About two years ago I was asked to speak on the topic of female friendships for a women’s seminar. The simple question boiled up in me this overwhelming sense of undoing. It was one of those public moments where you feel as if everything you are thinking is evidenced on your face, in your posture, and in your stuttered response. I couldn’t even imagine what I would say to a group of 100+ women on the topic, because, frankly, I still feel a general sense of messiness about many of my female friendships.
Even at twenty-seven, I can only name a handful of friendships that do not feel this kind of complicated for me. In part, it’s because I can name no shortage of women who, by simply walking into the room, make my skin crawl with insecurity and spin my mind with comparison. Sisters, co-workers, church friends, coffee-shop-barista friends, old college friends, and even old high-school acquaintances who I keep up with only through Facebook profile pictures. These women can and sometimes do stir up in me a profound sense of complex doubt about myself. When they walk through the door, rather than welcoming them into the conversation circle, my heart postures them before and against me rather than shoulder-to-shoulder. The beautiful feel like a giant mirror, noting each blemish and freckle and the uncomfortable bulge around my waist when I sit down; the intelligent feel like a test I didn’t study for, and make me wish I had listened to NPR on the way over; the witty feel like a land mine that just might unexpectedly point my way; the wealthy feel like a florescent light, unflattering every inch of what I’m wearing and illuminating everything I’m not (also, they just might notice my favorite shoes are from Target).
And so I recoil. I shut down. My heart ties itself up in a knot and my lips tighten and my jaw flexes. I gather around myself all the internal soothings I need: I tell myself that she probably runs too much and doesn’t let herself enjoy dessert; I remind myself that I, too, have my masters degree, but I care more about the thing of the heart than of the head; I craft a witty little joke at her expense, and hold onto it, just in case it is needed; and surveying her wardrobe, I note all the ways I can imagine she should have spent her money instead. When the insecurity mounts, I buffer myself with the armor of dismissal to protect myself against what I fear might be a woman who is looking with dismissal on me.
It’s gross, I know.
But does it sound at all familiar?
I once thought I was alone with my insecurities, and that my sin-prone reaction was by far the minority. But the more I watch, the more I listen, the more I note the dance among the women around me, it is clear that I am not alone. No, women everywhere, with all kinds of backgrounds and in all kinds of friendships, are prone to the same kind of internal dialogue.
Because we’re all in repair, you know. We are all sin-ridden, insecurity-hiding, selfish, scared little creatures. We all have ambitions that we fear will never become our reality because of circumstances, our own inadequacy, or because life just pain changes. We all have friendships that have been shredded by distrust, by a few ill-chosen words, by time and neglect, and we all miss them something terrible. We all have limps that we meticulously try to hide, and wounds that we keep bandaging because we’re embarrassed, or because we’re afraid they will never heal. And while we have different faces, places, communities, sins, struggles, and schedules, we’re all pretty much in the same boat. And, goodness, do we owe each other a terrible loyalty.
So, the next time a woman walks through the door and all my confidence evades me, I will turn, instead, to the Gospel that has taught me to love instead of compete.
I will say: “Hold on, grubby little heart of mine. Grace has made room for you at the table, and grace says there’s always room for one more.” So while my stubborn heart keeps fighting to be justified for feeling as it does, and as my mind spins an imaginary slew of arguments to prove just that point, I will in love and sincerity reach out my hand, pull out another chair, and tell my sister to sit and stay awhile.
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