Friendship and Availability 2 Ways: Part 2


“Hand Using A Wooden Abacus ” by nuchylee. Image courtesy of FreeDigital Photos.net
“Hand Using A Wooden Abacus ” by nuchylee. Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to (at least) one woman I interviewed, those who develop strong ties are those who are available for friendship, both in time and in heart. In the last post, I looked at the challenge of weaving friendships into our schedule.

But for some women, emotional energy (not clock time) is the real bottleneck. When we intuitively tabulate the emotional cost of spending time with someone, on many days we may conclude we don’t have enough to pay that bill.

I think that kind of math is most helpful if you find yourself in an extremely imbalanced relationship with a pushy, demanding, narcissist type (or you are a pushy, demanding, narcissist type…). In those and other such extreme cases, prayerfully considering limiting your exposure to one another is often wise and prudent.

For everyone else, if we believe one person is somewhat needier than the other on any given day, we may try do the math of whether getting together is “worth” the time we have to spend, or the opposite calculation of whether we have enough emotional energy to give. But these types of calculations betray an incomplete understanding of the purpose and dynamics of Christian friendship.

Friendships are places where God can show His goodness in ways he doesn’t show us alone.

And here’s the kicker—we never know ahead of time who/how God intends to bless during that time. But we’re both there to experience it. God will reveal something as you’re together, often in surprising ways.

God’s self-revelation is always a gift to our souls, even if it’s technically “about” the other person. And when things get tense, as they do in authentic relationships, God is right there, waiting to hear our prayers and give us wisdom, love, and hope.

So the “room” for the relationship doesn’t have to fit in the confines of our tiny little hearts. If our hearts are open to God’s inexhaustible love, then God’s heart adds more than enough emotional square footage for everyone.

With God in mind, a more accurate kind of calculus for Do I have enough energy for this relationship today? is actually To what extent am I open to God’s unexpected blessing in that time together? That way the sum always comes out in everyone’s favor, because the riches of community are always coming from God anyway.

Even when we feel full and strong, it’s just as important see God as the source of love and joy in relationships. Let’s never deceive ourselves into thinking we are the source of what our friends or loved ones most need, or vice versa. But God does often make us a conduit of His love to one another—if we are available.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! …For there the Lord bestows his blessing—even life forevermore.” – Psalm 133:1, 3b.

Disclaimer: If you have some form of chronic illness that keeps you physically tired, or you have life circumstances keeping you sleep deprived, that’s a type of challenge that deserves its own post. There is certainly overlap between physical exhaustion and emotional depletion. But we’ll explore that more in a coming post.

What Do You Think?

To what extent do you think suburban New England women are emotionally depleted often enough that it hinders their ability to form stable relationships? Do you have ideas as to the main cause(s)?

To what extent do you see God as a resource to you when you feel emotionally depleted? To what extent do you feel freedom and trust to let God guide you, either way, in what you have “enough” for, or what is “worth” the time?

Comment below.

Friendship and Availability 2 Ways: Part 1

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“Priority Rubber Stamp” by Stuart Miles. Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When asked about what it takes to form stable bonds of community, one woman I interviewed pointed out the prerequisite so fundamental it often gets overlooked: availability. Those who want to develop friendships have to be available for it, both in time and in heart. Those who aren’t, don’t. 

This theory paints a picture for me. I see a woman who lives as though friendship is a legitimate and necessary part of her schedule and her health. She’s also connected to God’s inexhaustible love for herself and others, so she can make space for her own and someone else’s imperfections.

At the risk of stating the obvious, friendships do require some of our clock time. If we feel that we have no time for friendship in, say, four weeks, we’re not likely to count ourselves as part of a fabric of community. I personally need to have some friendship connections every week in order not to feel a bit isolated.

Given the realities of 21st century American life, if we want to move in the direction of stronger community ties, it’s likely we’re going to have to decide what other thing we’re okay with putting less time into.

I certainly don’t mean to trivialize the very real demands on our time. But it’s a good a time as any to consider if we’re trying too hard to have more than it all.  We may be taking on yokes God is not calling us to bear. We may be putting time into non-life-giving things, out of habit. These are questions I’m considering as I think about my clock time availability for relationships.

However, for some women, clock time is not the real bottleneck–emotional energy is. I discuss this second kind of availability in Part 2.

What Do You Think?

To what extent do you observe that suburban New England woman struggle to make time for friendship? What do you think are the public obstacles? The private ones? Is there someone you want to pray for in that?

Has God been inviting you to spend less (or no) time on any particular thing recently, for the good of your soul and to free up space for relationships?

Comment below.

 

Winter Blues and Community

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“Snowy Tree and House” by adamr, image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to psychologist Dr. Stephen Ilardi, one of the top six ways to prevent or treat depression is just being with others. But in winter, New Englanders tend to see others less often, possibly contributing to the winter blues as much as, if not more than, the grey skies. 

Ilardi calls depression “a disease of civilization”, by which he means that the individualistic and mechanistic nature of our lives has reached such epidemic levels that today’s Americans (especially we New Englanders, from what I’ve observed) think of prolonged isolation as normal.

But our bodies know differently. 

Ilardi’s research shows that our brain interprets depression as illness, so our natural instinct is to withdraw from others, just as if we had the flu. But isolating from others when we’re depressed can cause what psychologists call rumination–a repetitive focus on sources of loss and pain in our lives–which actually makes depression worse. Being around other people tends to interrupt the rumination cycle, freeing us up for a more balanced outlook.

Moreover, many people are already aware that regular exercise is clinically shown to moderate mood. But Ilardi observes that meaningful and social exercise helps us get over our innate aversion to exercising for exercise’s sake.

So connections with other people turn out to help with three of Ilardi’s six aspects of treating depression. Just being with others 1. is itself a mood boost; 2. it interrupts the cycle of fruitless rumination; and 3. it makes exercise more enjoyable and attractive. 

I think we all agree that community is important, healthy, and fundamental to God’s design for humanity. There’s a reason why solitary confinement is used as a punishment. But we may not have realized that God has also created us with built-in warning signals, in the form of winter blues, when we go for too long without the warmth of others. 

When a friend of mine was grieving the loss of her first child, her counselor gave her an excellent prescription: connect with at least one person in some way every day. I wonder if the same prescription may be just what the doctor ordered for anyone with winter blues.

Your body, with its emotional flu, will protest. It will tell you to leave others alone and not bother them. It will tell you that what you need is more, and more, and more time alone. Don’t believe it. A sincere connection to another person (a real person, not TV) will do more in one hour to limit winter blues than ruminating alone all day would accomplish (i.e. nothing). And if that person is someone with whom you can pray, all the better.

As an introvert, I can’t really see myself beating the winter blues by going to parties or places where there are crowds of people. Connecting with one person at a time is usually more meaningful for me, and less overwhelming. But other types may benefit from the stimulation of a group or crowd.

The winter weather is a formidable foe, doing its best to keep us unmotivated to get together with our regular groups, church, friends, etc. But we shall overcome, people!

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately. Severe depression, even if seasonal, is a serious illness that needs professional treatment. We want you to stay around with us. Please call 911 if ending your life ever feels like a viable option for you.

What Do You Think?

How important do you think is connecting with others for beating the winter blues? What kind of connection matters most to you?

Do Skype or phone calls count, or does it have to be face to face? What about email/text?

What do you think is the greatest obstacle for New England women to reach out during the winter blues? Do you know someone with winter blues that God wants you to make a point to reach out to?

Comment below.