Jonalyn's Watercolor Blog

Lifelong Friends

You know that moment when a stranger reveals something a little different from the crowd? And in that moment, when they look a little vulnerable, you stop and look at them twice and think, 

“You, too?! I thought it was just me . . .”*

I thought it was just me who painted model civil war figures.
I thought it was just me who wants to breed sheep-a-doodles.
I thought it was just me who canoed Acadia National Park. 

But when your back porch self drops a hint of who you actually are, and their back porch self relates: you have the hope of a friendship.** The more personal and honest the revelation, the higher chance for (pain or) a wonderful connection. 

That’s the risk and the beauty of friendships.

Friendship begins with a hope like this. But it only blossoms when you begin friendship-ping, you begin growing the connections. You learn he likes civil war figurines and bbq. And so you take the most brave step in friendship, you suggest a way to make both of those happen. Let me admit that this is where I have taken the trembling step (oh, hundreds of times) and the efforts stall. No return calls, no response, no reciprocity. You have to kiss a lot of toads before you find the prince. That’s true in romance and in friendship. 

Sometimes you ask, and they say yes. You repeat that five or so times, and suddenly (though there’s nothing sudden about it) you have a friendship. It might not be a good one. They may require you do all the initiating (lopsided friendship). They may forget you once you move away (immature friendship). They may insist they know what’s best for you (codependent friendship). Nevertheless, this connecting-over-similarities is how friendships form. 

You don’t need to know each other exhaustively. Our neighbor Mr. E knows my son over chess. And my piano teacher, R, knows how I fake triplets.  I don’t expect my piano teacher to care about where I last went to SUP (stand-up-paddleboard). The best measure of a friendship is how well you know each other in the places you claim to connect.

That’s why introducing a new topic into a friendship (while exciting) is always risky. New topics and life itself have the power to make or break friends.

It’s why some people never grow. They’re afraid to be alone. 

E and I have been friends for almost 20 years. We met in Steamboat Springs, Colorado when we were both newlyweds. We had our oldest boys within a few months of each other. We attended and left the same church. We moved our boys from public to homeschool around the same time. A few years later, now much closer, I needed an emergency C-section. I called E to attend the birth. We moved away from Steamboat almost the same year. Now, I can look back and see the reasons we’ve grown closer over the years. So that today, in 2021, E sells my paintings in her shop in Durango, Colorado. 

But this didn’t just happen. At each of these intersections you might easily imagine how we could have fallen apart. Our friendship illustrates the difference between friends along the journey and friends for the journey. 

A friend along the journey may connect for a season. A friend for the journey connects for many seasons. At each intersection, we discover who is still on the journey. This is the risk and pleasure of growing. You turn right and realize half the folks who were at your side turned left. This has happened to me over the years as I’m sure it’s happened to you. I don’t keep up with R anymore because I don’t play piano regularly. 

Sure, sometimes you re-think your turns. But when you “gird up your loins” and make the choice to grow… the dust settles. You look around and realize, your friend is still keeping pace at your side. Or (even better) outpacing you. That’s when you realize: this could be a friend for the journey, the long haul.

E has been by my side through all those intersections. Not because she’s trying to impress me, not because I’m copying her (well, maybe her fashion sense!). She’s by my side because my pace is also her pace. 

Our back porch selves naturally pace each other.

Friendships like E and me don’t just drop into our lives. Looking back, we have had lots of intersections when it wasn’t clear we were traveling the same road. But as time went on, we realize: we do want very similar things from life. This connects us.

Friends are the ones who stay together because their back porch self wanted the same things you wanted. Not their performance self, not their social self, not their occupational self, their real, back porch self (when they’re most honest).

A lifelong friend, a kindred spirit, is someone who walks the same road with you in life. They’re not just a friend on a journey (like moms who happen to have the same son in a soccer club). They are friends for your journey, they keep traveling next to you because you share the same destination. 

Lifelong friends continue to want that same destination, year in, year out, come births, deaths, sickness or high water. 

And they want to travel at a similar pace, not just because they want to be your groupie (more on that next time), but because this is their normal pace. You don’t feel like you’re constantly waiting for them, and they don’t feel like they’re always waiting for you. You pace each other well. 

You know a lifelong friend because they don’t leave you more drained. This is the significance of a friend over a mentor or teaching relationship. A lifelong friend doesn’t have to teach you anything, isn’t trying to fix you. Your closest friends should not have to follow you on social to hear your news; they don’t need to watch all your stories to know what makes you tick. They already know the person behind the Instagram posts. 

And the risky and wonderful part of friendship is you never really know how long this lasts. How long will the Spirit of God (who orchestrates all good gifts) give you this time?

So you savor the friends while they are with you, you trust them and the bonds deepen. Success, change, moves, children, ruin, finances, divorce, sickness, politics, death so many things can change a friendship. 

That’s why I want to enjoy the wealth of each friendship I’m given in this time. The risk pushes me to invest deeper, not climb into my shell. 

But how does lifelong friendship strike you? Let’s start the conversation. 

* This concept of “I thought it was just me” is from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. 

** To understand back porch friends better, please see my post “The Lawn Lady Doesn’t Know Me”.

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12 Responses

  1. This lifelong friendship making reminds me of the thousand strands from A Severe Mercy, describing enduring love.
    “And our trust in each other will not only be based on love and loyalty, but on the fact of a thousand sharings – a thousand strains twisted into something unbreakable.”

      1. Erin! That reminds me I am trying to get up the courage to read that book again. It meant a lot to me a while back (though I do think some parts of that friendship/love were not healthy) and I want to revisit it with an additional decade under my belt.

  2. The older I get the more I cherish friendship like this because it’s a rare gift. If we have a couple good friends that’s all one really needs.

    To be known, to be understood…that’s a recipe for thriving as a human.

    1. Em,

      Yes, I feel the same as I get older. It is unusual to have friends who can travel along with us through multiple seasons. Thank you for being that with me.

      That’s all we really need. So true.

  3. Great words Jonalyn. This post reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quote:

    “Stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong”

    We make some friends because our paths converge for a time. If we don’t share a destination, then our paths will diverge and we’ll grow apart. But when you share a destination with someone, you get a lifelong friend to share the road with

    1. Thanks for comment, Miles. Always enjoy hearing from you.

      Good words from Lincoln, too. It is quite rare to find people who can do this parting work with friends consistently. We stay close for poor reasons like false guilt, fear that their failure means we’ve failed. And we leave friends for poor reasons, too: lack of will, laziness, busyness, communication challenges, selfishness. It’s a wonder friendships even happen! 😆

      I’d like to devote more time on what to do when a friends goes wrong when you need to speak up. Think others else would be interested in that?

      1. I would be! Many of my own have gone wrong, and I’ve been reluctant to speak up about it in the past. Sometimes I’d stay close for poor reasons like you mentioned, other times I’ll drift away and ghost without ever sharing my concerns. I’d hear platitudes like “don’t judge me”, and I’d be dissuaded from offering up information that I had (and wanted my friends to have) for fear of injuring an ego in the moment.

        I’ve gotten a lot better at speaking up, but it can still be tough to find a palatable way to package some criticisms.

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