I recently did an interview for a radio show, Christian Curious, when the host asked me how switching careers from non-profit work to art work changed me. I was a little nervous to share, mostly because it reveals where I had gotten friendship wrong.
Ministry work encouraged me to believe that I had a lot of ways I could minister to other people. I believed I had gifts to offer, so I taught and led with my gifts. When I showed up anywhere, I assumed leadership and knowledge. I assumed I should give. I began to have trouble receiving from others to the same measure that I was giving. It led me to believe that I was pretty important. Early on in ministry, one couple (new friends) told Dale and I that they were starting to feel like our “fans” not our friends.
How do you tell when you have a friend verses another member of your fan club?
When we closed our non-profit, several things happened. I remember talking with my husband about the relief we felt, we could stop ministering to people. Instead of assuming we were needed, we stopped volunteering. Our email load dropped, so did our influence, and we both felt a lot less powerful. But we also had time to notice what friends we still had. Many of them are still friends with us to this day.
And we figured out something we are still practicing: we can still minister or give to others, but we are on sharp lookout for our ministering being mutual. If E shared her frustrations with her son’s mental collapse, can she express mutual interest and support when we share about our anxieties? When I offer to bring a meal to someone who is sick, can this family respond when we are in need? Or is the giving one-way?
Have you noticed? Many “we-are-so-close” friendship are actually lopsided relationships.
One-way giving is not the same as friendship, it’s more a mentorship or a student-teacher or an apprenticeship. Sometimes we even call it ministry. Two-way giving is friendship. And it takes two people invested in giving and receiving. They may give at different paces and in different ways (I’ve written about pacing in friendship in this series here). But the two jobs of giving and receiving keep the friendship moving forward. And this back-and-forth giving is what we are all looking for as we grow up emotionally.
If you’ve ever played the telephone game, you know the game only works if you whisper to someone who tries to remember what you said and faithfully repeats it to the next person. If the person in the chain suddenly breaks down or gives up, you cannot keep playing. In our compassion for them, we may leap up and try to help them remember, or leave our spot in the chain and do the work for them. This is acceptable in moments of crisis. But to constantly fill in for someone in a game moves from playing to codependency. Whenever you do work for someone they can and should do for themselves, you’re not being a friend. More of my posts on codependency here. If you fill in for your friend’s turn, you’re not even playing the game anymore. You’re pretending to play. And if you’ve ever played a game (from tennis to telephone) where everyone shows up and gives their best (even if they’re at different skill levels) you know the difference. We all need friends who help us grow up emotionally.
Mutuality beats out codependency every time, even if you feel a little less important (more on that here). Of course, we do minister to our friends, but it’s two-way ministry: they minister to us and we minister back. And, I’d argue, that our concepts of one-way ministry are not what God wants. Even Jesus knew how to let his disciples minister to him, (even when they failed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he still kept asking for their prayer). The angels ministered to Jesus after his temptation, and he praised the woman brave enough to anoint him before his death. “She did this for me.” Jesus received, he knew who wanted to give to him. Jesus wanted friendship, not just ministry partners. He knew how to ask for what he needed. In this famous and beloved passage Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). Friends know what’s going on in our lives, there’s an openness to share and receive, give and take.
As we are getting close to celebrating Jesus’ birthday, one way we can follow him better is to ask ourselves, “What friendship do I have where I can increase this giving and receiving?” Or, “Where am I either receiving too much or giving too much?” Because if it really is better to give than receive, then how about giving that opportunity to some of the people we love. If that’s you, here’s how you can let yourselves receive this Christmas.
Tips on Receiving from Friends
- Tell your friends what they can do (what is in their wheelhouse!) for you. Start small, “Can you make that key lime pie for the party this weekend?” Or bigger, “Look at this watercolor tube display, do you think you could make it for me for Christmas?”
- Call your friends who are good at something and ask them specifically for help. Call your Planner friend to help plan the party this weekend. Let your friends see your needs and help where they’re skilled. It’s so satisfying and rewarding for both of you!
- Make announcements to your family when you need help. “This year I don’t want to put up a tree, unless everyone helps.” See what they say, and be willing to give up your tree tradition for a year for the sake of receiving what they can offer. “Mom, I can do the lights!” So your tree has funky lights, but you received their creative child’s help! That’s mutuality.
- Guide others how to give to you. First take time to journal or process through what a good gift means to you. Text out your ideas to those you miss: “It would be special to have another movie date together.” or “I miss those meals you used to cook for us.”
And now, enjoy some new paintings and all the friendship posts of 2022 linked below.
Merry Christmas my friends!
The Friendship Posts of 2022
Expecting Better Friendships: Friendship Fountain, Sorting Friendships and Downsizing Friendships
What is a Friend: Balloon Friends, Companions, and It is Good You Exist
The Pace of Friendship: Walk with Me, Return the Volley, and Trains and Rollercoasters
Growing Friendships: Friends and Flowers, Growing a Friendship, and Weeding a Friendship
Healing a Friendship: Forgiveness, The Work of Healing, and The Crucial Question
Improving a Friendship: Painting a Friendship, and Mutuality: Better Two-Way Friends