- Carissa Woodwyk
I remember that day when my phone rang. I was in the midst of cooking and entertaining and busy with children. The voice on the other side...it was sad. My friend's mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. In that moment, I knew I needed to pause the life that I was standing in and join hers. I listened. She cried. I asked questions. She explained. My heart sunk with hers as the prognosis was undetermined and the treatment seemed so long and hard and painful. It was one of those moments when you just knew there were no perfect words to utter. You just had to be...fully present.
I remember that day when my phone rang. My friend had called to tell me that she was expecting her first baby. She was soaring! Her dreaming and anticipation of how her world would change began. She was on top of the world and wanted to shout from the mountaintops, “I'm going to be a mommy!” I shouted with her and told her how elated I was for her. Her joy was overflowing and I wanted to be a part of her excitement. She needed me to celebrate with her...this baby's life, her journey, her heart.
Being in a relationship means there are moments when you are able to step into someone else's experience and moments when you long for someone else to step into yours. We give. We take. We offer. We receive. It's what comes with being friends.
So, what makes friendships so challenging? Why do they hurt? Why do they end? Why do we find ourselves thinking about our relationships so much?
As I thought about writing this post, I wanted to write from the perspective as if I would be writing to my little girl...about the experiences of both joy and pain that I've learned from my own friendships. I know I can't rescue her from what is hard and hurtful, but I can model what I've learned. I so wish I could protect her from relational pain..but, I can't. It's not my job. But I can offer a word of encouragement and truth and hope. So, here are a few things I've come to believe about relationships...
Friendships have seasons. Just like the temperature outside changes throughout the year, our friendships evolve and transform. As experiences come and go, the way they change us and the way we respond to them impacts our relationships. Life can be both energizing and draining – on us and on our relationships. Sometimes, the expected events change our relationships (marriage, school, geography, career, babies, etc.). Sometimes, the unexpected events change our relationships (loss, crisis, illness, etc.). Both change how we interact with people...especially those who are close to us. Change will happen indeed. It's in those seasons of change that we have the choice to “step towards” or “step away from” the people in our life. The relationship with a particular friend may deepen or diminish or even come to a close, and that's OK. I hope we can learn what it means to “release” that person or “embrace” that person in new ways, depending on how life reveals itself. And then...have the grace to accept how that friendship changes.
“When people walk away from you, let them go. Your destiny is never tied to anyone who leaves you, and it doesn't mean they are bad people. It just means that their part in your story is over.”
Fight for what is good. I love the people in my life that understand and believe in fighting for what's good and true in a relationship. Yet, the motivation to pursue can wane, especially when disappointment surfaces. I hate to say it, but disappointment will happen when two humans are in relationship. There will be moments when one of us feels hurt or offended or upset or “missed.” This is life. It's in these times of tension that can make us bitter or better. I choose to believe that stepping into the tension and the unknown and the awkwardness can change us...for the better. But, we have to be willing to face our fear and insecurity and trust that who we are is someone that offers strength and empathy and acceptance, and that how the other person responds doesn't define us. We have to be willing to keep believing in the other person's goodness...even when we get hurt. We honor ourselves and our friend by being honest about what is hard. It's then that we have the opportunity to offer are true selves...our BEST selves. Believing that good can come from working through disappointment will allow our relationships to deepen and grow. And the kind of friendships that emerge out of working through conflict will be a gift...to both people.
“Peace...it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
We all long to be needed. I know from experience that it feels good to be needed. Whatever it is that we are good at is what we hope the other person appreciates. This looks different for everyone. Maybe it's being a mom or a caretaker or your wisdom or your strength or your compassion or your creativity or your fun or your insight or your answers. Whatever it may be, it feels so good to know that the other person needs you. But, what happens when that person no longer needs what you have been giving? That doesn't feel good. All of a sudden you don't feel wanted. It changes your relationship. Maybe that person found someone else to fill her needs. Maybe that person's life circumstances changed what they needed. We may try to fix the circumstances or try changing who we are or become aggressive or fall passive. None of these responses are helpful and actually become really tiring. We can choose to take it personally and make it about us, or we can be confident of what we have to offer and believe that God will use our gifting in another way. So, as much as it satisfies us to feel needed, what if we focused more on what we gave...expecting nothing in return. We give because the reward is in how the giving changes us.
“First we were loved. Now we love.” (1 John 4:19b)
So, whether you find yourself stepping into someone else's life or someone else stepping yours, may you know that you have access to the Creator of the universe, equipping and empowering you to know how to respond in your relationships. My hope is that we can allow our hearts to be joined with the people who fill our lives, whether that is a moment of celebration or heartache.
The people around you are a gift. May you receive and celebrate and affirm what they have to offer.
You are a gift to the people around you. May you offer yourself in honest and beautiful ways, expecting nothing in return.
Carissa Woodwyk is a Korean adoptee, wife, mother, and a licensed counselor and marriage and family therapist. She is also a co-author of Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child's Lifestory. She enjoys speaking on relationships, marriage, identity, adoption and the human heart. She and her husband have two children and live in Hudsonville, MI. You can read carissa's work on her blog here and keep up with her on facebook here.