A pastor’s work is lonely,
full of stories
we cannot tell
and deeply heavy burdens
placed with trust upon us
composed of true stories
and imagined wrongs
and incalculable bad fortune
and actual evildoing.
The telling honors us.
The hearing weighs us down.
I thank you, God,
for friends who know it’s holy
to carry things together,
for friends who know the difference
between weakness and exhaustion,
They make us
these friends who walk beside us,
who answer questions,
and offer challenges,
yet know the time
to just show love.
When we are tempted
to manage it all alone,
remind us that Jesus
sent his friends out in pairs,
each friend with another,
not alone to face the world.
Friends make each other better.
Help us to find those friends.
Help us to be those friends.
We ask in Christ’s name. Amen.
A prayer offered with thanks to God for all the friends who have come into my life through the community of RevGalBlogPals over the past ten years, on the occasion of the organization’s tenth anniversary.
My first online community was alt.tv.homicide, a Usenet group for fans of The Best Damn Show on Television, Homicide: Life on the Street. I've still got some friends from that group. We've transitioned to blogs or Facebook. A small subset still has a private Yahoo group, but honestly I haven't written anything there in forever. I do still love the show, and Snowman and I have been watching Season 4 on DVD today.
I don't know how that became my group of people; it was mysterious. I was desperately seeking community, I guess. The group was busy enough to be interesting, but not so busy as to be impossible to follow. Hilariously, I found it the night I heard the show had been canceled. I had been watching the show for years, since before I had a computer or access to the Internet. It's a strange period in my memories. Where was I? In this house? Or the place we rented before? That's where I had my first computer, purchased in 1997 so I could take a class online at Andover Newton, when that distance learning program was in its infancy. But once you have the Internet, one thing leads to another.
And I had a lot of time on my hands, or so it seemed, in that massive twenty-three hours my kids were gone to stay with their dad from Friday at 6 to Saturday at 5.
I had a sort of depressingly conventional heteronormative view of the world, in which the only possible solution to my situation was another man coming along to balance the equation of my life.
I didn't know how to meet people, not single people. I had been married since I was 22. And I knew that the other moms who kept me company during the week were not available evenings and weekends, when the daddies came home. At 36 I felt old and finished and unbalanced and out of place in the world.
I wish I had known this me then.
But who I knew were other mommies, people who felt threatened by my change of status. Because that was the worst case scenario, having the daddy leave. It really felt that way.
So I was grateful to have some friends in particular who lived through the gap with me, the ones who stuck by me while I tried to figure out what to do with my life and saw me make new friends and eventually date and walked beside me along the way from 1996 to 2001.
This afternoon Snowman and I ran into one of those friends in the grocery store. Our lives diverged, mostly because when I finished seminary and started at my first call, I didn't have the same flexibility for getting together regularly. Our kids got older and didn't play together anymore. Who really knows why we allow a friendship to diminish? I just know I'm grateful for her friendship then.
But she's not a confidante anymore. Somehow there's too much air between us. So we talked about what our kids are doing, though I think there may have been an appraising glance at my bare ring finger. Do we all do that, middle-aged women, checking for the diamond and the circling band that signifies? Our stories feel too different now.
In the middle of strife, we think about that, don't we? Who can we trust with the whole story? Who can we even stand to tell? I heard from another old friend over the weekend, one of the first new friends who came along in my single life, someone I've managed to keep up with, mostly, over the course of twelve years now. On the phone, answering her voicemail this afternoon, I knew this was someone I could talk to, still.
Those Usenet friends–some of you may read this–are people I'm glad I still know, even though the way we know each other is different. I like to hear the updates on Facebook and read about what someone is knitting and what someone else is watching on TV down under and see the Christmas card pictures. I treasure the memory of lunch in a top floor dining room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the invitation of R, which included P, who gave LP and me a box of "silly cookies." I wonder about the ones who drifted off into the ether: the one who burned CDs of music from the series and sent them out to many of us; the guy who helped me write more than one firm rejection email when I first started dating and didn't know the way to form the words; the lovely gal from western Maryland who I once met for red velvet cake at a tea shop. (I don't remember anymore who believed Munch did it.)
It was a funny way to reach out, but it gave me the knowledge that meeting people via the Internet was maybe okay most of the time, and that led me eventually to blogging and RevGalBlogPals and many, many other people to know and love. So I'm glad I found that little corner of the Internet on a Friday night a long, long time ago.
This year I've really learned who my friends are and how much they mean to me and, surprisingly, how much I mean to them. I grew up with some pretty skewed views of myself, including that I had the responsibility to make happy people who were constitutionally unlikely ever to be that way, and that my ability or inability to accomplish that impossible task provided the only measure of my worth. I've known for a long time, intellectually, that this was a ridiculous viewpoint. But somehow I could not shift the lingering feeling there was a truth here about me, and it hampered me from feeling happy and loved.
(It's also possible I've drawn people into my life who played into this dynamic. Ahem.)
But this year, when things have been complicated and challenging, I've been able to finally feel it, and that's been thanks to the determination of friends who have been saying, literally for years, that they love me. What I accepted in my mind finally blossomed in my heart. I finally feel it because in the face of sadness and disappointment and loss, I never felt alone.
I feel it because it wasn't enough for them to be sweet to me. They got up in my face, like the friends of the paralyzed man who took apart a roof to bring him to Jesus. They took apart a roof and lowered their friend into the middle of a dinner party to get him to Jesus.
My friends have been just as vigorous in their expressions of love, and I believe it. I feel it.