend while another friend is sitting at the same table. These types of activities can lead to misunderstandings and mistrust. Technology also becomes a suitcase full of our own interests and hobbies which we continue to read about, play, watch or listen to, when we are supposed to be hanging out with our friends. Having your phone on in case some one needs to get a hold of you is one thing. Playing with your phone while we are supposed to be having lunch...well, I am sorry to say this, but that is rude! 

4. Busyness. Once again, I must touch on the "B" word. Life is busy. There is no way around that. And in today's face paced, bottom-line driven world it is hard to slow down. However, to maintain and grow our friendships and any worthwhile relationships we need to make a choice to get off the wheel and out of the gerbil cage. Recently a friend of mine had a crisis occur in her family. I texted her, stopped by and went on walks with her. There was a point on one day where I reached for my phone to text her and see if she wanted to get together and I thought, "I don't have time! I need to grocery shop and work on the blog. I have to go to that party tomorrow night and bring food...." I shook my head and reached for my phone. We took a walk that same day and we both benefited. Our emotions benefited. Our health benefited. Our spirits benefited and our friendship benefited. Busyness is a fact of life, but friendship is a choice. 

A true friend freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.
— William Penn

Forever Friend

It was in junior high that I met my BFF, Stacey. We hit it off immediately and had many things in common. We both loved rock music, swimming, playing guitars and talking about the end of the world and the book of Revelation in the Bible. I was raised in a Bible church and Stacey came from a Catholic background. We had sleepovers, went on bike rides, hung out at high school football games and just generally enjoyed being friends. As often happens, in high school, we drifted apart. Stacey wanted to explore the party scene and my faith in Christ left me standing alone in my decision to not walk that way.

However, I had developed a deep love for Stacey, so even though we didn't hang out much any more, I invited her to my church's youth group. I really wanted her to know Jesus, whether we remained friends or not. Stacey did accept my invite and eventually came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. God in his goodness to both of us has allowed our friendship to blossom and deepen. We married men who had common interests; had children who were similar ages and enjoyed hanging out together and in the last few years walked the bumpy path of raising those children to adulthood.

This is a picture of us, after a shopping trip where we bought the same scarf. Silly girls at heart!

This is a picture of us, after a shopping trip where we bought the same scarf. Silly girls at heart!

Our friendship is long distance. I am in Ohio and she, in the state of New York, but that has not changed our relationship. We email and get together about twice a year. Often it is just her and I, but sometimes our hubbies come along. When I go to visit my mom, Stacey lives only a couple miles away, so we always make time to shop, eat out and maybe see a movie. Once in awhile she and her husband will make the trip to Ohio to see us.

Stacey is a forever friend. Not everyone is blessed with one, but I cannot imagine how much poorer I would be if God had not placed Stacey in my life. We have sung, laughed, cried and prayed together. We share history and common faith. Every time we get together it is a time of sweet fellowship. 

Not every friend is a forever friend, but all of our friends are gifts from God and we should be thankful for each and every one.

In the comments section below, type the name or names of your forever friend(s).

 

Shoring Each Other Up!

I shared this poem a few months ago on a Facebook group, but I thought it appropriate to post on my blog. 

Shoring Each Other Up

by Amy D. Christensen

 

Photo Credit:  Rebecca Trumbull , Make Up Artist: Rachel Christensen

Photo Credit: Rebecca Trumbull, Make Up Artist: Rachel Christensen

Weathered, calloused hands, pull ropes taut;

Holding, cringing, against course burns.

Storms rage, pushing waves, like giant hands, throwing us about.

Still we hold! Shoring each other up.

Stomachs roil, threatening to burst forth.

Photo Credit:  Rebecca Trumbull , Make Up Artist: Rachel Christensen

Photo Credit: Rebecca Trumbull, Make Up Artist: Rachel Christensen

Sails, brought to our knees, letting go of wind.

Wave hands raise us up, then slap us down.

Up and down.

Still we hold! Shoring each other up.

Brief calm follows.

Photo Credit:  Rebecca Trumbull , Make Up Artist: Rachel Christensen

Photo Credit: Rebecca Trumbull, Make Up Artist: Rachel Christensen

A glassy sea, smoothed out by Creator's breath.

Bleeding hands clasp; whispered gratitude.

Heading into safe harbor;

Still we hold! Shoring each other up.

The idea of friendship is not new. We all long for one or more companions who truly "get us". We desire shipmates who not only entertain us, but who are honest with us; who can tell us their shortcomings as well as kindly point out our own. Friendship, the true kind, is not a merry journey like our friends Dorothy and Toto along the Yellow Brick Road. It is more often a battlefront in a war most consuming. Let us continue to "shore one another up", by offering support, honesty and encouragement.